Saturday 15 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 15

Little India businesses suffer since alcohol rules implemented, COI told
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Mar 2014

Some shops in Little India said their businesses have been affected after the Little India riot, due to the alcohol restrictions in the area.

This was revealed on Thursday as some shopkeepers took the stand at the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into last December's riot.

The director of one provision shop, which sells liquor and beer, said he suffered losses of about $25,000 for the last two Sundays.

Another owner of a store selling vegetables said business has dipped by almost 50 per cent.

Shopkeepers told the COI this is because Indian foreign workers are afraid to go to Little India now.

Also taking the stand was a resident in Little India, Ms Gwee Nyuk Lian, who said that measures should be implemented to prevent congregation of foreign workers in Little India.

She added that there were many occasions when foreign workers, who were drunk, caused inconvenience to residents.

Earlier Thursday, Dr Vincent Wijeysingha of Workfair Singapore spoke of some of the challenges foreign workers in Singapore face.

He said these included limited amenities and facilities as well as their pay.

'Re-examine role of alcohol in Little India riot'
Civil society activist says lack of amenities, treatment of workers may be factors
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2014

THE Government may have jumped the gun in pinning the cause of the riot in Little India on Dec 8 on alcohol, Workfair Singapore representative Vincent Wijeysingha told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday.

Instead, the civil society activist asked the committee to consider a slew of other factors, ranging from the treatment of migrant workers by the authorities to a lack of social amenities, that may have led to the riot.

"The Prime Minister (in his) eagerness to make this point (on alcohol) less than 24 hours after it occurred, to me suggests there has been a great scramble to find a cause, a reason, that exonerated the Government's policies on migrant workers," said Dr Wijeysingha, who was a member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party until last year.

He added that the state's decision to deport the suspected rioters before they could go to trial meant they had "wasted a great opportunity to examine the alcohol thesis adequately".

The remarks Dr Wijeysingha referred to were made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong while on an official visit to Seoul last December.

He was asked by reporters what interim arrangements could be put in place to calm the ground the first weekend after the riot.

"First of all, it is a question of alcohol. This weekend we have said no alcohol, after that we have to see what arrangements we make," Mr Lee had replied.

But he also noted that a public consultation on liquor sale and consumption was already under way prior to the riot.

Dr Wijeysingha also testified that while he could not make a "definitive diagnosis", there was evidence of rude behaviour on the part of bus drivers and timekeepers who interacted with the foreign workers.

The workers could also have resented the first responders for refusing to move the bus that pinned down their countryman, he added.

Other "longstanding" issues such as the unequal relationship between guest workers and employers, fear of repatriation and the lack of social outlets for migrant workers could have been "among the precipitating factors" brought to a boil by the fatal accident, he noted.

Dr Wijeysingha also produced quotes from Mr Lee and Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang that he claimed indicated a "general government attitude" that foreign workers stood apart from citizens and were here on an as-needed basis.

"I think if we continue with... that attitude to migrant workers, we are not only not addressing the real causes, in my view, of the riot, we are almost guaranteeing a repeat of this some time in the future," he said.

But when State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy told him it was "a matter of public record" that a number of witnesses who were at the scene that night had given evidence that rioters had behaved under the influence of alcohol, Dr Wijeysingha disagreed, saying it was so far merely "a matter of public assertion".

"My concern is that we have already fallen into the alcohol thesis so firmly," said Dr Wijeysingha.

Members of the COI, however, disagreed with his argument that drinking in Little India started being viewed as a problem only after the riot.

Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam noted that many of the perennial issues raised by residents who live in Little India - such as foreign workers sleeping at the void decks, urinating and vomiting - stemmed from too much drinking.

The activist countered that such behaviour was not caused only by alcohol, and that having auxiliary police disperse the foreign workers was racist.

"The only people who are moved on from those residential areas, the void decks, are South Asian people - not just migrant workers, but local Singaporean South Asians," he said, addressing Mr Selvam. "If you happened to be there, sir, you would be moved on unless they knew who you were."

