berthahenson

Posts Tagged ‘law and order’

Shaddup and sit down

In Society, Writing on July 5, 2014 at 3:05 am

Been thinking about the way people argue offline and online….

How to silence critics
a. Do you have a better idea? A solution? No? Then shaddup and sit down!
b. Do you agree that we should help the poor? Yes. So good, we agree. Now can you please shaddup and sit down?
c. What right have you to talk about poor people when you live in a bungalow in Bukit Timah?
d. You not a doctor, lawyer, teacher are you? So don’t tell me what you think about the medical profession, the law or the education system.
e. You are gay right? Enuff said!
f. How many people did you talk to when you say you represent what people think? 1,000? 100,000? No?
g. You are a member of a vocal minority. Shaddup and sit down.
h. You think cleverer than all the experts we have? No? Shaddup and sit down.
i. You don’t understand anything because you don’t have the full facts. And I’m not giving you the facts because you won’t understand them anyway. So shaddup and sit down.
j. I don’t talk to people who have agendas, even if I not sure what the agenda is.
k. You have a position on the issue? Or are you just wasting my time nit-picking?
l. You usually drive right? Please don’t talk to me about bus fares and stalled trains. No locus standi.
m. You don’t take public transport all the time right? How frequent a user are you to talk about bus fares and stalled trains? No locus standi.
n. You are a property investor and developer right? That’s why you want cooling measures to stop? Vested interests!
o. You haven’t lived through war and riots right? Don’t talk to me about public order
p. You are too young to have accumulated any life experience, and therefore too young to have any views worth hearing.
q. You agree with the G? No wonder you support whatever they say. No place here for you. You’re predictable.
r You don’t agree with the G? No wonder you attack whatever they say. No place here for you. You’re predictable.
s. You shouldn’t just talk, must take action also. In fact, just DO. Don’t talk. So shaddup and sit down.
t. You are going off-topic. Stick to business at hand or shaddup and sit down.
u. You can’t see the big picture, that’s why you are so small-minded.
v. You don’t think long-term, that’s why you are so short-sighted.

FINALLY, with overwhelming force, say: SHADDUP AND SIT DOWN.

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Little India COI: Punchlines

In News Reports on July 1, 2014 at 3:50 am

So what do we know about what happened that night in Little India?

Here’s a summary: Some South Asians, who can number up to 100,000 in Little India on weekends, especially after pay-day, got worked up after a private bus rolled over one of their compatriots. Most were already tanked up on liquor and some fellows put out word that their compatriot had been pushed out of the bus. When uniformed officers turned up, the crowd thought they seemed more intent on protecting the bus driver and ticket collector than rescuing the man, who was already dead although some of them thought not. They got angry and started rioting.

 

The COI thoughtfully provided what it thought the riot was NOT about as well. Nope, not due to any sort of deep-seated resentment about working conditions or pay, as some people have alleged although more can be done about educating foreign workers about their rights, especially when they don’t get paid or get injured. The COI even did an NWC and recommended pay increases every year.

As for the role played by alcohol and how people had argued that if alcohol was the cause, then there would riots in other drinking holes such as Boat Quay. The COI said alcohol was a “contributory’’ cause, not a primary cause. It doesn’t want an islandwide ban but did suggest banning drinking in extremely public places like playgrounds and walkways. It also said something interesting about the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

 

The COI actually raised this a few times during its inquiry, asking for more checks to be done on this part of the law. Now, apparently it seems that the police don’t pay much attention to this because their main objective is to deter crime and they don’t have enough manpower. Must be. Or they would have given statistics to say this part of the law was enforced. (I wonder if they even know that such people can be arrested? More likely, the drunks just get “shifted’’ elsewhere. How many times have you come across video or pictures of drunks sprawled in MRT cabins or at void decks?) It seems to me that rather than come up with strict regulations on alcohol sale and drinking, a short, concerted campaign by the police to throw drunks in the brink could work better much like drink driving raids.

The COI’s other recommendations focused on cutting red tape (which the cops did quickly) and improving communications, like having a dedicated line for key officers that won’t be jammed up. But it looks like they gave up on recommending the lathi, the stick used by Indian police. Nothing was said about equipment nor armour although it said it was “not desirable’’ for policemen to do duty in civvies, as a few of the top cops did. I suppose the idea was to bolster police PRESENCE so that the crowd will melt away at the sight.

