Singapore’s Laws From A Bygone Era

Singapore has gained a fearsome reputation as a “fine” city. It’s rather commonplace to hear our ang moh friends expressing shock at the often-misunderstood chewing gum “ban”.

While our island does indeed have a lengthy fine sheet, we decided to highlight 5 “crimes” that (we feel) shouldn’t even be penalised in the first place.

1. No Cats In HDB — Penalty: Fine Of Up To $4,000

If you are residing in a Housing Board flat, you are technically forbidden from owning a cat.

According to the HDB, cats are “generally difficult to contain within the flat, and when allowed to roam indiscriminately, they tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas”.

The “caterwauling” sounds produced are also cited as one of the reasons for the ban.


“But my neighbors have cats! Why are they not arrested?” you might be wondering.

While the law has been in place since 1989, it’s kinda not really enforced strictly — until somebody complains.

We’re reminded of it only when a case crops up now then of cat owners who are sent letters from the HDB and forced to give up their cats due to complaints.

Why we think it should be abolished:

Cat ownership is already widespread in Singapore. Legalising it makes it easier to regulate and take action against errant owners without the need to deploy a blanket ban.

Furthermore, the HDB allows 62 breeds of dogs in the flats, and I’m pretty sure they make more noise than their feline counterparts. They shed their fur and defecate in public too.

If both sets of owners are equally responsible in cleaning up the aftermath, it reeks of double standards to penalise one of them.

For more, read our story on the reasons why cats should be allowed in HDB flats, just like dogs.

2. No Business At MRT Stations — Penalty: Fine Of Up To $2,000

In 2009, it was reported that a man was issued a warning by SMRT staff after passing a basket of Chinese New Year pastries to his buyers across the fare gate.

Today has also reported on the growing numbers of people collecting items that they have bought online at MRT stations.

Just recently, Twitter user Xavier Lur noted that SBS Transit had placed a sign outside the Beauty World MRT Station, cautioning commuters from conducting business transactions.


Under the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations, exchanging goods across the “border” is strictly prohibited.

This is, without a shadow of doubt, the most ridiculous and unnecessary rule featured in this article.

Why we think it should be abolished:

Okay, let’s walk through this “rule”, which apparently has been in place for “decades”.

So, one is not allowed to “transfer any article or goods between the paid area and unpaid area”.

However, if you tap your Ez-Link card, exit via the gantry and walk to the same exact spot where you were going to transfer your goods to your buyer, it’s perfectly legal.

We honestly fail to see how this would “(discourage) loitering in (MRT stations, especially those) with high passenger flow”, or how it will help lower security risks. By banning the exchange of goods between the “border”, buyers and sellers are just going to occupy other parts of the MRT station, given the popularity of these locations to meet up with people.

Besides, isn’t it interesting how the MRT operator seems fine with insurance and credit card agents soliciting new customers on their premises?

3. You Can’t Attempt Suicide — Penalty: Jail Of Up To 12 Months + Fine

Attempted suicide is a punishable offence on our island, according to Chapter 16, Section 309 of the penal code.

However, it is rare for the person who attempted suicide to be “charged or for the prescribed sentence to be carried out”, according to a report by The New Paper. The article also noted that the case against the accused would usually be withdrawn after the he/she had reached a “stable state”.

An exception was made for Kathleen Seah Pei Yi in 2012. The then 14-year-old was reported to the police by her own father for attempting to take her own life a whopping 13 times.

Why we think it should be abolished:

Singapore is one of only 35 independent countries in the world to criminalise suicide, according to a 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) study.

Although imposing, on paper, a penalty for attempted suicide serves as a deterrent for would-be “offenders”, treating those who are contemplating killing themselves as criminals will only add to their anxiety and further messes up their psyche.

Indeed, the WHO has also claimed that suicide rates usually decline after decriminalisation.

Whether one agrees that suicide is cowardly and a selfish act or not, there’s no denying that the stress faced by some on this fast-paced island can drive them to their wits’ end. The priority should then be to uncover the reasons that are pressing some of these troubled folks to contemplate taking their own lives.

It would only be foolish to provoke them with prosecution when they are struggling to find a reason to live, and coupled with the ineffective “deterrent” which almost never gets used, we’ll be better off eradicating this farcical and unnecessary law that adds to the stigma and trouble the depressed faces.

4. Don’t Leave Your Car’s Air-Con Running While Stationary — Penalty: Fine Of Up To $5,000

According to a survey of 50 motorists conducted by The Straits Times, “only around half were aware that it is illegal to leave an engine idling”.


The law was drafted to reduce unnecessary carbon emissions, and second-time offenders could be fined $100 for flouting the rules. So, theoretically, you are prohibited from resting in your car, waiting for your children at school, or loading and unloading goods from your vehicles while your engine is still running.

Don’t think that this won’t happen to you — in the first three months of 2016 alone, 1,489 had the unfortunate pleasure of being slapped with a fine for leaving their engines running.

If you get caught and refuse to pay, you could be forced by the court to pay an extra $5,000.

Why we think it should be abolished:

Sounds draconian?

While the intention of this particular law is undoubtedly good, the consequences have clearly not been thought out well.

Most motorists who would originally be waiting to pick their friends or family up would simply drive around in circles instead to avoid flouting the law, causing traffic congestion and surprise surprise, an increase in carbon emissions.

That seems awfully counterproductive to the Environmental Protection and Management (Vehicular Emissions) Regulations’ intention of protecting the environment.

Honestly, who is going to be sitting inside their cars without any air-conditioning under the sweltering Singapore heat?

Besides, it’ll be hard to convince motorists to change their long-standing habits as well, considering the low risk of getting caught.

The resources required and the cost to educate the public should be distributed elsewhere, as both the short-term and long-term benefits of this law are negligible.

5. No Gay Sex Between Men — Penalty: Jail Of Up To 24 Months

Perhaps the most controversial inclusion in this list, this particular law, simply referred to as “377A” by most Singaporeans these days, criminalises sex between males.

It does not apply to gay sex between two or more females.

Many critics have criticised it not only for its discriminatory nature, but also for its vagueness in interpretation:

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.

There have been several constitutional challenges to abolish the draconian law revolving around the infamous Tan Eng Hong incident — he was charged for engaging in oral sex in the privacy of a restroom cubicle — but the presiding judges ruled against the proposed changes, claiming that any amendments would have to come from Parliament.

There are several people who convene at Hong Lim Park every year who will disagree:


Why we think it should be removed:

It’s 2017.

Truly A Fine city

While getting fined for not flushing the toilets or annoying people with your terrible instrumental skills is perfectly understandable, we feel that the 5 laws mentioned above are highly flawed and should be abolished.

Singapore is often touted as a first-world country, but its laws can be rather archaic at times. In order for our society to progress, we should learn to be more understanding, compassionate and tolerant towards people who don’t have the same beliefs as you, rather than implementing blanket bans to quickly bury any trivial problems.

Life in Singapore is stressful enough, and we could all use some empathy and common sense, rather than harsh, unnecessary punishments for petty crimes that don’t harm any right-minded people.

Featured image from Twitter