Friday 28 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: End of public hearing

'No deep-seated worker unhappiness' behind Dec 8 riot
Investigators say alcohol key factor; no widespread worker abuse noted
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2014

ALCOHOL was a major factor in the riot in Little India on Dec 8 last year, said the lead investigator of a public inquiry into the mayhem which closed yesterday.

Contrary to suggestions by some groups, the investigating agency found no "deep-seated unhappiness" among the foreign workers involved who were interviewed afterwards.

These were two key observations made by Central Narcotics Bureau director of investigations Adam Fashe Huddin, 47, who yesterday gave the Committee of Inquiry (COI) a wrap of the evidence he and his team of five officers had gathered in their probe.

The bureau was tasked on Dec 26 with conducting an independent investigation for the COI, which has ended after 24 days of hearings from 93 witnesses.

Mr Adam, a 22-year veteran with the bureau, said 324 interviews were conducted for its investigation, video footage reviewed and 11 site visits made.

The investigating team, together with the COI, also visited dormitories and other foreign worker enclaves such as Geylang.

Mr Adam acknowledged the lack of "direct evidence" pointing to alcohol as a cause of the riot, but officers on the ground had observed rioters "losing their balance and smelling of alcohol".

"Alcohol bottles were literally raining at police officers," he said.

As proof of how much drinking there was, he cited revenue losses among Little India liquor stores now that alcohol sales are restricted. One, he noted, is losing as much as $25,000 every Sunday.

The probe did not uncover any "widespread and systemic abuse" of foreign workers that might have led to them to "take the opportunity... to vent their anger".

There were no complaints of delays in salary payments or poor living conditions from any of the foreign workers interviewed before they were deported in the riot's aftermath, nor among those charged for their roles in the riot.

Rather, the trouble was sparked by a confluence of factors after a fatal traffic accident involving a worker. These included a misconception of inaction by the authorities to rescue the victim, and pent-up frustrations against the timekeeper, and auxiliary police officers, who issue fines that form a large part of their wages.

Mr Adam suggested the Land Transport Authority could regulate the two bus associations that run private buses ferrying workers between their dormitories and Little India, extending the service to Sunday mornings and Saturdays to even out the crowd.

He said: "This will help to reduce the impression that foreign workers were being denied the opportunity to visit Little India, as has been the case after the capacity of buses was reduced and operating hours curtailed from 11pm (previously) to 9pm."

Mr Adam also proposed training for the bus timekeepers and coordinators to minimise friction with foreign workers. Auxiliary officers could also be better educated of their roles, and foreign workers with social norms here.

In conclusion, COI chairman and former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam said: "While we have received your commentary and findings, you mustn't expect us to rubber stamp everything that you have given us.

"Because some areas are plainly controversial, we have to sit down for some internal debate... We will ask you for further help."

The COI must submit its report to Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean by June 13.

10 key findings of investigators
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2014

THESE are the 10 key findings made by Central Narcotics Bureau director of investigations Adam Fashe Huddin, the lead investigator into the Little India riot.

1 Alcohol was "the main contributory factor" in causing the riot to escalate and the violence which took place.

2 There was no evidence of widespread abuse of foreign workers in Singapore, or that such problems were behind the riot. Workers interviewed did not complain of salary issues or poor living conditions.

3 Workers at the scene may have been riled by what they saw as the late arrival of rescue personnel, and that some of the civil defence officers first approached the bus timekeeper instead of the accident victim.

4 By holding back the crowd and shielding the driver and timekeeper, the police created the impression they were "protecting their own (Singaporeans)".

5 Given the "forceful" way the timekeeper carried out her work, there was already resentment from workers. The "ill-fated turn of events" made her a focal point of the rioters' anger.

6 Roads in Little India could be closed on Sundays to give the crowds more space, with more barricades installed to prevent jaywalking.

7 Little India ferry services could be extended to Sunday mornings and Saturdays to spread out the crowd of workers visiting the area.

8 Bus drivers and timekeepers may be trained to communicate better with workers, who themselves could be taught what is unacceptable behaviour here.

9 Auxiliary officers could be better trained so they do not cause resentment and tension while carrying out their duties.

10 More police resources should be invested in areas where foreign workers congregate, especially in Geylang.

The Committee of Inquiry - appointed on Dec 13, five days after the riot - has until June 13 to submit a report and recommendations to the Minister for Home Affairs.

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, Day 15, Day 16, Day 17Day 18Day 19, Day 20Day 21, Day 22
Little India Riot COI Report - 30 Jun 2014

Little India Riot COI
Report Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013
Little India Riot: Govt accepts COI recommendations

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