TL;DR – As seen on TV only.
Popularised by TV shows and movies in the ’90s, gangsters were once the coolest people around in Hong Kong.
Fast forward to 2018, I’ve been following a show on NetFlix, Peaky Blinders, which is set in 1920s England. The show’s protagonist is the head of a secret society known as Peaky Blinders and they run a slew of illegal activities such as illegal horse betting, drugs smuggling and even brothels.
Besides such unlawful businesses, they are also bound to get into fights with rival gangs, and even the police and civilians who get in their way. Is the show enjoyable? Well, it’s one of the best shows on NetFlix if you ask me. The plot is so good and not to mention the action scenes. Are they exactly heroes like Ironman or Batman that make rather good models for our kids?
Do we want such things and people in our daily lives?
Hmmm, probably not.
Moving on to Singapore, as much as this whole gang and secret society thingy looks like a thing of the past, you will be surprised to know that they still exist in Singapore. Gangs and secret societies are not just exclusive to our screens.
Singapore might be safe and peaceful now but it wasn’t always like this. I’m sure some social studies and history lessons back in school might have explained why and how such networks were formed to protect our forefathers who just came to Singapore then and had no one to turn to for help but as time passed, the role of secret societies and gangs had evolved along with time to nothing more than just mostly people gathering around to do illegal deeds.
Are there still secret societies around?
It might be hard for many to believe, especially in a country like Singapore, but the answer is yes.
Then what have our government and police force been doing to keep them at the bay?
A current hot topic in Parliament recently was the extension of Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Singapore) or better known as CLTPA.
If you speak street tongue, it’s more commonly known as Gor Gor (55) in Hokkien which literally translates to Five Five in English.
So what is CLTPA all about and why the sudden interest in this topic?
In short, CLTPA is a law that allows the Law Ministry to use against criminals who endanger our “public safety, peace and good order.” These criminals can be detained without a trial. And of course, it also includes a whole series of other effects which includes things such as “Power to prohibit publication of witnesses’ names, etc.”. It’s law so it’s not something that is meant to be explained in one line, so the full read is here.
Something interesting about this law is that it is somewhat “temporary”. Its effect is to be renewed every five years and its current five-year term is coming to an end come 2019.
The reason it is a hot topic now is because our Law Minister K Shanmugam talked about extending it.
Why the extension before it ends in 2019? Why must we extend it? Is there some conspiracy theory behind it that we don’t know?
Conspiracy or not, my question is “Why not?”. If this law has been keeping us safe, what’s the issue with us extending it?
The CLTPA has worked its magic numerous time over the years to keep us safe. Of course, some may call it draconian because we are denying a person the chance to have his defence heard, but I question that statement itself. As much as it sounds reasonable for someone to have his defence heard, but why would you be detained in the first place if you are not part of any crime?
According to the Straits Times, the Criminal Law Detainee population has fallen over the years, to 103 last year, compared with 109 in 2016 and 118 in 2015. Of last year’s detainees, 86 had been in secret societies, 11 in unlicensed moneylending and five in drug trafficking. This shows that either people are better at not being caught or less people are committing crime. I choose the latter as I believe that my cup is always half full.
To quote my friend Xiao Beng (name has been changed to protect his identity,)
“Oie, you think police very free meh? Just because you have tattoos means you are a bad person and they will catch you ah?”
Obviously the police would have gathered sufficient evidence to suspect that you will endanger public safety, peace and good order before they make their arrest, isn’t it?
Not only was the CLTPA brought up for extension but it was also amended in addition to satisfy the current condition. The CLTPA can only be applied to crimes listed on a new specified schedule. With more conditions applied, this clearly curtails the Law Minister’s power. I guess this makes a lot more sense because this means that you can only be subjected to CTLPA if you committed these activities instead of you being subjected to CTLPA for anything deemed fit by the Ministry, right?
It is not a case that simply because you get involved in those defined activities and you immediately get detained.
I’m guessing that people are unhappy with the fact that the Ministry can ‘anyhow’ detain people without trial and they feel that it’s unfair, cause even as criminals or suspects, one should be treated fairly and given a chance to defense themselves.
But have we not learnt our lessons even from TV that it has happened one time too many ? That there are many criminals who got away scot-free simply because they managed to kill or buy off key witnesses? Have we not gotten angry over a villain in a show because justice was not served? Isn’t that why fake cities like Gotham got out of hand? And I am just talking about TV.
What if in real life your family member is a victim of some deeds by some secret society members and they got away because of “technicality issues”?
In other words, the CLTPA somewhat plays the role of Batman in reality. That’s the closest thing we have to a superhero, isn’t it?
For those who are interested in the effect of CLTPA, watch this video by our Home Team.
Are you convinced now?