The timekeeper: I've never racially abused workers

Madam Wong says she sometimes raises her voice to control the crowds.

BUS timekeeper Wong Geck Woon on Thursday flatly denied allegations that she had a history of being rude to foreign workers.

"Sometimes, I can be quite hot-tempered in the course of my work and, sometimes, I raise my voice at them," she admitted.

But the 38-year-old insisted that she had never roughed up any worker during her five years working part-time as a time-keeper with the Singapore School Transport Association. Neither had she ever hurled racial insults or vulgarities at them nor called anyone names, she added.

Madam Wong was responding to questions from the chairman of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into last December's Little India riot, as she took the stand for the first time.

Former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam said: "Quite a number of people have told me that there is a long history of you being rude to the workers, humiliating them, calling them names, and that complaints were made against you."

The committee was seeking to establish why the mob directed its anger at Madam Wong, following the accident on Dec 8 last year that killed 33-year-old Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

She said she raised her voice at the workers at times, particularly when crowd control measures were necessary to manage those who were drunk and rowdy in queues along Tekka Lane.

She said she used a "very stern" tone of voice with Mr Sakthivel that night when telling him to get off the private bus. This was after he dropped his bermuda shorts while on board.

He would be run over and killed by the same bus minutes later. The sight of his body pinned under the vehicle is believed to have sparked the riot that night.

At Thursday's proceedings, Madam Wong was reserved, giving brief replies to most queries. She showed little emotion, even when video footage of her ordeal was screened in the courtroom.

Her account of how the violence unfolded was presented to the inquiry yesterday.

Madam Wong said in her statement that she could not tell if Mr Sakthivel was drunk when he first asked her which queue to join for buses heading for Jalan Papan.

This was because she could not smell the alcohol on his breath as her nose was blocked, she said.

Later, after the bus arrived and workers filled the seats, Mr Sakthivel jumped the queue, annoying other workers in line, who said he was drunk, she said. After boarding the bus, he walked to the rear and dropped his shorts.

When she told him to get off, he complied and was not "pushed or manhandled" by anyone, she said. While alighting, he tripped and landed on his buttocks on a step, before standing up and walking towards Race Course Road.

Madam Wong turned her attention to the next bus, which had just pulled in. Less than a minute later, two foreign workers told her the earlier bus had hit Mr Sakthivel. She rushed over to where the bus was, but was hit on the head before being hurried into the bus by a Good Samaritan wearing a checkered shirt.

On the steps of the bus, she turned around, raising her hands in a gesture, and told the mob "not to be so angry".

But as windows were smashed and projectiles like beer bottles and stones were thrown into the bus, Madam Wong cowered under a raincoat near the driver's seat.

Two men climbed on board and assaulted her before she was helped by police and firemen.

She suffered injuries from blows to her head, and cuts from the projectiles thrown.

"I have heard that these male Indian workers are very close-knit in that when something happens to one of them, they become protective," said Madam Wong in her statement.

Towards the end of her testimony, COI panel member, former commissioner of police Tee Tua Ba asked: "Are you afraid to go back to work?"

She merely answered: "I want to rest for the time being."

He then rephrased the question, asking: "Are you afraid to go back, for the time being?"

Her reply: "I don't know."

waltsim@sph.com.sg


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