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Posts Tagged ‘Little India’

Little India COI: And now that it’s over…

In News Reports, Politics on July 8, 2014 at 3:14 am

I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but did you realise that yet another Little India rioter was sentenced to jail and cane yesterday, on the same day that Parliament discussed the COI findings on the riot?

The Indian national was jailed two and a half years and to be caned three strokes, and is the third to plead guilty to “active’’ rioting. That is, he wasn’t one of those bystanders who merely threatened the cops. He took part in throwing missiles, including a rubbish bin, setting fire to the bus and, yes, he was one of those who danced round a burning police motorbike. I guess that’s the power of video? Or was it eye-witness testimony? The ST news report didn’t make clear.

(In any case, you might want to know the number of police cameras have been DOUBLED to 250 in Little India since the riot night with another 88 to be installed by the end of next year. So everyone had better think twice before doing funny stuff, like dropping your pants for a pee.)

ST didn’t make clear either where he was alcohol-fuelled. All it said was that he had been chatting with a friend and remitting money before he decided to go liven up the events of the night. He makes No. 14 of the 25 rioters charged. It’s good to know that key players have been brought to book, although so far, there’s only been three charged with actively taking part in the riot.

I really wish the news reports said more, like what possessed him to do the things he did. Was that reported in court? Or maybe not since he pleaded guilty? Or were there any mitigating factors that the lawyers put up? I presume he assigned a lawyer. It would have been first-hand testimony, putting flesh and blood on the COI report which said that the accident that happened was the cause of the riot, which was aggravated by alcohol consumption and nought to do with living or working conditions here.

In fact, the three-member COI has “disappeared’’. No press conference to address queries. No interviews. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the inquiry, which has the status of a court? You don’t have judges explaining their judgment, so it is the case here? Pity.

What we have instead is DPM Teo Chee Hean delivering a ministerial statement in response to the COI report and MPs questioning him. I have stuck my neck out to say that the COI report was pretty lame when it came to criticising the police effort that night. And now, DPM Teo has stuck his neck out to say that he thought the cops did okay. He quoted liberally from the COI report which commended those who arrived first on the scene and while he noted the COI saying that the police could have done better in the later stage when the rioters went on a rampage, he said “the commanders and officers that night did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information that they had on hand’’. The COI, he said, arrived at its assessment based on a reconstruction of all available information collected after the riot by a team of investigators.

“It is not always possible to take the analyses done after the fact, and substitute them for the judgement that the commanders and officers had to make on the ground that night. We will not be able to know definitively what the outcome would be if a different course of action had been taken during this phase, given the emotional crowd which was volatile and prone to misperceptions.’’

TODAY had a bit extra on what he said about Tanglin Division Commander Lu Yeow Lim, the ranking officer who decided to “hold the position’’ that night. PAP MP Vikram Nair had asked if action will be taken against him. Mr Teo’s reply: “I have evaluated the actions of the commander and the officers that night, and I do not find them wanting.”
On the matter of DAC Lu, it’s best to read TNP, which had Mr Teo saying that the police on the scene that night did not “have the benefit of hindsight’’. If DAC Lu had adopted an “interventionist’’ approach, that is, taken some action instead of waiting for riot police to arrive, no one could have predicted if things could get better or worse.

This appears to be one key area in which the G disagrees with the COI which thought that there were “lapses’’ in this particular stage of the riot that night and that DAC Lu could have taken “more positive action’’. The COI noted that most of the destruction happened while police were waiting for the Special Operations Command to arrive.
But why split hairs over what has happened, you say? So long as measures are in place to prevent a repeat occurrence – whether of the riot or any police lapses.

DPM Teo cited a list of measures, including beefing up the SOC and points to how there’s a manpower shortage everywhere so simply “asking’’ for manpower like the Police Commissioner had done, is not going to solve the problem although “there is no problem asking’’ .

Oh dear.