The ground commander DAC Lu Yeow Lim came in for the most criticism, especially for holding the ground when he should be running around to ascertain the presence of his men. Not right for him to go by the book it seems and wait for the SOC to arrive in overwhelming numbers before taking action. I suppose the infantry must charge in when the calvary has yet to arrive because standing still would merely “embolden’’ the enemy.

The COI also said the police needed more manpower although it didn’t put a figure to it. (The Police Commissioner has said he needs 1,000 more cops.) It also didn’t delve into the role of auxillary police in crowd control.

 So who looked good and who looked not-so-good in the report?

Looking good…

  1. ASP Jonathan Tang, who was here, there and everywhere, summoning for backup, herding people, shielding emergency officers, picking up the injured and looking for stray cops. Give the man a medal!
  2. LTA Tiffany Neo of the SCDF, who got the dead man into the ambulance and shielded the bus driver to safety while being pelted. Give the gal a medal!
  3. Traffic Police officer Sgt Fadli Shaifuddin Mohamed Sani, and APO PC Srisivangkar Subramaniam who attempted to either charge at groups of rioters or detain them.
  4. The Good Samaritans, especially the burly South Asian in checked shirt who got the bus driver and ticket collector on the bus when they were going to be set upon by the crowd. His identity still unknown although someone else did try to con the media into thinking he was the hero…
  5. Generally, the first responders were lauded for doing their duty despite the threatening crowd.

Looking not so good

  1. DAC Lu Yeow Lim, who was grilled for four hours by the COI, for his decision to “hold positions’’ while waiting for the SOC to arrive and his lack of initiative (my words) in checking how many men were on the ground.
  2. The two South Asians who clambered into the bus and started hammering the woman ticket collector. They caused the bus to jerk when the SCDF was trying to extricate the body. I wonder if they were among the men arrested or repatriated.
  3. The entire communications infrastructure of the police. Jammed radio lines which meant no one could reach anyone and no single command post.
  4. The reporting structure of the police, with its levels of checks and briefings and who must be alerted when anything happens etc before something moves. In this case, the deployment of the SOC.
  5. SCDF command for pulling out its team from the area after the “extrication’’ when they should have stayed behind.    
  6.  Employers who try to send their workers home without salary or compensating them for injury. This is an offshoot of the COI report when it concluded that working conditions were not to be blamed for the riot but other aspects of employment could be improved.
  7. Not forgetting the people who took part in the riot, who threw stones and damaged police cars. Pity there weren’t more arrests, especially of those who did physical damage and not just those silly enough not to disperse when SOC arrived…

So what’s next? Seems like the G will say something in Parliament on Monday in response to the COI. I’m sure the Home ministry has been busy cutting red tape, adding cameras and buying all sorts of technology for the cops and we’ll hear all about it on Monday.

I’m hoping that the G will give the cops more men and women as well. At the end of the day, it’s people who make a difference.

 

Little India COI report: Punches pulled

In News Reports on July 1, 2014 at 12:34 am

If there was one surprise in the Little India COI report, it was that the COI wasn’t tougher on the cops. Seems the panel members took a deep breath and strained mightily to say that the police… did a pretty good job, given the circumstances…

“Overall, SPF responded to the riot relatively swiftly and efficiently. The responding officers did a commendable job of handling the first phase of the riot. However, the COI also finds several lapses in the actions by the police during the second phase of the riot… ‘’

So, give ‘em a break. You know, none of them had ever had to handle a riot; the frontline cops weren’t equipped nor prepared for crowds who throw stones and beer bottles. How would anyone have figured that red tape would have delayed the deployment of the riot cops? How would anyone have known that communication lines would be jammed such that the cops couldn’t talk to one another and find out what was happening in the streets of Little India or even how many cops were already there? Holding a position by lining up across key roads is really a good idea but did you know that there were so many alleyways and back streets that rioters could go through?  And you would have thought the riot cops would have blared their way through traffic with sirens on, so who would have figured that they would be so late on the scene? In any case, in the half hour waiting for the calvary to arrive, all the rioters did was damage 23 emergency vehicles, including setting fire to four. Just over S$530,000 of damage caused – hey, small sum! And remember no tear gas nor water cannons used. No shots were fired.

Okay, I am being cynical but I sure hope I won’t have to hear such comments if the guys in GREEN had to go into action.

