Public Entertainment's Act Review Crucial to Open Up Space for Civil Society

Posted by James Gomez under Public Forums on 26 November 1999

Singapore 21's Active Citizenship in the Age of the Internet Underscores the Need to Review the Public Entertainments Act.

As someone who was part of the S21 consultation process, I noticed that there was a certain hesitancy to explore all that the vision of Singapore as a Renaissance City had to offer. Principally what is lacking is the courage to step away to contemplate new beginnings, a prerequisite necessary to build a vibrant, plural and cohesive society. It is this hesitancy to act or self-censorship that is mostly likely to prevent Singapore from being all that it can be in the next millenium. The majority's choosing instead to manage risk marks the absence of a risk-taking culture. This is a condition from which we must escape.

It was precisely to realise this vision that I registered THINK Centre as a sole-proprietorship, primarily as an events and publishing company. It is registered with a business address and operates as a virtual entity. It has no money but plenty of dreams and ideas. It allowed me to publish my book Self-censorship: Singapore's shame and now with some like-minded friends embark on this politics 21 series.

The ideas for the series came up following a meeting with Socratic Circle (SC) following an initial first encounter with its Chairman Daniel Chew at the Singapore 21 Conference. Although formal collaboration was the initial idea, SC's constitution did not allow their members to communicate and solicit information from the public, therefore several of the members decided instead to help out in their individual capacities.

The first forum entitled From Student Politics to Real Politics was held on the 1st October at RELC. Information was posted on websites and invitations were sent via e-mail. The idea was to pre-register guests and keep it as a private function. Most pre-registered, but about 10 people turned up without prior registration and a couple refused to register. This was mainly due to the nature of internet and information technology. We realised once an e-mail was sent out there was basically no control over it and word soon got around. In Singapore where exploration of political space can easily run foul of the law and risk takers always finding that they have to stand-alone, I had to rethink our strategy when using the Internet for the next forum. The laws surrounding civil liberties presently are out of synch with the power of the Internet.

To address the issue of people turning on the day of the event and also to manage the porousness of the Internet an application to hold a public talk was made at the licensing division on the 4th of November. Verbal approval was first given only on the 22nd after several phone calls querying the state of the application at the end of two weeks. I received a fax confirming the approval for a licence on the 23rd. On the 24th I made a trip to the licensing division at Pearl's Hill, paid a permit cost of seven dollars and collected the physical license. In the meantime the venue had to be pre-booked, refreshments catered, speakers and guest invited. Given this need to wait three weeks for an approval those helping out with the forum were inactive and the motivation level low. This is the effect that waiting for the permit does. While the Internet provided instant communication, the present laws surrounding the need for a permit were slow and archaic. When the approval for the permit came it left us only two days to restart and pull everything together. All in all, the permit application was a rather tedious, time consuming and inefficient procedure that retards the exploration and expression of active citizenship. It is not in keeping with Singapore as a modern, globalised, information based and technically advanced society.

That the rules and guidelines are vague, inefficient and not in keeping with the speed of the Internet has been proved beyond doubt through this incident. The three weeks processing time is too long, the procedure is not transparent and the information posted on the Internet by the licensing division inadequate. All of which point clearly for a review of the Public Entertainment Licensing Act. In addition it requires the guidelines that surround the application of permits to be streamlined, transparent and up to date with the Internet.

Given other initiatives following the Singapore 21 conference such as the Institute of Policy Studies and the joint survey by the Straits Times and Sintercom that are looking at the Societies Act, the THINK Centre will complement these initiatives by doing a feasibility study on how best to approach a review of the Public Entertainment Act. The aim of the study is look into the setting up a committee to examine some of problems arising from the Act and how the Act is actually implemented on a day to day basis. The committee will hold a series of focus group discussion to gather feedback to compile a report and make recommendations. The report will then be presented to the Licensing Division to help them in their own internal reviews and also to make the report accessible to the public, interested organisations and individuals.

In this respect I would like to appeal to anyone who would be interested in helping out in the project either in an intellectual or material capacity to contact us at

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