Singapore

Too much to expect cops to keep tabs on those out on bail: Shanmugam

The police did "exceptionally well" in the case of former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han, who allegedly tried to leave Singapore illegally, though it should not be the force's primary role to prevent people from jumping bail, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

It is "too much of a burden" to expect the police to keep track of the "thousands of persons" on bail, monitor their day-to-day activities and ensure that they stay in Singapore, he told reporters yesterday.

"That is not the best use of police resources. Police should be focused on counter-terrorism and solving crimes," Mr Shanmugam said on a visit to the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre at Police Cantonment Complex.

Chew, 57, was arrested on Wednesday morning - a day before he was due to start his jail sentence for the misuse of church funds - while attempting to flee Singapore for Malaysia in a motorised sampan.

He was on bail of $1 million when he was caught in waters off Pulau Ubin.

Adding that the matter of people jumping bail had been on his mind even before Chew's case, Mr Shanmugam said the bail regime will be changed to make it an offence to jump bail.

"It will come as a surprise to many that jumping bail is not in itself an offence. Because you have put up bail, and you lose your bail, but we are going to make that an offence," he added.

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act, which were announced last year and will be presented in Parliament next week, include tightening of provisions and criteria relating to bail. Electronic tagging to monitor those on bail is also being considered.

But a balance should be struck between allowing people to lead their lives outside - until their case is disposed of and a verdict is given - and preventing others from taking advantage of the bail system, said Mr Shanmugam.

Citing Chew's case, where he had expressed the desire to spend Chinese New Year with his family before serving his sentence, the minister said it would seem "exceptionally harsh" for the prosecution to not have granted the request.

"But then there are people who will take advantage of that. I said to my people, the police did exceptionally well in this case.

"Like I said, there are thousands around," said Mr Shanmugam.

- AW CHENG WEI & TAN TAM MEI

COURT & CRIME