Anyway, the SOC will get 300 more frontline officers to get the number up to 600. I wonder if there ever is an ideal riot police to people ratio or even normal police to people ratio. While the force has been beefed up over the years, the ratio is way below other cities but there appears to be no mention of this Parliament going by the news reports. It strikes me that while there’s a shortage of manpower everywhere, including in the private sector, it is for the G to prioritise where new manpower should go to. And to pay them well. What’s also puzzling is how there seems to be no mention of auxillary police officers, who also played a critical role in the riot. Did no one ask about this aspect of beefing up the police force?

BTW, there was an interesting question by WP Sylvia Lim who suggested that the G allow “peaceful’’ demonstrations in certain areas. DPM Teo’s reply was described as “amused’’ by ST. But reading TODAY’s excerpt of the exchange, I thought he was pretty short with her: “Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say allow the protests to get out of hand so that they get a little bit more practice? Why not? Since we want to give them practice?’’ In any case, there were enough large-scale events for the police to “practise’’. That’s true. They just need to go to Hong Lim Park every weekend or so…

Frankly, Ms Lim’s suggestion goes against the Singapore DNA for peace and stability. We might as well stage a mock riot with missile somewhere and see how the police deal with it – and this is something I’m sure they already do.

So, are we closing the chapter on the Little India riot? There’s still the public consultation going on on the sale and consumption of alcohol and also some more rioters left to be brought before the courts.

I see the Little India riot as our police force’ “baptism of fire’’. I wish our men and women in blue well. You might want to consider this point: You have a minister who defended you. Good for you. Now, methinks it is time for all of us to get behind you too.

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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?

 

 

The news in numbers

In News Reports on March 19, 2014 at 12:56 am

Some interesting statistics in the media today…

a)     200 to 300 “abandoned’’ foreign workers a day.

 

That’s the number of people NGO TWC2 said patronised its “soup kitchen’’ every day. These are the workers who are waiting to go home but can’t because they have some outstanding issues to settle. The Manpower Ministry official at yesterday’s Little India COI seemed pretty ticked off at the use of the word “abandoned’’, maintaining that it was the job of employers to take care of them, or MOM will step in if the worker asked for help. That looks “good on paper’’, said COI’s GP Selvam. And a “soup kitchen’’ in Singapore? Shades of the Great Depression…! What sort of image does this give Singapore, the retired judge mused. Anyway, MOM said it would get in touch with TWC2

 

b)    1 million low-wage foreign workers, including maids

 

Again, a figure cited by TWC2. Well, you know what the G is like with “definitions’’ that have to do with income. MOM said there is no definition of a “low wage’’ worker. BUT there are 770,000 work permit holders who earn less than $2,200 a month. The MOM official didn’t give the number of maids. So if you define work permit holders as low wage, and add the number of maids, TWC2 might well be right – or maybe had even under-estimated the figure. What’s interesting is that MOM specified that about 370,000 of these work permit holders are Malaysians. What does this mean? So they don’t count as “foreigners’’?

 

c)     23 cases of foreign workers who told ICA that they were being forcibly repatriated by employers even though they have cases pending. MOM has “dealt’’ with them, the official told COI. Question: So what happened to these employers?

  

d)    6 times he spat

 

Remember the video of the guy at a bus interchange spitting at some woman? He’s in court now and totally unrepentant about his behaviour. If she was a guy, he would have whacked her six times instead of merely spitting on her…But he didn’t because he is NOT a bully. That’s the rubbish he spewed in court. Reason for sputum: She called him an idiot and insulted his mother, he said. Therefore he spat. Does anyone feel like punching him?

 

e)     80 Singaporeans and PRs arrested here between 2009 and last year for consuming drugs overseas.

 

That’s the “provisional’’ figure the Central Narcotics Bureau trotted out in the wake of Singaporeans having too much of a high at rock concerts in Malaysia and Indonesia.  Thing is, why is CNB aggregating the figures this way? Looks like with the proliferation of rock concerts, more checks should be done on people coming home so that a clear warning is given to them not to get too ecstatic abroad?

 

f)      100 kg

 

That’s the weight of a polytechnic student who attempted a handspring during cheerleading practice, fell and later died. Two “spotters’’ or teammates who help to support the stunt are now testifying in coroner’s court. Ask you guys: Is there such a thing as weight limitation on handsprings? Can it be done even if you are heavy?      

