MP Denise Phua apologises for ‘walking time bombs' comment
MP Denise Phua apologises for 'walking time bomb' comment that caused stir
Jalan Besar MP Denise Phua apologised yesterday for her choice of words at Wednesday's Ministry of Home Affairs' budget debate.
Her speech was criticised online for being insensitive towards foreign workers.
Making the apology in a Facebook post, Ms Phua, who is also the Central Singapore District Mayor, said she had no intention to undermine any specific group with her comments.
She wrote: "I should not have used the phrase 'walking time bombs' to describe congregations of high density.
"I personally get along very well with the foreign cleaners in my constituency. To them and the other foreign workers in our country, thank you for your help and please accept my sincere apology if I have caused you concern."
During the debate in Parliament, Ms Phua said it was obvious that the "pre-riot crowds" had returned to Little India, which is part of her ward.
She also said congregations of "such high density are walking time-bombs and public disorder incidents waiting to happen".
Ms Phua also suggested erecting a ring-fence around the residents' communal areas, such as playgrounds and void decks, so the old and the young get to use the space meant for them.
Her comments created a stir online.
NetizenClaire Ban posted on Facebook: "If congregations of high density are walking time bombs and public disorder incidents waiting to happen, MRTs in the morning would have been a massive riot every day."
Another user, Mary Cherry, wrote: "As someone who actually lives in the area, I can tell you that these men have helped me lug heavy items up to a walk-up, without me asking, calling me sister throughout..."
She added: "These men built the comfy homes you live in, and the schools your children go to."
In a Facebook post responding to Ms Phua's speech, migrant workers group Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics wrote that labelling foreign workers as "walking time-bombs" further stigmatises an already marginalised group.
Ms Debbie Fordyce, from migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too, told The New Paper: "I understand that she has to speak up for the constituents in her ward and there's a natural tendency for people to think that strangers pose a threat.
"But transient workers shouldn't be viewed as potential criminals and describing them as 'walking time-bombs' encourages discrimination."
Ms Fordyce also said the issue is not about fencing off areas but creating enough space for foreign workers and residents to co-exist.
"We don't want to diminish the needs of the residents, but we also need to be flexible for both parties.
"Workers themselves know quite well that their presence isn't quite welcomed in certain areas," she said.
But a Little India resident, Mr Martin Pereira, 47, said: "To put things into perspective, (residents) just want to be able to use the facilities we pay for.
"So a bit of exclusivity by building a fence around community areas might be a good idea."
Mr Pereira, an air traffic controller who has been living in the area for 16 years, said: "Only residents will know, but crowds have been going up since last year.
"Just by looking at the crowds and the fact that you can't get onto some buses on Sundays because they're so packed, you realise that the crowds have picked up."
Another resident in the area, Ms Kwok Kar Peng, 39, said the main issue is the crowds in Little India that spill over into residential estates.
But Ms Kwok, a public relations manager, also said that things have improved since auxiliary police officers started patrolling the estates every day.
"It isn't a matter of whether they are foreigners or not. If there's a big congregation of people or if there are strangers loitering in your estate, there's always going to be a sense of wariness and unease," said Ms Kwok.
Mr Pereiraadded: "I don't think residents in this area are against foreign workers.
"All we want is what other estates are enjoying - being able to use community facilities that are meant for residents."