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     FrontPage Edition: Sat 27 January 2007

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Secondhand Goods Dealers Bill 2007 passed


Second Reading Speech for the Secondhand Goods Dealers Bill 2007, Ministry of Home Affairs

Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Sir, although the intent of this Secondhand Goods Dealers Bill to provide for the licensing and control of secondhand goods dealers remains the same as the current Secondhand Dealers Act (SHDA), MHA is proposing to enact a new Bill because most of the sections in the current Act have been amended.
The Secondhand Dealers Act was enacted in 1918 to regulate businesses that deal in the trading of secondhand goods. That¡¯s almost 100 years ago.
This is because businesses that deal with secondhand goods trading have the potential to be a channel for criminals to dispose of stolen goods¡ªor what is known as fencing. Hence, the need to regulate the secondhand goods trading industry.
The Act has been useful in solving some crimes. Members will know that, in recent years, handphone theft nearly tripled from 1,700 cases in 2001 to more than 4,800 cases in 2005 before falling to about 4,600 cases last year.
Police's regulatory control of secondhand dealers, as well as other enforcement measures, has contributed to this improving trend.
Apart from intensifying checks on dealers of secondhand handphones, Police compared the leads from cases of handphone theft against the transaction records of dealers. These efforts have improved our success rate in crime solving and this in turn has had a deterrent effect on thieves and errant secondhand handphone dealers.
Clearly, the Act has been useful in helping Police deal with errant dealers who are responsible for the quick and easy disposition of stolen handphones.
While the intent of the Act remains the same, the crime situation has changed considerably over the years.
This Bill before the House reflects a refinement of the existing Act to better serve today¡¯s regulatory and investigative requirements. It also seeks to bring it up-to-date with Police¡¯s current enforcement needs.
Sharper regulatory focus
Mr Speaker Sir, the new Act will sharpen the focus of the regulatory regime for secondhand goods dealers. We assess that there is no need to subject all secondhand goods dealers to regulatory requirements, such as yearly registration and payment of fees, especially if the items they deal in are of little crime control value.
Hence, whereas the Schedule of the current Act contains a list of goods that are excluded from regulation under the SHDA, that is, a ¡°negative list¡± approach, the new Act will take a ¡°positive list¡± approach, that is to say, the new definition of secondhand ¡°goods¡± in Clause 2 of the Bill will cover only items that have considerable value and which have been identified to be common items of theft and easily disposed off to secondhand goods dealers by property offenders.
To ensure that we can adjust quickly to changing crime trends, the Minister will have powers to amend this ¡°positive list¡± by order in the Gazette.
This ¡°positive list¡± approach in regulation will benefit dealers in secondhand goods that are not in the Schedule. Such an approach is also more pro-business.
But, let me assure the House that, with this loosening of control over the industry, Police will still exercise regulatory control over dealers in secondhand goods which are of interest to the Police. Enforcement checks will continue to ensure that errant dealers are dealt with accordingly under the SHDA.
Expansion of scope
Sir, the second major enhancement to the current regime involves extending the definition of ¡°shop¡± beyond physical shop premises, to include any place of business, whether a physical place or a virtual one like the Internet.
The current Act does not cover dealers operating without a shop. We recognise that many secondhand goods dealers today actually carry on their business via other means, such as on the Internet, or in an open-air setting like Sungei Road. This is unacceptable, as thieves and robbers will simply get rid of their loot through these other dealers who do not have a shop-front.
MHA is hence widening the coverage of the law to include those dealers who do not operate within a shop. However, in keeping with the emphasis on a sharper regulatory focus, only dealers who trade in secondhand goods that are listed in the Schedule will come under the ambit of the Act.
Another important aspect of this Bill lies in Clause 10, which requires selected dealers to keep transaction records and to submit these to Police. Such records are valuable in facilitating Police¡¯s work in crime control and investigation.
Secondhand goods dealers are also required by law to retain the records for a period of not less than 5 years and to produce such records for examination by any Magistrate, Justice of the Peace, Licensing Officer or police officer.
Consolidate and update penalties
As the Act has not been amended for some time, the penalties in the SHDA are generally light in today¡¯s context.
Apart from the penalty of an imprisonment term of up to 3 years for dealers in used bicycles or bicycle parts, motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, for failing to keep proper books of account, all other offences carry only a penalty of a fine of up to $1,000, and an imprisonment term of up to 6 months.
These penalties are insufficient in today¡¯s context as revenues of dealers¡¯ trade are considerably higher. The law will then lose its impact, if it poses little deterrence.
Using the Pawnbrokers Act as a benchmark as the two Acts are similar in intent and purpose, MHA is consolidating all the penalties in Clause 18 of the Bill, which imposes a stiffer general penalty of a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, to any person convicted of an offence under the proposed Act or its Rules. As this is only the maximum amount of the fine, the court will have greater leeway to impose the appropriate punishment in any particular case.
Composition of offences
Clauses 18 and 19 give Police more powers in bringing errant dealers to task. But, as not every case is serious enough to be prosecuted in court, the new Act will empower the Licensing Officer to compound any such offence prescribed as compoundable by the Minister, with a composition fine not exceeding $2,000. This is in line with the process MinLaw started two years ago to make some offences, where appropriate, compoundable.
Mr Speaker Sir, enacting this Bill will mean that, for a start, more than 900 existing dealers would no longer be licensed under the Act, as they are not currently dealing in goods in the Schedule or the ¡°positive list¡±. This is in line with the policy to reduce regulatory controls on businesses.
Police will focus their control over secondhand goods dealers who trade in high-end or profitable secondhand goods, using the new ¡°positive list¡±.
Sir, in conclusion, the Government is taking another important step to help ensure that our legislation keeps pace with evolving trends so that we can keep crime under control whilst allowing businesses as much room to operate as possible.
Mr Speaker Sir, I beg to move

Source: News Release 22 Jan 2007

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