Like who would have anticipated threats from that side of the world? That the airforce would be so late in arriving because commercial planes were in the way? That communications breakdown prevented one group of soldiers from knowing that their compatriots were actually in the next road. That top soldiers ran out of their homes to get to the scene without donning their uniforms? You know, no one has ever been encountered an attack on territory before and those who did are probably dead by now. But never mind, just a few buildings burnt down and several overturned tanks. And. No. Shots. Fired.

Perhaps, I was looking forward to a blistering report, forgetting that it was more fact-finding than fault-fingering. The COI even refrained from describing the lapses as either “major’’ or “minor’’. But it stuck its neck out to say there were no “serious and systemic defect’’ in the force as a whole.

Frankly, I wonder what would be the COI’s definition of a “systemic defect’’? The red tape which delayed the deployment of the Special Operations Command is not a systemic defect? What other police procedures are being strangled by red tape? The lack of communications which it had described as “severe’’ is not a systemic defect? That the force reduced its competence in crowd and riot control over the years is not a systemic defect, especially given the rise in number of foreign residents over the past 10 years?  Oops! That’s not a systemic defect, that’s a failure of strategic planning.

I  looked for the word “culture’’ in the report as in “culture of complacency’’.  Instead “culture’’ is used in relation to the rioters: how some South Asians have a culture of rooting for the underdog, “street justice’’ and cocking a snook at authority. I can’t imagine any politician avoiding the use of the word or phrase when talking about public order and security. But then again, the COI members aren’t politicians.

The phrase repeatedly used is “room for improvement’’, which everyone, everything, everywhere has “room’’ for. Which is a politically correct phrase.

An ST commentator suggested that the COI was trying not to hit the morale of the cops going by the way the report was written. If so, that’s lovely of the COI. But this citizen, among the millions living here who depend on the police for our safety, is terribly unhappy at the way the COI pulled its punches.

You might ask why I seem to be out for blood and what’s wrong with the COI being kinder so long as it produced good recommendations. A  simple reason: Call a spade a spade. And on matters of law and order, there should be no “give’’. Only the highest standards should suffice.

Okay, I got that out of my system. Part 2 coming up later.  

 

Sci-fi story: Xena and Xeno:

In News Reports on April 25, 2014 at 1:31 am

An imaginary conversation between Xena and Xeno

Xeno: Eh, can these Pinoys stop it already? Want to hold independence celebration at Taka? They think this is where? Manila?

Xena: Chill. We are all members of the same universe. They liberated themselves and now they are chained here. How to celebrate in Manila? Let them chill out lah. Anyway, it’s in June. School holidays. Why you want to go Taka anyway? Sure crowded with small semi-sentient beings.

Xeno: Oi! Not enough that they’ve invaded our houses, our hospitals and our restaurants…They want to take over my favourite shopping mall? This is war!

Xena: Eh, they already take over many buildings on weekends. Have you been to City Plaza? Anyway what do you want to do? Lead a squadron to take them out? They are harmless, defenceless prisoners, I mean, people… You know, once they get police permits and if Taka says okay, you will be breaking the laws by shooting them……Then it’s Changi penal colony for you man…

Xeno:  I don’t care! They are part of a conspiracy, aided by the powers that be, to exterminate natives so that they can use our resources. It’s a slow takeover. We can’t let them happen. We need to don our greens, flash our pink cards, show our red passports…Time to make a stand!

Xena: Well, there’s always Hong Lim Park, that small planet where you can say what you like and wave the flag. But you’d better get a permit. Go see how many followers you have…some people think 26,000 will turn up. Go try! Say you’re exercising freedom of speech!

Xeno: But I don’t believe in diplomatic means anymore. People are upset. They see the Pinoy flyer and they go…eh, isn’t that the Singapore skyline? The Pinoys made a big mistake. They’ve showed their hand…Now we know what they are really up to….

Xena: Aiyah. They did it before. In Hong Lim and in Suntec City. We didn’t have a problem…Just call their leaders and tell them to stand down. Or go to the Philippines embassy or something. 

Xeno: Exactly what I have been saying! Do it on their own property! Doing it in Taka is a provocation to the rest of us who can’t afford to shop there! We’re unhappy. We’re being squeezed out of our jobs. We don’t even recognise our own country anymore. Everytime I close my eyes and hear all those alien tongues, I think I’m on another planet.

