berthahenson

Closing the gate on Geylang

In News Reports on March 31, 2014 at 5:59 am

 Over the past year or so, I’ve been to Geylang several times. Before you get any funny thoughts, it was strictly for legit business. The now defunct Breakfast Network held our meetings at a building in one of the lorongs where our backend support was located. Perfectly legit company with its own carpark which made it easy for the drivers among us.

There was a mini market nearby patronised mainly by foreign workers where we would buy our beers for our strictly legit consumption as we talk legit business. Several nights, we had dinner in one of the fabulous coffeeshops. Crossing the road was a dicey matter and getting off the pavement was a normal manoeuvre to avoid the crowds of men and women. There was quite a lot of “sight-seeing’’, especially for the undergraduates who joined the meetings. The oldies among us joked quite a bit about “educating’’ the young ones on the seamier side of life.

Now it seems only a Martian would not know about Geylang and its environs. The media has been full of Geylang over the weekend, after the Commissioner of Police singled it out as a potential powder keg that contained more explosives than Little India.

So Little India is crowded on weekends, but it seems Geylang is crowded too, though not in the 100,000 numbers. And the crowds descend every night, with more than drinks being bought along the lorongs. We all know that Geylang is a red-light district (we seem to have forgotten that Little India was one too, until Desker Road got cleaned up). But I would venture to say that few people are clear about the status of prostitution in Singapore. In all the media reports I have seen, none shed light on the way Singapore manages this commercial activity.    

Thing is, prostitution is legal in Singapore although all the “side’’ activities like pimping aren’t. A certain number of brothels are “tolerated’’ or regulated and its prostitutes are medically screened.

To look at Geylang though, it would seem that the police turn a blind eye to vice activities.

It’s probably a case of realising that you can’t police human instincts, however vile, and it’s better to contain such activities in a limited area where an eye can be kept on them. That is a reason for a sustained massive crackdown on massage parlours masquerading as brothels brothels masquerading as massage parlours because we wanted vice out of the heartland. At least, that would keep the heartland “ring fenced’’.

It seems however that the “containment’’ policy has got out of hand.

Vice activities basically attract other types of similar activities. We know that. That is a reason the introduction of casinos years ago caused worry and why we tied up the casinos with red tape and rules and even have police officers dedicated to watch over them.

TNP, with its usual grassroot thoroughness, had an interesting spread on the nocturnal activities there in its Saturday edition. Besides open solicitation and pimping, there were sales of contraband cigarettes, codeine and sex drugs. Foreign prostitutes have marked out territories. Now this was just after two nights of staking out, and right after the CP had turned the spotlight on Geylang. Perhaps, criminals and low-lifes don’t read the media and don’t know when they should take cover and move their activities elsewhere.

So the CP has given out some statistics. There were 135 crimes committed last year there, which included murder, rape and robbery. They also included 49 public order cases of rioting, assault and affray in Geylang. Police were viewed as the “enemy’’. One policeman was assaulted and a police car vandalised. The CP, however, didn’t give statistics on arrests – that would give us a better idea of police performance in the area. He only said that at its peak, there were more than 60 officers in the area at any one time.

Predictably, the MPs have weighed in on behalf of constituents. Community-driven activities cannot do much given that the trouble makers appeared to be foreign workers who do not live there. One suggestion was to make sure that the area was cleared of “dorms’’ which operated out of shophouses there. That looks do-able, especially if the “dorms’’ are licensed.

 Just as predictably, NGOs spoke up on behalf of foreign workers, citing the lack of amenities that cater for them. Then there were those who spoke about Geylang’s colourful and flavourful atmosphere, so different from the rest of sterile Singapore I suppose. If you don’t look for trouble, you don’t get into trouble. Unsavoury characters leave you alone, say the Geylang lobby.  

 That got me thinking of Joo Chiat. Remember the fuss that was being made over how the area was turning into sleaze street? The community, mainly residents, got involved and the area appeared to have been cleaned up.

The trouble though is that there is really no incentive for business owners in Geylang to want things changed. Rent is low and they make money hand over fist from customers, whether desirables or not.  (By the way, is there a Geylang equivalent of the Little India Shopkeepers’ Association?)    

Where there is demand, there is supply. And the influx of foreign workers means plenty of new business of all types. Perhaps they are run by Singaporeans who see a quick buck being made. Perhaps foreign crime syndicates also saw a chance. Definitely, some foreign workers saw an opportunity to moonlight.

So what do we do besides allowing the CP an extra 1,000 men?

 Frankly, I am in favour of a total blitz on Geylang. Sweep the place. Arrest. Charge. Convict. And deport if they are foreigners. Sure, they’ll be back – and the process will have to be repeated all over again.  As I said, where there is demand, there will be supply. It is a short-term measure but the law must make sure it is obeyed – and even feared.

We should back our men and women in blue on this.    

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