But committee member Andrew Chua, who is also chairman of the West Coast Citizens Consultative Committee, replied: "Do you seriously believe that Indians that vomit in Little India are not drinking and they just vomit? You should go and do some check-up because they are there, you know."

Minister decides AGC's role, says COI chief
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2014

WHETHER the Attorney-General should lead evidence at an inquiry is a matter for the minister who appointed the Committee of Inquiry (COI) to decide and not its members.

That was a point COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam was trying to put across to activist Vincent Wijeysingha at yesterday's inquiry into the cause of the Dec 8 riot.

Dr Wijeysingha, who was testifying at the hearing, had earlier written to the COI arguing that there was a conflict of interest with the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC) leading the evidence during proceedings as it represents the Government. That same letter was also published by freesheet Today on Feb 17, two days before the COI was convened.

"The point I was making then - I hold it even now - is that there must be at least a semblance of fairness and justice," Dr Wijeysingha said.

He added that the AGC was the authority that decided to charge the suspects allegedly involved in the riot and was also behind the decision not to take action against the bus driver involved in the fatal accident that sparked the violence.

"I suppose the point I'm making is that the Attorney-General cannot do both things at once; represent the Government and then charge the people and then also be independent here," he said.

The issue of who should present the evidence was raised after Mr Selvam asked Dr Wijeysingha if he still felt the COI had powers to appoint "somebody else" other than the AGC to do so.

"So the point is that you are not prevented from appointing someone other than the Attorney-General... you are entitled to do so," said Dr Wijeysingha.

Mr Selvam, however, said he "disagreed completely", adding that under the Inquiries Act, only the minister is empowered to do so and "I cannot override him against that section".

COI member Andrew Chua yesterday commended the AGC team, saying they have been doing a "fantastic job". But he added that the State Counsel are just "a facilitating machinery" that ensures the process of the inquiry goes on smoothly.

"There's no way that these people can actually do anything to slant the whole process because we are the ones who are responsible for making the final decision," said Mr Chua.

Dr Wijeysingha also said he was not questioning the personal integrity of the committee members or that of the State Counsel present. But when asked if he had any issues with how the inquiry had been handled so far, he replied: "Sir, you have put me on the spot here. Can I not answer that?"

Cops just had to assert themselves, says manager
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2014

FOREIGN workers who frequent Little India are usually "scared" of the police.

So if the officers had stood by their vehicles and asserted themselves on the night of Dec 8, they could have stopped the violence from escalating, said a restaurant manager who works in the area.

Mr T. Richerd Leo yesterday told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) of how rioters would dash away after pelting police vehicles, seemingly wary of being caught.

The issues of whether the police did enough to control the riot has become a recurring question during the inquiry. And yesterday, committee member Tee Tua Ba again alluded to this when he asked if the police would have served as a deterrent.

Mr Leo, a Chennai native who is now a permanent resident, agreed. "Obviously people are scared of police and the siren. People are scared to attack them."

Mr Leo added that while most workers are not trouble-makers, there are problems when alcohol enters the equation.

This observation was repeated by shopkeepers and residents who gave evidence yesterday.

Mr Leo said that on most Monday mornings before his restaurant opens, staff have to clear litter and scrub vomit from the walkway in front, where workers would drink and eat packed food the night before. And with a lack of public toilets to cater to the Sunday crowd, workers usually stream into his restaurant for its facilities - making it inconvenient for customers.

Mr Lim Herh Kim, chairman of the Residents' Committee at Rowell Court, recommended a total ban on alcohol sales. He has lived in the ethnic enclave for 30 years and said that since limits on alcohol sales and public drinking were put in place after the riot, the estate has seen a huge improvement.

But a director of a provision shop, where 80 per cent of sales come from beer and liquor, told the COI that his monthly takings have dropped from $135,000 to just $35,000.

The employment pass holder, who did not want to be named, said workers had been consuming alcohol in the area for years, and wondered whether the clampdown on alcohol sales would prevent a repeat of the riot. "What happened was a one-off (incident) due to the traffic accident," he added.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14

No comments:

Post a Comment