berthahenson

Little India COI: The final chapter

In News Reports on March 27, 2014 at 7:44 am

So the Little India COI has ended – and what have we learnt?

About Singapore and foreign workers

  1. That Singapore isn’t such a bad place for foreign workers to work and live in. Except that they don’t seem to have places to play or congregate.
  2. That Little India is swamped by as many as 100,000 foreign workers over the weekend. That the South Asians may drink, litter, loiter and piss at will but they’re not like the die-hard criminal types that patronise Geylang.
  3. That the foreign workers really hate that female bus timekeeper and dislike the way they are being herded onto the buses – or bumped off it. And that Land Transport Authority has been tardy about watching the bus situation in Little India.
  4. That while Little India is awashed in liquor, it’s not so densely alcohol-fuelled as places like Chinatown.
  5. That too many of the real trouble-makers appeared to have escaped the dragnet that night.
  6. That the workers worry about being sent back home willy-nilly by employers who use the services of “repatriation companies’’ to avoid giving them their due.
  7. That Indian beer is far more potent than a lot of regular beers. And Kodai Canteen is now on the map of Singapore.

  About the police 

  1. That they stick to doctrines and protocols which lead to slow response times and what seem like an inability to innovate according to circumstances.
  2. That there ARE a few good men and women in uniform who took heroic steps which should be applauded but which their superiors also think could be foolhardy.
  3. That the SCDF looks better organised than the cops when it comes to doing their work. It even has cameras mounted on trucks to give real-time information to HQ.
  4. That police patrol cars don’t seem to be equipped with anything like riot gear, much less the lathi which the Indian cops carry and which the COI so often referred to.
  5. That there are too few, much too few, policemen to go around.    

 The COI will be taking up till June to come up with its own recommendations. I have to say that it seemed to have left no stone un-turned. Its intensive “grilling’’ might have seemed unfair to some people, especially when the cops on the ground took the stand. But seriously, you do not expect the use of kid gloves in an inquiry, especially about an unprecedented riot which people think the police could have done better to stamp out.

 It’s also not surprising that the cops would hold to the line that “no shots were fired’’ to describe their performance. No one was hurt or killed. Just cars, which are less valuable than lives. Yup. Okay. As for the cops “standing around’’, they weren’t trained for this sort of scenario and it would be unfair and unwise to have them go charging in given their small numbers. Uh-huh. Those cops in the ambulance didn’t run away, they had wounded people with them and it was prudent to get them to safety. Ahso.

The only things the police conceded were that there was a communications breakdown with the cops not knowing what each other was doing nor even where they are and that it took too long for the Special Operations Command to be activated. Also, according to the cops, there were no signs that a riot would erupt in Little India, and they were more pre-occupied with shenanigans in Geylang.

Right from the beginning of the inquiry, the police position was wrapped in this  nice big bundle known as “Man no enough’’.

So please tell me how we got to this stage that our manning levels are so atrocious that we have one police officer to every 614 resident? Compare that to Hong Kong with one policeman to every 252 residents.

Here are the absolute numbers:  8,785 regulars, with 86 per cent deployed in the field.

Over the past 20 years, the population grew by 58 per cent, while the number of police officers went up by 16 per cent.

I’ll stick my neck out and say this: It seems that our over-enthusiastic immigration policy of the past have not only strained our infrastructure but our law and order forces as well. 

I gather that we can’t possibly employ foreign workers to do the policing – or can we? Therefore, we outsource some of the police work to companies like Cisco which seem to be able to employ foreigners so long as they are PRs (at least that’s what I think given the testimonies of auxillary officers who took the stand at the COI)  

According to Commissioner Ng Joo Hee,  police spent $2.5 million last year on auxillary police and “protection officers’’ to get more boots on the ground of Little India on weekends. 

So in all, how much does the Home Team spend on “outsourcing’’? We already know that plenty of auxillaries are employed at the immigration checkpoint. And what are the “manning levels’’ taking into account the hiring of auxillary police officers?

Is this a good option? Or is such outsourcing a last resort? No one wants to be a cop or is the pay too low? And is this why we now have citizen “cops’’ to nab litterers and spitters?

It makes you wonder what other problems our past immigration policy has wrought. Ordinary folk can feel the squeeze on trains and buses and see property prices and rents go up. But we wouldn’t think too much about cop manning levels – and who knows what else – that have come under strain.

We would leave this to experts whose job it is to anticipate such problems rather than wait for the dam to burst or a riot to break out. We leave this to the politicians and civil servants. Seems like some people got too confident and too complacent about Singapore’s internal security needs.

Yup, sure, I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight.

Now, my crystal ball tells me that the force will be enlarged. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t mind the State allowing the CP his extra 1,000 men.  What is the role of the State after all? At its most basic, it must provide law and order to stop people from hurting each other. Peace, in my view, comes even before providing the population with housing and transport.

The Finance ministry should oblige.     

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  1. I wonder if CP is talking about the same 1K boots here: http://www.asiaone.com/print/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130325-411265.html

    the article also suggests that money is not a key factor in SPF’s labor crunch.

  2. You say the COI left no stone unturned? How about the biggest one – that our migrant workers live with little dignity and little pay? I don’t care what the conveniently selected witnesses at the COI said. I can tell you from direct experience that the reality is sad and ugly, and it is shameful that people turn an eye away from it.

    When you put a director from MOM in the witness stand, what is he going to say? You think he’s going to say that the MOM have no handle on the situation on the ground? And when you put a dorm owner on the stand, do you think he’s going to say that his tenants live like sardines packed in a tin can?

    Why is nothing off limits only in a COI (and even then, not really)? The police and armed forces have their issues too, and all those problems deserve to be put out in the open for public debate. Every day, not just in a COI. I have never once heard of, or read, a single criticism of the army or police in the local newspapers, or even on Wikipedia. It is really, really puzzling and distressing. Some of the people who do indeed have an influential voice, like David Boey, don’t use their voice to ask critical questions, only drool about military hardware.

    This wilful ignorance will rear its head again some day. Something incredibly terrible and shocking will happen and we will all be taken unawares, once again, because (a) we can’t plan for contingencies, and (b) there is no capacity for self-critical reflection.

  3. “Here are the absolute numbers: 8,785 regulars, with 86 per cent deployed in the field.”

    I wonder what the National Service Police Force (NSPF) numbers are?

    One possible solution – rope in the new PRs to do part time (evening) NS in the NSPF. We Singaporeans did it. Think of the number of birds we get with this one stone

    “…who knows what else – that have come under strain.”

    Good question – I wonder about our water supply. Population grew by 58% over the last 20 years. Presumably, there is also growth in industrial demand.

    Govt is helmed by scholars – I’m sure they have thought all these through.

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