'Re-examine role of alcohol in Little India riot'

'Re-examine role of alcohol in Little India riot'
Dr Vincent Wijeysingha.

COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY HEARING THE Government may have jumped the gun in pinning the cause of the riot in Little India on Dec 8 on alcohol, Workfair Singapore representative Vincent Wijeysingha told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Thursday.

Instead, the civil society activist asked the committee to consider a slew of other factors, ranging from the treatment of migrant workers by the authorities to a lack of social amenities, that may have led to the riot.

"The Prime Minister (in his) eagerness to make this point (on alcohol) less than 24 hours after it occurred, to me suggests there has been a great scramble to find a cause, a reason, that exonerated the Government's policies on migrant workers," said Dr Wijeysingha, who was a member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party until last year.

He added that the state's decision to deport the suspected rioters before they could go to trial meant they had "wasted a great opportunity to examine the alcohol thesis adequately".

The remarks Dr Wijeysingha referred to were made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong while on an official visit to Seoul last December.

He was asked by reporters what interim arrangements could be put in place to calm the ground the first weekend after the riot.

"First of all, it is a question of alcohol. This weekend we have said no alcohol, after that we have to see what arrangements we make," Mr Lee had replied.

But he also noted that a public consultation on liquor sale and consumption was already under way prior to the riot.

When asked later if Singapore would introduce any laws preventing public drunkenness, Mr Lee had said: "Let us study that. I think we do not want to have a knee-jerk reaction."

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