News

Liquor ban has effect

Initial consternation but party-goers comply after being advised by police officers in plain clothes

They huddled in a remote corner and were swigging from bottles of alcohol that cost about $40 each.

Just as they were about to make merry, police officers swooped in and told them to stop drinking, and to dispose of their opened alcohol bottles.

Their party was over even before it began.

Wednesday was the first day that the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act took effect.

Under the new law, drinking in public is banned after 10.30pm and shops are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol. (See report, above)

Residents at Robertson Quay have long complained about clubbers who have been leaving plastic bags and empty bottles behind after drinking.

Cleaners from Veolia Environmental Services that The New Paper followed a month ago said they faced difficulties cleaning up after the revellers.

When TNP went to Robertson Quay on Wednesday at 9.30pm, there were about three groups of revellers sitting behind the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

The two bridges nearest Zouk, most commonly used by revellers as drinking venues, were empty at the time.

But the real action started only at 10.30pm, when the drinking crowd behind the hotel grew sizably.

Some among the crowd, who turned out to be plainclothes policemen, stood up and started telling the rest that it was illegal to continue drinking alcohol to disperse the crowd.

TAKEN ABACK

SOME DRINKERS WERE INITIALLY TAKEN ABACK AND TRIED TO ARGUE, BUT BACKED OFF QUICKLY AFTER REALISING THEY WERE POLICEMEN.

These policemen went around telling anyone who was drinking alcohol to stop and made them throw their alcohol bottles into dustbins.

One drinker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, said: "I thought as long as we didn't cause trouble, the authorities would leave us alone. Who knew they would stop everyone from drinking?"

By 11pm, police had cleared out the last of the drinkers.

No one was seen drinking by the time TNP left at about midnight.

TNP understands that cleaners in charge of the area reported collecting less rubbish on Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Geylang, which has been designated as a liquor control zone, things were slightly different.

There were just a sprinkling of men, mostly foreign workers, who were sitting around drinking cans of beer. Most were drinking alone.

MP for Marine Parade GRC Fatimah Lateef and about a dozen grassroots volunteers went around the area between Lorong 34 and 40 to hand out fliers educating residents about the restrictions. They were accompanied by two Community Policing Officers.

A construction worker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wei, was drinking with some friends at a five-foot way at Geylang Lorong 36 when the group approached him at about 10pm.

"We had heard of the new regulations but we weren't sure when they started," the 45-year-old said in Mandarin. "Now we'll just drink in our dormitory."

I thought as long as we didn't cause trouble, the authorities would leave us alone. Who knew they would stop everyone from drinking?

- Mr Chua, a drinker in the Robertson Quay area

'Light touch' in initial phase

The police will take a measured response in the initial period of new alcohol restrictions coming into effect.

For now, their roles will be more educational and advisory, as they try to get the message across to members of the public about the ban on drinking in public after 10.30pm.

Superintendent Koh Tee Meng, assistant director of operations management division, told reporters on Wednesday: "In this initial phase, police will take a light-touch approach and advise the public who are found drinking in public places during the restricted hours. So, it is more of an advisory and educational approach."

But those who repeatedly violate the regulations can expect to face the full brunt of the law, he added.

In Geylang, MP for Marine Parade GRC Fatimah Lateef addressed the concerns of shopkeepers worried about the law's impact on business.

REGULATIONS

Under the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, Geylang has been designated a Liquor Control Zone, which means that special regulations apply, such as shops not being able to sell takeaway alcohol from 7pm on weekends and on the eve of a public holiday and the holiday itself.

"You have to look at the big picture, it's about looking at the needs of all the stakeholders in the area," she said, adding that Geylang is made up of residential, commercial and entertainment units.

"There are ways and means to improve your business in other ways, instead of just serving alcohol. So we probably have to think out of the box a little bit," she added.

An association representing some 63 businesses along the Singapore River said it is still early to decide whether they need to adjust business operations.

Said Singapore River One executive director Michelle Koh: "For now, it's still too early to see how it (the Liquor Control Act) will affect businesses... Everyone wants to see how it'll pan out. We're taking a wait-and-see attitude."

She added that the new law will affect convenience stalls the most, but none of their members are convenience stall owners.

What you need to know about the Liquor Control Act

What is the law about?

Under the law, drinking is banned in all public places from 10.30pm to 7am. Retail shops are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol from 10.30pm to 7am.

There are stricter rules in Geylang and Little India, which are designated as Liquor Control Zones. Public drinking is banned in these two areas from 7am on Saturdays to 7am on Mondays. The ban also applies from 7pm on the eve of a public holiday to 7am after the holiday. Shops within these zones are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol from 7pm on weekends and the eve of a public holiday and the holiday itself.

Are there exceptions?

You can continue to drink beyond the restricted hours if you have a valid permit to hold a barbecue at a park by the National Parks Board.

Event organisers may apply for a "consumption permit" online or through the police.

Can the same be done for retail shops?

Shops may apply for an extension of retail sale hours from the police. Police will take into account the propensity for public disorder and disamenities in the area, and the additional measures the licensees are prepared to put in place to reduce drinking-related problems before approving such an extension.

How about at pubs or restaurants or coffee shops?

People can continue to drink at these licensed premises, which can sell alcohol according to their licence.

What is the penalty for flouting the rules?

Anyone drinking illegally can be fined up to $1,000, and repeat offenders may be fined up to $2,000 and jailed for up to three months. A shop selling alcohol after the permitted hours could be fined up to $10,000.

The penalty is one and a half times more if one is caught breaking the law in Liquor Control Zones.