SINGAPORE: A newspaper vendor who breached his stay-home notice to deliver papers after receiving a complaint on undelivered newspapers was sentenced to two weeks' jail on Wednesday (Jun 17).
Palanivelu Ramasamy, 48, pleaded guilty to one count of breaching his stay-home notice in order to deliver newspapers to 14 units across eight floors at Goldhill Plaza.
His lawyer told the court that he had left his house to deliver the newspapers because he received a complaint and wanted to resolve the matter.
However, the judge said this was "out of a misplaced sense of duty" and asked the lawyer repeatedly if Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) would have helped had Palanivelu asked for assistance.
The court heard that Palanivelu had attended a wedding in India and returned to Singapore on Mar 21. He was issued a 14-day stay-home notice at the airport, informing him to remain at home at all times from Mar 21 to Apr 4.
However, on Mar 30 - the ninth day of his stay-home notice - Palanivelu left his flat at Towner Road for about two hours and 15 minutes.
The man, who has been a newspaper vendor with SPH since 1985, had been alerted to a complaint about a worker who had not delivered newspapers to his customers at Goldhill Plaza, said defence lawyer Aaron Lee of Allen & Gledhill, who acted pro bono in the case.
This was due to restrictions imposed by the management at Goldhill Plaza arising from the COVID-19 situation, said Mr Lee. As Palanivelu's worker was not allowed to go up to the office units, he left the newspapers near the mailbox on the ground level instead.
Palanivelu has two workers under him and usually collects newspapers at 4am and distributes them around the Thomson area, the court heard.
Instead of asking his workers to deliver the papers, Palanivelu left his flat at 3.45pm on Mar 30 to personally deliver the newspapers. The specific publication was not named in court documents.
He wore a mask and took a bus before walking to Goldhill Plaza and asking the security officer where the newspapers were. He retrieved them and managed to deliver them to 14 units across eight floors as he knew the building's security officers, the court heard.
After this, he took another bus home, with his daughter informing him that auxiliary police officers had visited the flat to find him gone.
IRRESPONSIBLE AND SELFISH: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Lim asked for at least two weeks' jail, stating that the Government had been very clear about the policies behind stay-home notices, with the media including newspapers publicising these widely.
"He was irresponsible and selfish and subordinated public health rules," said Mr Lim, noting that Palanivelu had gone to bus stops with high human traffic, students and worshippers at a temple and visited 14 units.
Defence lawyer Mr Lee said it was "fairly harsh" for the prosecutor to say there are no mitigating factors other than the plea of guilt.
He submitted a testimonial from SPH, which stated that Palanivelu has been a reliable news vendor and has always prided himself in terms of giving his subscribers the best service in terms of delivery.
Palanivelu's father was one of the pioneer news vendors "who helped pave the way for newspaper distributors today", said the SPH testimonial.
SPH said in its testimonial that it hopes for a lighter punishment for "his error of judgment" as Palanivelu had not left his home for leisure purposes but to attend to and rectify a subscriber's complaint.
THE ISSUE OF THE "WORK EMERGENCY"
The lawyer asked for a fine of S$5,000 instead, saying that his client had stayed home for eight days and left on the ninth day only to deal with a "work emergency", a term that did not stand with District Judge Bala Reddy.
The judge repeatedly asked Mr Lee to explain what the "emergency" was, with Mr Lee acknowledging that Palanivelu had not contacted SPH about the supposed emergency.
"What if everyone tomorrow says it's an emergency, therefore I have to do this?" asked Judge Reddy. "We are all together in this. We are acting to ensure that the infection does not spread. We all have a duty to ensure that the various measures put in place are strictly (adhered to). If tomorrow everyone says my work, my commitment is very important and is an emergency for me and decides to breach, what is your submission?"
The lawyer accepted the judge's point and said his client's case can be distinguished from others, adding that Palanivelu was worried of potentially losing his livelihood because of the complaint.
"He has SPH, who has given him a testimonial, and they have described his work and they seem to be there for him. That is what the testimonial you have included shows us," said the judge.
"He's a vendor. If there's an issue, are you saying SPH won't assist him? ... Are you saying SPH won't render help? Is it your submission that SPH won't render assistance?"
Mr Lee said he could not address this issue and the judge said that the testimonial from SPH makes it look like the company would have helped Palanivelu.
The prosecutor pointed out that Goldhill Plaza had restricted access because of COVID-19, and a person serving a stay-home notice should be "even more off-limits".
"I'm sure the customers themselves would not have wanted a person delivering the papers who was serving a stay-home notice. He bypassed the restrictions by his close relationship with the security guard," said Mr Lim.
"This is not a work emergency. A work emergency is police riots or a doctor has to respond to an emergency. This is not a work emergency in any sense of the phrase."
A MISPLACED SENSE OF DUTY: JUDGE
Judge Reddy said the case did not involve a minor infraction.
"There's nothing to show why it was so urgent that the accused had to go to Goldhill Plaza himself," he said. "Looking at SPH's testimonial, it is inconceivable that if he had communicated the problem to SPH, they would not have assisted him to resolve the issue."
He said he could find no emergency in the case and said Palanivelu had left his home "out of a misplaced sense of duty".
However, he took into account that Palanivelu had returned home once he delivered the papers, was a first-time offender for such breaches and had pleaded guilty.
He granted Palanivelu a two-week deferment to make alternative arrangements for work as it was difficult to obtain manpower and to settle household affairs, seeing as he has two young children and his wife had lost her job due to the COVID-19.
SPH said in a previous statement to CNA that it was rendering Palanivelu and his family "the necessary assistance to help them through this difficult period".
The company added that it has "constantly reminded" its network of news vendors of the need to comply with prevailing regulations, even though this may result in later deliveries to subscribers, and provided protective equipment like masks and gloves.
For breaching his stay-home notice, Palanivelu could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000 or both.