Xena: Wait a minute…Didn’t you escort our own fleet for celebrations in London and Sydney? We did that in public parks right?  

Xeno: That’s different. That’s a public park. Not a shopping mall. Geddit? And there are not so many Singapuddlians in London or Sydney. But there are so many Pinoys here. The gathering is a pretext for the start of a riot when they will all fan out over Singapore as police hold their positions. No shots fired. Well! I will fire first shot!

Xena: Ahhh. I thought some people think we’re too hard on the foreign beings? Work them too hard? No space to sleep? Nowhere to hang out?

Xeno: But it must be on OUR terms. WE will decide when and where and what they can do. Just like we decide at home for the helper. I think I’m not going to give my maid Sunday off that day. Whose silly idea was that?   

Xena: So you want to send a hit squad that day to Taka? Must remember that natives will be around and might get caught in friendly fire…

Xeno: Hmm…we will use water pistols then…

Xena: What? Like Songkran festival which got called off because it’s wasting water?

Xeno: Goodness! So hard to start a war…

Xena: Never mind Xeno…Come. Let’s arm wrestle. I’ll let you beat me this time.

Just how did Dinesh die? The final chapter

In News Reports on April 24, 2014 at 4:26 am

So we come to the last episode of the long-running series, Just how did Dinesh die?

His family has decided not to pursue the issue of getting more information on how Dinesh died in a state institution. They had earlier charged that the prison officers had abused their authority and assaulted the 21 year old. He died from positional asphyxiation because a prison supervisor had neglected to oversee a restraint procedure properly. In layman’s language, after Dinesh had an altercation with some prison guards, he was laid out in a cell face-down in such a way that he could not breathe. The supervisor pleaded guilty and paid a $10,000 fine.

It had looked like the last stage for the family in the legal process: They went to the apex court to challenge the state’s assertion that the State Coroner had the power to decide not to resume the inquiry into the youth’s death. The court had reserved judgment. If the court had ruled for the family, what would have happened next? Another counter-appeal from the State? If it had ruled against, some would have accused it of protecting the organs of state. I hope this doesn’t land me in contempt of court…

Now the family has accepted a “settlement’’, which both the family and the Home Affairs ministry said was “at a level which the G indicated from the start it was prepared to consider’’. What strange phraseology. Why the stress on this point? What does it mean? That the family went through all the legal hoops for nothing? That the family wasn’t “silenced’’ with a more substantial settlement? That the family was finally convinced through “back channels’’ that they were barking up the wrong tree when they wanted the other prison guards brought to book?

In any case, it seemed that everything was settled amicably with the indefatigable lawyer for the family, M Ravi, saying that this was “closure’’ for the family. The family has also dropped its civil suit asking for compensation. It isn’t clear if this is part of the “settlement’’. But since the family has accepted the official version of what happened  “on a full and final basis, in relation to all claims, issues, disputes and matters whatsoever’’ according to the joint statement, I would suppose so.  

In the news reports I have read today, the main point that comes across is this:  that the State Coroner had a right to discontinue an inquiry if he was satisfied with the outcome of  criminal proceedings on how the death occurred. In the Dinesh case, those criminal proceedings were over in a day because the prison supervisor pleaded guilty.  

What they neglected to say was that the coroner had asked the family when the inquiry was later held if they objected to the discontinuation. Apparently, they were badly advised by their first lawyer at that time. They said nothing. So they lost the chance. And it seemed like it was their one and only chance. One lesson though: Get yourself a good lawyer

Well, if the people with the most interest and stake in the case, the family, are satisfied, I suppose the rest of us should be too.

Let’s let Dinesh rest in peace.

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.    

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.     

Little India COI: Wanted – More lawmen

In News Reports on March 26, 2014 at 3:42 am

I don’t know if anyone noticed that the Little India COI has been bending over backwards to assure the cops that they are all on the same side, with no clash of commissioners, so to speak ,given that ex-Commissioner Tee Tua Ba is on the COI.

In fact, it’s funny that Commissioner Ng Joo Hee brought up a little known riot in 1985 between Korean and Thai workers at a construction site as an example of the cops “holding the ground’’. That was when Mr Tee was the top cop on site.

In any case, is that riot a surprise to you? It was to me. CP Ng said that it was not widely known because the Internet and social media weren’t in place then. And it was confined to a construction site.

