Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Preservation of Monuments (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 33/2021)
Mdm, it is important to safeguard our heritage for the benefit of future generations of Singaporeans. This Bill sends a clear signal on the importance of our heritage sites and gives the authorities the tools they need to protect these sites.
I have three points of clarification to make.
New defence under section 15
My first point is about the punishment for those who damage our monuments.
The new section 15 provides some leniency to those who damage or alter our monuments. One situation is when a person acts in good faith to comply with a government order or requirement.
I welcome this amendment. It would be unfair to punish someone who acts in good faith and is complying with a government order.
In the spirit of providing effective deterrence against people damaging our monuments, could I also suggest that MCCY works with monument owners to ensure there are clear signs and labels to inform members of the public when they come across a monument?
The list of gazetted monuments is long. I am sure that many members of the public have no idea even when they are in or around a national monument. This will especially be the case as we expand the definition and start gazetting less concrete things like bodies of water and plots of land.
Deterrence works best when expectations are clear, after all.
Clarification on “character and appearance”
My second point is about clearer definitions.
I agree with the existing defence in section 15(8) being retained. A person will not be liable of a section 15(4) offence if he had acted because of a person’s or property’s safety AND had exercised all reasonable care to ensure that the act or omission would have no more effect on the “character or appearance” of the monument than was “necessary in the circumstances”.
Can Minister clarify whether there are any guidelines or subsidiary legislation in determining how a monument’s “character or appearance” is affected?
As something that seems quite subjective, it would be useful to have some factors for consideration.
Similarly, can Minister also provide some examples of what may be considered “necessary in the circumstances”, and whether there is a legal or factual threshold to be met?
Entry without a warrant
My final point is about conditions for a warrantless entry.
With the new section 27, a Director or a Monument Inspector will have the power to forcibly enter any land or site without warrant if certain conditions are fulfilled.
I agree with the Director and Inspector having stronger enforcement powers and understand that there could be certain situations where taking enforcement action can be urgent.
However, I note that time sensitivity is not one of the conditions that have to be met for the Director or Inspector to enter the premises without a warrant. Can Minister clarify why this is the case?
If the enforcement action is not urgent and no monuments are in immediate danger, I do not see why the Director or Inspector should not apply for a warrant before entering the premises.
This will ensure that proper process is followed and reduce the likelihood of allegations of improper misconduct made against the enforcers.
Mdm, Notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.