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COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY HEARING

How Little India became a watering hole

Two witnesses point to proliferation of shops selling liquor in recent years

Published on Feb 21, 2014 8:18 AM
 
Foreign workers relaxing over liquor at a beer garden in Little India on Dec 22 last year. More foreign workers tanked up on alcohol have been making a nuisance of themselves by vomiting and even urinating in the private buses that take them from Little India back to their dormitories, say witnesses. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

In recent years, more and more foreign workers tanked up on alcohol have been making a nuisance of themselves by vomiting and even urinating in the private buses that take them from Little India back to their dormitories.

The problem worsened to such a point that two years ago, the bus drivers decided not to ferry any worker who looked intoxicated.

Two witnesses made these statements in separate testimonies at yesterday's Committee of Inquiry hearing into last year's Little India riot, drawing from their own observations.

Both also pointed to the same root cause - the mushrooming of shops selling alcohol in the area.

"Nowadays, almost every shop sells liquor - even those selling vegetables and groceries," said bus timekeeper Wong Geck Woon, 38, who has worked part-time at her job for five years.

She noted that in the months leading up to the riot, more workers had to be turned away for drunkenness than before.

"Whether a drunk passenger is allowed to board the bus is ultimately up to the driver. Some may still be kind enough to let them board," she noted.

"Others would not allow (it) as they would worry about their vomiting and the subsequent cleanup."

Madam Wong, who was stationed at Tekka Lane to coordinate bus arrivals and direct workers to the correct queues, also observed: "Some workers would sleep at the open field in the vicinity of Tekka Lane when they were drunk. Some would take a taxi back to their dormitories."

She said that while the workers were generally well-behaved, more of them tended to get drunk on the first weekend of each month after receiving their salaries. There were also more frequent patrols by the police on the first two weekends of each month, she said.

Despite the agreement among the bus drivers, some intoxicated foreign workers still managed to board the buses.

Bus driver Lee Kim Huat, 55, who has ferried workers between their dormitories and Little India for 12 years, told the court: "Occasionally, about once a month, one of these workers will vomit in the bus on the return trip.

"For the past five years, this had been a regular occurrence. It is part of my job to clean up any mess."

While final conclusions have not been drawn, alcohol has been considered one likely factor which led to the violence on Dec 8. As a result, the Government has put in place restrictions on the sale, supply and public consumption of alcohol in Little India.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, passed in Parliament on Tuesday, empowers the authorities to cancel or suspend a permit or licence on short notice if a licensee flouts the alcohol ban.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

yanliang@sph.com.sg