I wonder what else we don’t know about this place we live. Well, we do know that there are not enough policemen on the beat, or boots on the ground. We don’t need the cops to tell us that.

CP Ng actually made a plea for 1,000 more cops to beef up a police force that didn’t grow in pace with the population. You have to ask yourself: How come no one sounded the alarm all this time? The complacency of citizens notwithstanding, there must surely be enough experts to say that one cop to 614 people is way below the international benchmarks? So how is it that no MP or politician made this point? We worry so much about not re-producing to fill the ranks of the Singapore Armed Forces, but we spare nary a thought for the boys and girls in blue.

Perhaps, we thought that beyond Singapore being a safe enough place already, there is technology to make up for human shortfall. Looks like we still need “people’’, never mind if Singapore is going to have 100,000 cameras all round the island. Yup. One hundred thousand, according to the CP. And policemen will have body cameras, and their cars will be camera equipped too.

Still, here is the CP saying: Men no enough.   

Another interesting point: the COI raised concern that the presence of large numbers of foreigners, or rather, foreign communities, is itself  troubling. It’s talking about animosity among the communities, not necessarily directed at the “indigenous’’ population. It’s talking about communities bringing their cultures, customs, politics and historical baggage with them. Already, the Little India COI has heard bits and pieces about how the Bangladeshis and Indians don’t quite like each other. You have to wonder about the foreign worker dormitories where hundreds of them live under one roof.

Methinks for us locals, we always look at “troubles’’ among foreign workers as nothing to do with us. So, they fight among themselves. Okay. Just don’t try anything funny with us… I suppose that’s the wrong approach to take. Whatever happens in the dorms might well spill into other dorms – and further afield.

What the CP said about Geylang is troubling.  He actually used the word “lawless’’ to describe the atmosphere that pervades Singapore’s foremost red light district. Besides workers from China, other foreign nationalities also congregate there, an area with a disproportionately high number of crimes (135 compared to Little India’s 83) and public order offences committed (49 compared to 25).  Never mind that 100,000 foreign workers descend on Little India every weekend, going by the statistics, they are a tame nuisance compared to those who throng Geylang’s lorongs with their sale of sex and drugs.

Other things we didn’t know: the Geylang patrons open animosity towards the cops, assaults on police officers and vandalism of at least one patrol car in the area. Now, it makes you wonder why if the police were tracking Geylang, it was never brought to anyone’s notice before that they were so short-handed? Is this to preserve Singapore’s image as a safe city?        

CP Ng did a superb balancing act at the COI: He defended his men’s performance while acknowledging screw-ups, such as the lack of communication that night and the slow response time to activate the Special Operations Command. He promised rectification.

That is as a leader should do.

So, can we just give the man his men?

 

 

Little India COI: Mr VW takes the stand

In News Reports on March 13, 2014 at 6:50 am

It wasn’t just the hazy morning which drove me to the air-conditioned COI courtroom.  It was the fact that Vincent Wijeysingha would be giving evidence. Now this is the man who complained about the Attorney-General’s Office being appointed to lead evidence. His thesis: How can the G’s lawyer be independent enough to lead evidence at a hearing which might hurt the G?

So there I was at Court 13, expecting fireworks. What will Vincent W say? Will he be given a fair shake?

Turns out to be quite a chummy affair, with Mr W and chairman GP Selvam exchanging information on riots elsewhere from way back when. Mr W, representing Workfair, didn’t get to expand on the sociological aspects on the anatomy of a riot; he was very nicely told by Mr Selvam to get to the first term of reference on the factors and circumstances leading to THIS riot in Little India. But he did get to elaborate quite a bit on how he thought the COI should take a “macro’’ look at the state of the transient foreign worker and how there was a “whole suite’’ of factors that contribute to the foreign workers’ mindset of their lot here (not good) and how anything – not just drink – could have triggered the riot.

Anyway, his case goes something like this:

Although some improvements were made to the lot of the foreign workers (he didn’t specify what) after the SMRT strike of 2012, they don’t seem to be adequate. There are still complaints.  Those who come to work here already face an uncertain future: they are in hock to their agents back home and they are at risk of being repatriated “at will’’ by employers who only have to go online to do so.

