Little India Riot: Workers' rights group makes recommendations on conduct of inquiry

SINGAPORE - Workers' rights group Workfair Singapore has made recommendations to the Committee of Inquiry (COI) investigating the Dec 8 Little India riot, in a four-page statement on Friday.

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The full statement by Workfair Singapore:

1. Workfair Singapore welcomes the Prime Minister's remarks on Christmas Eve regarding the conduct of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot. The Committee, formed by the Minister for Home Affairs, carries the following Terms of Reference:

a. Establish the factors and circumstances that led to the riot in Little India on 8 December 2013.

b. Establish how the riot unfolded and how the response forces managed the incident.

c. Consider whether current measures to manage such incidents in areas where foreign workers congregate such as Little India are adequate, and recommend any further measures to improve their management and reduce the risk of such incidents.

d. Conduct itself in accordance with the provisions of the Inquiries Act.

e. Make and submit a report of its proceedings, findings and recommendations to the Minister for Home Affairs within six months.

2. In order that a full and detailed inquiry is carried out, it is essential that the Committee is allowed to operate on a fully independent and public basis so that probity is ensured and seen to be ensured. We therefore make recommendations to the Cabinet on the conduct of the Inquiry.

3. The Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers have made widespread pre-emptive pronouncements on the causes of the incident which have been widely reported in the press. In order to safeguard the integrity of the Committee, we request the Cabinet to:

a. Desist from making further pronouncements of their views on the causes of the incident.

b. Publicly announce the full independence of the Committee.

c. Undertake to publish the full report and proceedings of the Committee together with all the evidence received by it.

4. No similar incident has occurred in more than four decades. Therefore, neither the Minister for Law nor members of the Committee have experience of the conduct of such a Committee. We request the Minister for Law under Section 16 of the Inquiries Act (Chapter 139A) to implement the following Rules in relation to the Committee's proceedings:

a. Begin the deliberations of the Committee after the criminal proceedings have been concluded so as to ensure that there is no conflict of process or of evidence and that the evidence and judgment from the criminal proceedings can form part of the evidence considered by the Committee.

b. Hold all proceedings of the Committee in public at a publicly accessible venue and open to members of the public as well as the local and international media.

c. Appoint an independent Assessor under Section 7 of the Act who will ensure the independence of the Inquiry and that these Rules of the Committee are adhered to.

d. Allow and enable written affidavits by members of the public to be submitted to the Committee in evidence.

e. Allow and enable expert witnesses such as migrant labour activists, migrant worker non-government organisations (NGOs), academics with a specialism in public behaviour, rioting, and migrant labour to give evidence either orally or in writing to the Committee.

f. Allow evidence based on academic research into crowd behaviour, rioting and other related matters to be allowed into evidence.

g. Allow and enable migrant workers who were present at the scene of the incident as well as other migrant workers who are acquainted with them and those who are experienced in the conditions of migrant labour in Singapore to give evidence orally or in writing to the Committee.

h. Allow such affidavits to be collated with the assistance of the migrant worker NGOs or others available to assist the affidavit writers.

i. Ensure that all evidence presented to the Committee be made available to the public on a publicly accessibly platform.

5. Acknowledging that the incident may be susceptible of a range of interpretations and open to various causal explanations, we request the members of the Committee of inquiry to:

a. Take a broad interpretation of the Terms of Reference in order not to prevent any information from reaching the Committee in evidence or preclude any particular explanation from being considered and assessed.

b. Make facilities for the widest possible range of evidence to be presented to the Committee including the provision of interpreting and translation facilities to ensure that migrant workers are heard.

c. Make provisions with employers to ensure that no migrant worker desirous of giving evidence at the Committee's hearings is prevented from doing so. This should include facilitating the costs of attending the hearing and compensation to employers for releasing their employees to attend the hearings.

6. Given the gravity of the incident, we request Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Leader of the House to ensure that a full debate on the findings of the Committee's report is held in Parliament.

7. We are aware that the entire nation is anxious that we learn all the lessons of the incident so as to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. We trust that the Cabinet as well as members of the Committee of Inquiry share our view that the above recommendations will contribute to the fitness of the proceedings and the production of findings that all members of society will have faith in.