Meanwhile…in Singapore

In News Reports on March 17, 2014 at 3:13 am

While we are all trying to decipher the mystery of the missing plane…(I wonder how many times we are going to hear about the mystery “deepening’’ and the search “widening’’) let’s turn our attention back to our own backyard….

So…AHEM…

If there’s an interesting “local’’ story, it’s in ST today about how maids getting a mandatory day off means that our Sundays are getting crowded, especially at Lucky Plaza and City Plaza. ST didn’t say how many foreign maids there are here in total, but I gather they are in the one hundred thousand? So add this to the foreign worker population and you wonder if there is enough standing room in Singapore’s public areas…

Looks like the COI could do us all a favour by not just looking at Little India but the whole question of where foreign workers plus foreign maids go to on their day off and what is there for them to do that wouldn’t get people here feeling squeezed out of their own country on weekends.

It is, as I said before, a “small’’ country problem.  Also a “rich’’ country problem…

I’ve been reading about the COI and there were some interesting facets such as:

  1. The NGOs think the police and auxillary police are too tough on the workers and don’t give them “face’’ but the residents and shopkeepers think they are too “soft’’ and give the workers too much face. The truth is …out there? Or somewhere in-between?
  2. That the 9pm cut-off time for buses to ferry foreign workers out of Little India means that more of them are being left behind. So they take public transport back to their dorms. I wonder if SMRT and SBS staff are having to deal with drunken or unruly passengers, or are they simply glad for more passengers…?
  3. That the female “timekeeper’’ in the Little India riot has a very “loud’’ voice which is needed to get the foreign workers to board orderly and might not necessarily have been rude, although there are witnesses who say so. Poor woman. She’s the lightning rod?
  4. That the foreign workers that night thought their compatriot was merely injured and pinned down by the back wheel of the bus when cameras showed that he had actually been rolled over by the front wheel and ended at the back wheel. So a mis-communication that led the foreign workers to think the authorities were being callous?
  5. That shopkeepers are veering between being happy to have fewer “incidents’’ to deal with and being unhappy that business has come down.
  6.  That there is great animosity between the Bangladeshis and the Indians.
  7.  That 80 per cent of the shops are supposedly owned and run by foreigners. Said by a shopkeeper; dunno if it’s a fact.
  8. That there is a place called Kodai Canteen that is real popular among foreign workers because it’s like a beer garden. The owner/operator is taking the stand today.
  9. That if foreign workers can’t get Kingfisher or Knockout beer, they buy Baron’s brew.

This COI is really interesting for the stuff that comes out…    

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.  

Little India COI: It’s an inquiry…right?

In News Reports on March 11, 2014 at 6:48 am

I’ve been wondering about the way the Committee of Inquiry was going about its business, especially after an online Tamil group came up as a witness yesterday. Now, the people representing the group before the COI had no real “evidence’’ as such. They were reporting what other people told them about the riot. They were not there. They also made several allegations about the police coming down hard on the foreign workers, citing people who did not want to be named. They maintained that the foreign workers hated the cops, who paid them little respect and were always summoning them – and that alcohol was not an issue or there would be riots every week.

What’s all this, I thought. The COI was listening to hearsay?

I think plenty of people applaud the tough questioning by the COI, including me. But some comments are also making the rounds that the COI was not conducting an inquiry – but an inquisition.

That DAC Lu of Tanglin, for example, sure had a pretty hard time on the stand, getting cut off in mid-sentence so much so that he complained about being grilled left, right and centre. Now a COI is not a job interview and he couldn’t have expected the COI to treat him with kid’s gloves. He didn’t come out smelling like roses and his answers portrayed a police force more interested in protocol than crime prevention. Would he have come off better if he got more of chance to explain himself and his actions? I’m inclined to say no.

Then what about comments that the COI let fall during the inquiry, throwaway remarks that make for good reporting and leave spectators with a clear picture of how the members regarded the testimonies, even before the hearings are over?

Was this “on’’?

I suppose you could say that the COI “don’t give chance’’ and if ever there was an independent panel which did not give the G (in this case, the law and order people) face, then chairman GP Selvam and his men showed themselves  capable of doing so.   

