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SHOULD WE HAVE SEEN IT COMING?

Little India was a cauldron of problems waiting to boil over.

With ingredients such as large crowds of up to 100,000 and widespread drinking every weekend, large-scale violence was "waiting to happen", said committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam.

During the inquiry, some residents, shopkeepers and transport operators also spoke of the troubles that were already brewing in Little India.

KEY PEOPLE

Tekka Residents' Committee (RC)chairman Martin Pereira, Little India Shopkeepers And Heritage Association vice-chairman S. Rajagopal

KEY POINTS

TOO SOFT?

Mr Pereira said there were "uncomfortable activities" involving foreign workers such as prostitution, littering, indecent behaviour and illicit moneylending.

Shopkeepers also said the police had been too soft on foreign workers who congregate in the area.

A shopkeeper who declined to be named said:"Right now, there is no one who is scared there in Little India...

"The laws in Singapore are very strict, but... the police should also become more strict and firm in dealing with such situations."

While the police said the crime rate in Little India has fallen over the years, the committee said the figures do not fully reflect the reality of overcrowding and the other problems.

Committee member Tee Tua Ba said the exceptional numbers made it a "volatile situation".

TOO HARD?

There was also frustration against the auxiliary police officers, who patrol Little India on foot, said shopkeepers.

Mr Rajagopal said he has heard Cisco officers using a degrading Tamil term to address the foreign workers, despite its deputy operations manager, Mr Lin Shunzhong, disputing that he has not witnessed any physical or verbal abuse.

Two auxiliary police officers said timekeeper Wong Geck Woon, who was attacked during the riot, was seen hurling vulgarities at foreign workers while on the job.

FLASHPOINT

"The riot was waiting to happen ... it was a bomb waiting to explode," said Mr Rajagopal on the lack of police presence in Little India.

WORKING, LIVING CONDITIONS the flames After

Dissatisfaction with working and living conditions did not contribute to the riot.

That was what non-government organisations representing foreign workers, dormitory operators and workers themselves told the committee.

KEY PEOPLE

Migrant Workers' Centre executive director Bernard Menon, Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union (Batu) deputy executive secretary Jennie Yeo, excavator operator Seenuvasan Selvaraja.

KEY POINTS

HAPPY TO BE HERE

Workers who appeared before the committee said they were happy to be here.

One of them was construction worker Kannadasan Murugan, even though he said he would like to be paid more.

But when committee chairman Selvam asked if he would go on riot because of salary issues, he said: "No, sir. One does not have to resort to violence. One just has to take the matter up (with the authorities)."

Mr Menon said most workers here are "peaceful, genuine and hard-working" and fear repatriation.

"So they don't want to get in trouble, and rather fly under the radar."

BETTER THAN BACK HOME

Dormitories here provide better living conditions than in their own countries, said Mr Willy Ng, operator of Homesafe Lodge in Kaki Bukit.

Mr Murugan also said he was happy with his living quarters - a three-storey dormitory where 15 men share a "spacious" room, even if 50 of them have to jostle for a shower at any one time.

Said Mr Seenuvasan: "Staying here is like staying with your own family back in India."

BUT...

There are still grievances and employment-related issues affecting foreign workers, said Batu's Ms Yeo.

Ms Yeo, who ranked foreign workers' conditions in Singapore as a "five or six" out of 10, said one of the workers' grievances is their inability to seek recourse for salary claims.

She said the confiscation of foreign workers' passports by employers, who would ask for a security deposit of $1,000 to $5,000 from the workers if they want their passports back, is another problem.

But the police force's chief psychologist, Dr Majeed Khader, also said these issues appear to be more anecdotal than applicable to all foreign workers here.

TALKING POINT

When asked to rate his working experience here, Mr Seenuvasan said: "I would give Singapore 100 marks."

Amid laughter from the public gallery, chairman Selvam replied: "The Prime Minister will be very happy. Thank you."