Little India Riot COI: 'People who stay there feel uncomfortable'

Tekka Residents' Committee chairman Martin Pereira.

LITTLE INDIA RIOT INQUIRY

Living in Little India can be a challenge.

That was what the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot there was told on Tuesday.

A litany of problems, like prostitution, alcoholism and the loss of privacy plague the residents there, said Tekka Residents' Committee (RC) chairman Martin Pereira, 44.

He spoke on behalf of the 10 residential blocks, consisting of about 900 households in Little India, next to where the riot happened last year.

The root cause of the complaints all boiled down to one fact: foreign workers love to congregate at public areas of residential estates there every Sunday.

Residents have told him that these areas - staircases, void decks and playgrounds - are heavily utilised by foreign workers on the weekends.

This deprives them of the facilities, which are maintained by the town council with fees paid by residents. "How is that fair?" Mr Pereira asked.

He said: "You have a hive of activity when you allow congregation below the void decks and that is what the residents find totally unacceptable."

PROSTITUTION

They are not "normal ladies", said Mr Pereira of the women who accost foreign workers at the void deck, offering their services.

These were observations made by his RC members, he testified to the COI. Male prostitutes also wander around the void decks.

In Klang Lane, for example, male prostitutes and transvestites would engage in "activities" with foreign workers at public staircases. These staircases are blocked by doors which anyone can access. These doors function as a fire prevention measure, Mr Pereira said.

"It's something which is not very nice," he said.

LOITERING AND LITTERING

Foreign workers would sit on the floor of the void decks, or sit at passageways, effectively blocking them.

When Mr Pereira previously tried to ask them to move, they would reply: "I haven't finished yet, I move off later."

He said: "They do show attitude and it's a normal thing. There are no laws which prevent them from loitering in that area, I think they are cleverer than what we make them out to be. "I think they are well aware of their rights."

There, they hold "picnics" where they consume food and drinks. But they do not dispose of their trash.

"People who stay there feel uncomfortable about what they are doing," said Mr Pereira.

"Lying down on the floor of a void deck, leaving your litter after you have finished eating... these are not activities which Singaporeans indulge in at their HDB estates, do they?"

MONEYLENDING ACTIVITIES

Residents have also heard of illicit moneylending activities among foreign workers at the void deck.

ALCOHOL

Over the 10 years that he has lived in Little India, Mr Pereira observed an increasing number of alcohol retailers in the area.

Because of the drinking problem, foreign workers are often seen fighting among themselves. Four months ago, one resident was also attacked by some foreign workers under the influence of alcohol, he said.

Said Mr Pereira in a raised voice: "How would you feel if you were staying in your estate and you can't go down on the weekend, or your wife goes down to the market and she has to cross over somebody who is lying flat, maybe in a drunken stupor?

"Or how would you feel if your kids go down to the playground and you see men there gathering and having a drink?"

2 months after Little India riot

INDECENT BEHAVIOUR

Foreign workers would also sleep at the void decks.

Sometimes, they would put their feet on the wall, staining them, said Mr Pereira.

"If they are sleeping in the passageway on the floor wearing a (sarong) and you're walking by them, it would make you feel really uncomfortable", he said.

"That's what the lady folks tell us all the time," he said.

INSUFFICIENT POWERS

One concern that Mr Pereira had was the limited powers and the lack of assertiveness by auxiliary police officers (APOs) who patrol the Little India area.

The APOs would tell foreign workers to move out from the void decks, but they have no legal basis to do so.

This is because these are public areas, so "anybody is free to move around in those areas", said COI member Andrew Chua. A resident, Mr Seet Hing Long, who also testified on Tuesday, said the foreign workers would come back after being told to leave.

Mr Pereira said APOs need to be more assertive when they speak to foreign workers, but admitted that it was hard for them to do so.

He said: "I suppose when you do not have a law which supports this, it is a bit difficult for them to do it because they might be (stepping beyond) their powers.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg

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2 months after Little India riot