I admit that I found the COI hearings enlightening. Even entertaining.  I was present for two days of hearings . Face it, you don’t often get to see G men getting grilled and the COI was way more effective at asking questions than any opposition political party member.   

The way the hearings are conducted is not like what you get in a courtroom. Sure, you have a prosecutor “leading evidence’’ but the show is really the COI’s, so to speak. Members interjected liberally and questioned carefully. While the prosecutors tried to render their questions “neutral’’, not so the members of the COI. Some of the questions would make journalists cringe – they were of the “leading’’ variety.

Was this “on’’?

So I took a look at the powers of a COI under the Inquiries Act. It’s like a court in that it has the protection given to the courts, such as ruling people in contempt. But the COI is not bound by any rules of evidence or procedure. That is, it is free to determine the procedure for the COI hearing. The COI may also admit any evidence which might be inadmissible in civil or criminal proceedings. That, I believe, would include hearsay evidence.

Well, it seems that all is all right then…

Methinks somebody somewhere should clarify the work of a COI and what it can or cannot do. For example, a COI cannot rule and has no power to determine civil or criminal liability of any person. What else?

It is not good for anonymous comments to float around that the COI might have over-stepped its bounds or have been less than fair. Or that it had contributed to lowering the standing of our law enforcement officers even before it has finished its work. I know I am saying this at the risk of “scandalising’’ the COI. But its work is in the public eye and while it can punish “contemptuous” commentators, it can’t stop opinions from forming.

I hope it will look kindly on this observation. There is no malice intended.

 

 

The man in the golden Merc

In News Reports on March 10, 2014 at 1:38 am

After declaring that he was “deeply disappointed’’ with the first immigration breach which allowed a Malaysian woman to tour Singapore for days, DPM Teo Chee Hean has now given the ICA a “chiding’’ for the second breach on Friday. Anyway, that’s the word ST used in its headline to describe what DPM Teo thought of the breach in which a 65- year old man in a golden Merc drove through Woodlands with impunity.

I had visions of a Dad reprimanding his wayward but cute kid for doing something naughty. So it was with great relief when I read the term “sharp rebuke’’ in the ST story later. That’s better….

Reading today’s ST, TNP and TODAY, I am not sure if I had the full picture of what happened at Woodlands. Reading TNP was especially disheartening. Because the ICA and Police top cops weren’t particularly re-assuring about the level of security we have.

Anyway, here’s what happened: The man in the golden Merc, a Malaysian who is a Singapore PR, cleared the first passport checkpoint and then got cold feet at the second when he was asked to open his spare tyre compartment in his boot. He made some excuse, got into the driver’s seat and scooted off, apparently with boot cover still flapping.

The cat claw barrier was activated. So somebody was fast enough to hit button. Excellent!

Now here’s where it got fuzzy. The official phrase is that the barrier “did not work optimally’’. What’s optimally? Well, the barrier when fully extended can go up to 30cms. We don’t know if it was fully up before the Merc drove over but the car took just 20 seconds to cross over. Therefore, how fast can this barrier go up fully?

Now it seemed that its two front tyres were punctured. But nothing was said about the back two. How far can you drive with two punctured front tyres…anybody?

Then it seemed an auxillary police officer “smashed’’ the back right window’s windscreen but ST helpfully said that video footage circulated online showed it was intact. Rather daring of ST since the video leakage, taken by a smart phone off a computer showing the CCTV recording, is now an Official Secrets Act investigation and should not be circulated.

TODAY reported that the officer was injured, but said nothing else of his injuries. So….how’s the guy doing – and what exactly did he do?

It looked like the Home Team learnt from its first lesson and did the correct thing next.

There was an “immediate alert’’, even to taxi drivers to watch out for the vehicle. Can’t be that many 24 year old gold Mercs around…They even rang the man on his mobile phone. But he managed to drive round the island for four hours, and even switched vehicles at one point, according to TODAY’s report. What vehicle I wonder.