There are repatriation companies which will hijack and kidnap workers singled out by employers and escort them to the airport to be sent home, he said. Complaints to Manpower ministry did not work, he added, and one senior official had even described these repatriation experts as a “useful social service”. (Seems that some arrangements have been worked out with MOM in which a foreign worker who has a case pending could alert the immigration authorities) 

While the foreign workers are here, they don’t have many social amenities they can utilise. Then there was the way the Little India authorities in the form of the town council and MPs want the problem of over-crowding handled. Police tell the workers to shift from where ever  they are deemed loitering. So they do, moving from place to place to place all within Little India. This was just a movement of people , not a long term solution to the problem of crowding unless, he jibed, they were moved to the neighbouring Tanjong Pagar or to Bukit Timah.

Plus the way the police behaved towards them leaves “much to be desired’’ (He cited one anecdote of how he had witnessed a policeman deal with a foreign worker who said he had lost his handphone. The policeman seemed to be accusing the worker of “stealing’’ it) . Then there were the drivers and timekeepers of the buses that ferry them: “harsh and heavy-handed’’.

And what about alcohol?

The prosecutor who led evidence and the COI tried several times to clarify if he thought alcohol was a factor. Here, Mr W tried to hold his ground. Somewhat wobbly ground, if I may say so. He wants the COI not to subscribe to the “alcohol’’ thesis just because (or is it even though?) the Prime Minister and other ministers had weighed in on this. There was no “forensic’’ evidence that the rioters were drunk (the prosecutor said that you might not need a blood test to tell) and if drinking was a problem, it was a lot worst in Boat and Clarke Quays.

Then he got into a bit of a tangle when he said that behaviour cited by residents might not be the outcome of drink. Here’s where COI member Andrew Chua tried to get him to say if he thought vomiting (bad behaviour) was a result of too much drink. Mr W said his job wasn’t to disprove this but for those who say so, such as the PM,  to prove.

Woah.

The COI made it clear that it can’t rule out any factor and that alcohol was just one of them. In fact, Mr Selvam went further – drinking per se isn’t a problem but public intoxication is. Here’s where Mr Selvam said something interesting: Rather than control the supply of alcohol (via liquor licences for example), the demand for alcohol can also be controlled by making use of the law on public intoxication.  This would make clear that bad behaviour in public while in a drunken stupor is what is frowned upon. And using the Miscellaneous Act against such behaviour would naturally control the demand.

This isn’t the first time the Act has been raised by the COI and I keep wondering why the Attorney-General’s Office has not been able to give any statistics on this offence. Maybe because there haven’t been any? If so, then Mr W would be right in his retort that the police haven’t been doing their job.     

He had one and a half hours with the COI and given quite a bit of latitude to range over and beyond the terms of reference, something which he acknowledged as well. In fact, the session ended with the COI asking him if he had been given a fair hearing and whether he still stuck by his earlier objections of having the AGC lead evidence.

He held the line: He was still against having the G’s lawyer lead evidence in a hearing that could make the G look bad. Not that he thought the lawyers or the COI members lacked integrity but because there must be “a semblance of fairness and transparency’’. It was quite entertaining watching the black-suited lawyers shift in the chairs when this dialogue was going on…

Anyway, there were two instances which made my eyebrows hit my hairline.

First, his contention that there was an element of racism in the treatment of foreign workers: The stereotype that Indians get drunk easily and are “sexually voracious’’. That was why the town council only targeted South Asians and wanted them to move away from void decks. That was also why “alcohol’’ became a prominent feature post-riot.

He’s making some assumptions of course, but he is saying in public what is usually left unsaid. No one wants to look racist or even mention the word.

Second, like the other NGOs which have given evidence, he is asking for better treatment for foreign workers on as many fronts as possible – or at least a mindset shift towards them. Past comments on foreign workers from the PM and MP Yeo Guat Kwang who set up the Migrant Workers’ Centre, he said, only serve to reinforce people’s attitudes towards foreign workers as “transients’’ who are here just to serve Singapore’s economic needs.

This is going to be hard to do.

The fact is that foreign workers ARE transients or they would be permanent residents. And they ARE here to make up for a shortfall in manpower. To say otherwise would lead to a set of other complaints from Singaporeans who are already chafing about sharing space with them, whether they are drunk or not.

