Regulating the Use of Fireworks
The Singapore government started regulating the use of fireworks in 1968 when the practice of lighting celebratory fireworks became a serious public safety issue. Despite the introduction of new regulation banning the use of certain types of fireworks, the problem of fires caused by fireworks remained. This prompted the government to introduce a series of stricter laws to tackle the issue. A total ban on the use of fireworks in Singapore was put in place when the Dangerous Fireworks Act came into operation on 1 August 1972. While the ban remains, the authorities have in recent years granted permission for fireworks to be used at certain events where appropriate safety precautions have been adopted.
First steps in regulating fireworks
An entrenched tradition
The tradition in the Chinese community of lighting celebratory fireworks posed a problem for public safety in Singapore. In 1968, when the first step to regulate the use of fireworks was initiated, a third of the 150 fires that broke out during the Chinese New Year festivities were caused by fireworks.1 However, so entrenched was this tradition that in spite of the dangers posed by fireworks, the government still granted a tax exemption that year to a fireworks company to manufacture the product. This was expected to save the government about $2 million in foreign exchange that went into the purchase of fireworks.2 Given the popularity of the tradition, it took some time for the government to establish control and regulation over the use of fireworks.
The Prohibition Order
On 8 February 1968, the Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police introduced the Minor Offences (Letting off of Rocket Fireworks and Rocket Fire Crackers) (Prohibition) Order, 1968.3 This order prohibited the use of rocket fireworks and rocket firecrackers, both of which were considered especially dangerous. Other types of fireworks such as squibs (a small explosive device that makes a hissing sound when set off) were still allowed to be used during festivals such as Chinese New Year4 and Christmas.5 However, their use was restricted to designated areas, days and times. It became an offence to light a firework outside of the specified places and times.6
However, the new regulations did not end the sale and use of fireworks, perhaps because the public remained unclear about the regulations.7 Police warnings and even fines were ignored when festivals came around. During the 1970 Chinese New Year season, and particularly on Chap Goh Meh (“15th night” in Hokkien),8 the indiscriminate use of firecrackers killed six people, injured 25 others, and damaged up to $560,390 worth of property.9
The Minor Offences (Amendment) Bill
The Minor Offences (Amendment) Bill, an amendment to the Minor Offences Ordinance (Section 6), 1966, was presented and defended by then Minister for Defence Lim Kim San in Parliament. The bill strengthened the punishment for offenders. They faced a fine not exceeding $500, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.10 The 1966 legislation had mandated a maximum fine of $100 and a maximum jail term of one month.11 The bill went through all three readings in Parliament on a certificate of urgency issued by the President,12 and became law on 19 June 1970.13
Despite the stiffer punishment, the general prohibition of fireworks was still lifted during festive occasions. Some continued to disregard the regulations. During the Chinese New Year of 1972, the police received 376 complaints about the illegal discharge of firecrackers. Twenty-six people were also injured. In addition, two unarmed policemen were attacked and injured when they tried to prevent a group of people from letting off firecrackers unlawfully. This motivated the government to pass a new law to strengthen the punishment for fireworks-related crimes.14
Total ban on fireworks
The Dangerous Fireworks Act
A new fireworks regulation bill was presented by then Minister for Home Affairs Wong Lin Ken in Parliament on 21 March 1972.15 In this bill, Wong wanted to not only increase the punishment for fireworks-related offences, but also to impose a total ban on fireworks. Under the Dangerous Fireworks Act, 1972, a person guilty of an offence would be liable for a fine not exceeding $5,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both. This was a substantial increase in the severity of the punishment compared to the 1970 bill. Passed on 2 June 1972, the bill became law on 1 August 1972.16
In 1988, the year of the dragon according to the Chinese zodiac, there was a huge increase in the number of complaints about the illegal discharge of fireworks: from only 721 in 1987 to a total of 3,983. To further dampen the enthusiasm for fireworks, the Dangerous Fireworks (Amendment) Bill, 1988, was first put forth by then Minister for Home Affairs S. Jayakumar in Parliament on 25 February 1988. In the second reading of the bill, Member of Parliament Chiam See Tong noted that the increased contravention of the Dangerous Fireworks Act in that year was possibly due to the Chinese belief that the year of the dragon was a particularly auspicious one. He argued that the increase in illegal use of fireworks for that year should be considered as an isolated incident. He thus felt that increasing the punishment would be considered too harsh. Despite Chiam’s argument, Parliament decided to vote for the bill.17