On Friday at 830pm, the “vehicle’’, presumably the golden Merc, was recovered. Dunno where. Forty-five minutes later, the man was arrested. Dunno how or where. Four other men were also taken for questioning. There is a stash of drugs somewhere in this story. Dunno whether it was in the Merc’s booth, which was what got him antsy. Seems the Merc driver zips in and out of the Causeway every day too…      

That’s the Friday saga as far as I can tell from reading the reports.

Now, I am just an armchair critic, but I want to exercise my right as a concerned citizen to ask a few questions regarding the security of this country. (Hope that sounded important and pompous enough…)

As someone weaned on TV police dramas, how come no patrol car chased the Merc? The answer, as reported by TNP, was that it was “resource issue’’ (read: not enough people) and the ICA had expected the barrier to work (read: faith in technology).

The quote from Police Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Lau Peet Meng: “Honestly, putting a man and a police car and waiting for something like that is certainly not the best use of police resources.’’

You know, I happen to think stationing a cop, even an auxillary one, in banks is also a waste of resources. How many times do you think a bank gets robbed? Still, the banks seem to think its worth the money to have an officer around even though there are CCTVs as well. Or maybe the presence of a uniform is merely to deter would-be bank robbers. So having a cop car conspicuously on the ready is not a good deterrant as well? Okay. I don’t know.    

There was another question posed: What if these drivers with derring-do were really terrorists?

The quote from ICA Deputy Commissioner Aw Kum Cheong: “If a terrorist is determined enough, I think there are not many things we can do to stop them. But I think part of the measures that are implemented is always to make sure that we provide enough deterrence to slow people down. Proper reinforcement and investigations can then take place.’’ He said making the checkpoint terrorist-proof would essentially “paralyse’’ the process.

I don’t know about you but do you get the impression that terrorism isn’t such a big deal? I’m sure that’s not the cop’s intent but he should really be careful about what he says. In any case, I am not sure stationing a cop car to chase down fleeing immigration offenders would be a huge expenditure of resources or would paralyse the checkpoint.  

Another question: Is five hours to chase down a man in a golden Merc good or bad? Is that considered fast response especially when you have the name of the driver and the car licence plate and the fact that Singapore roads are so CCTV-ed and there aren’t that many places to hide a car?

Said Police SAC Lau: “You must understand that this man already knows he has committed an offence, it’s not like we are waiting to ambush him in a place he is unaware of.’’ This was a determined criminal trying to evade arrest, not someone “who is just walking down Orchard Road’’.

What’s interesting is the process he cited. He sounded like me, when I am trying to teach my class how to analyse something….

He said the cops “knew’’ the man, so they had to next establish where he lives and where he works.

“And at that point, we had to start to determine where he could have gone – could he have gone home? Could he have gone back to work? Could he have gone to other various places? Then there was the actual physical search that required time because he is mobile and is moving around.’’

You know, I think if he was a terrorist, he would be trying to evade arrest too and won’t be strolling on Orchard Road either unless that’s the place he’s trying to blow up…In any case, he’s got five hours to detonate something.

Did I hear you say that our men in blue should be given a break? I don’t think so. Hasn’t the G always said that our security cannot be compromised? I am quite tired of hearing about the “resource issue’’. It was also a lack of manpower that the cops cited as a reason for the escalation of the Little India riot. Not enough patrols in the area. The Special Operations Command had been trimmed down.

I was quite disappointed with debate on the Home Affairs ministry budget in Parliament that took place last week. Some questions were asked about the “outsourcing’’ of work to the auxillary police but not much else on the state of readiness on the part of our law and order people. Maybe the MPs didn’t want to step on the toes of the Little India Committee of Inquiry which is still going on?

All I can recall of the debate on the ministry is that a new independent review panel will be set up to review the work of the ministry’s committees tasked with reviewing the work of officers who did the wrong things. That was flagged by MSM as the most important story from the debate.

Sheesh. It left me feeling quite blue.  

AFTERNOTE: It just occurred to me that if the Merc had got through and if this was classified as a “border intrusion” and not an “immigration breach”, then the “immediate alert” should have led to road blocks set up right? And the police division covering Woodlands would have been deployed immediately?