It does NOT mean, however, that we should treat them like dirt or ignore their human rights. But those rights have to be set in the context of why they are here and the nature of their relationship with this country. Maybe they should be known as “guest workers’’ rather than foreign or transient workers which over time seemed to have gained a derogatory connotation. As guests, they can choose to come and they can choose to go and we will treat them right while they are here. But as the owner of the house, we can also make sure they do not wreck the place and show them the door if they do.  

Maybe that could be the start of a shift in societal attitudes that would satisfy both the NGOs and employers. The rest would depend on our consciences.   

 

    

Little India COI: Would you want to live in Little India?

In News Reports on March 12, 2014 at 6:26 am

Those poor auxillary police officers who patrol Little India are being bashed from both sides. By NGOs who say they’ve been too rough on foreign workers and by residents who say they’re not tough enough.

Actually, the number of summons issued could show if they’ve been rough or tough. And it hasn’t gone up. That’s always struck me as kind of funny because littering and peeing – which one group say they do naturally at home because it isn’t the law over there – should have seen the numbers go up. But we have one officer who told the COI that he only gives out like two summonses a month. Well, maybe he prefers the soft approach of “talking’’ to them. He’s Tamil-speaking.

The NGOs are out in force holding the ground for foreign workers. So we’ve heard appeals for understanding their different culture, the state of their life here and even to learn a bit of their language. Well, at least a few of auxillary officers were Tamil-speaking – so it is not as though the need for a fluent Tamil speaker was disregarded by the cops.

But it’s good to hear from the residents there and I must say they’re making their displeasure loud and clear. Their representatives have zero sympathy for the foreign workers who loiter near their homes on weekends. The picture they paint would resonate with most people. You wouldn’t like to be barred in your home on weekends too, because you don’t want to navigate round drunks or people who sleep at your void deck and staircase landings. You wouldn’t like to be accosted by prostitutes as well – or be mistaken for one.

I mean, that’s one of the reasons people don’t like dormitories in their backyard right? The current dormitories are now located in isolated areas, out of sight and probably out of mind.

There was a very pointed question raised at the COI about how residents should know what they were getting into, especially if they’ve moved in over the past 12 to 15 years or so. It’s the same sort of question that gets posed to residents who live in Geylang. You know you are moving into the red light district, so why complain about the “girls’’ and their customers flocking the area?

The answer from Mr Martin Pereria, a long time resident: “But this is still Singapore. My point is this..When in Rome, you should do as the Romans do, not expect the Romans to adjust to you.’’

So, Houston, we have a problem.

That problem is what to do with the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who get the same day off every week? One NGO has set up a place for foreign maids making the pointed comment that they will no longer have to disturb mall owners and retailers. Again, it’s an out of sight, out of mind problem.

If only Singapore was bigger, but it is not. So we have more recreation areas for them? And disperse them round the island? I won’t put it past people to complain if pockets of foreign workers suddenly emerge near their homes to throng recreation areas set up for them. Then we’ll hear a different tune: That they should be “contained’’ in Little India.

Put the lid on liquor licences? That’s one solution and the officials in charge have a lot to answer for for the number of licences awarded to Little India traders.

Take a tougher line on drunken behaviour in public places? How tough is tough? Want to get tough in Boat Quay and other water holes also? We’ve got to remember that whatever laws apply to foreign workers will probably apply to locals as well. Then the complaint will be about a paranoid police, rather than a protocol police.

Actually I haven’t heard anything about CCTV cameras in the Little India area. Parliament yesterday heard that even more will be put up, to capture litterbugs, for example. I happen to think that this is too much of Big Brother approach if this was mainly to nab litterbugs. Imagine if you’re busted because you’ve been caught on candid camera and there is some facial recognition programme that traces you to your residential address…I would say: “Sure I left the bag on the ground, so yes I littered. But how in heaven’s name did you trace me like that? Is this such a big crime as to warrant this kind of time and energy? What else do you know or have on me? Who else knows about me? Go reinforce the Woodlands checkpoint instead lah.’’

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last line…

But you know, having CCTVs galore at large gathering areas for the purpose of maintaining law and order is something I would be extremely comfortable with. So far, we haven’t heard very much about the “monitoring’’ of Little India. Maybe the presence of cameras would prompt better behaviour among the visitors to Little India. Just a small suggestion.

Of course, the best way is not to have such a large foreign worker population. But that would mean the construction and shipping industries had better get on with finding more efficient ways to do work than to rely on masses of cheap labour.

Sigh. What to do? This is a “small country’’ problem.