Passed on 30 March 1988, the Dangerous Fireworks (Amendment) Act, 1988, became law on 1 May 1988. The punishment for contravention was increased substantially: those guilty of importing, selling or distributing fireworks face a prison term of between six months and two years, and caning of up to six strokes. First-time offenders face a fine of between $2,000 and $10,000, or imprisonment of up to two years. Repeat offenders face mandatory imprisonment of up to two years, and caning of not more than six strokes.18
Relaxation of ban
Today, fireworks are still banned in Singapore. However, on 3 January 2004, a series of firecrackers were set off at the launch of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown.19 More were set off on the eve of Chinese New Year on 21 January.20 The organising committee of the festival was granted a permit from the police, and had to take safety precautions to prevent injuries. Then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also mentioned that firecrackers might be allowed at other events, depending on whether appropriate safety precautions were in place.21
1. “Rocket Type of Firecrackers Banned,” Straits Times, 9 February 1968, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Fire-Crackers to Save $2m. in Foreign Exchange,” Straits Times, 24 July 1968, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
3. The Minor Offence (Letting Off of the Fireworks) (Prohibition) Order 1968, Sp. S 160/1968, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 14 June 1968, 347. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS)
4. “A Crackers Ban Lifted for Chinese New Year,” Straits Times, 10 February 1969, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Fireworks Ban Off: Reminder on the 3 C’s,” Straits Times, 20 December 1968, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
6. The Minor Offences (Temporary Lifting of Prohibition on Discharge of Fireworks) Order 1971, Sp.S 16/1971, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 19 January 1971, 351–55. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
7. Sia Cheong Yeow, “Despite Ban – Rocket Fireworks Still on Sale,” Straits Times, 15 February 1969, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Peter Teo, “Crackers: Call for Govt Probe and Stern Measures,” Straits Times, 24 February 1970, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Parliament of Singapore, First, Second and Third Readings of the Minor Offences (Amendment) Bill, vol. 29 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 30 March 1970, col. 1251. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
10. Parliament of Singapore, First, Second and Third Readings of the Minor Offences (Amendment) Bill, col. 1253.
11. The Minor Offences Act 1966, Act 53 of 1966, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 454. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
12. “Crackdown in S’pore on Crackers,” Straits Times, 31 March 1970, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Parliament of Singapore, First, Second and Third Readings of the Minor Offences (Amendment) Bill, col. 1251.
13. The Minor Offences Act 1970, Act 18 of 1970, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 239–41. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
14. Parliament of Singapore, Second and Third Readings of the Dangerous Fireworks Bill, vol. 31 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 2 June 1972, cols. 1346–9. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
15. Parliament of Singapore, First Reading of the Dangerous Fireworks Bill, vol. 31 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 2 June 1972, col. 871. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
16. The Dangerous Fireworks Act (Commencement) Notification 1972, Sp.S 202/1972, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 21 July 1972, 395–6. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
17. Parliament of Singapore, Second and Third Readings of the Dangerous Fireworks (Amendment) Bill, vol. 50 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 30 March 1988, cols. 1762–6. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
18. The Dangerous Fireworks (Amendment) Bill 1988, Bill 8 of 1988, Government Gazette. Bills Supplement, 1–3. (Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGBS)
19. Tracy Quek, “Boom, Boom, Shake Off the Gloom,” Straits Times, 4 January 2004, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Big Draw, Big Bang,” Straits Times, 24 January 2004, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Firecrackers May Be Allowed at Other Events.” Straits Times, 5 January 2004, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as of 4 October 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Politics and Government