Advocacy groups exploiting bus drivers' case: Government

The Government yesterday said that several advocacy groups and individuals pressing the case of two former SMRT bus drivers were exploiting the foreigners for their own political purposes.

"In the guise of protecting vulnerable foreign workers, the NGOs and individuals have in fact exploited them for their own political ends," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a joint statement.

The strongly worded statement was in reply to a statement made by the groups earlier in the day. The groups comprised Maruah, Project X and Think Centre and six individuals.

In their statement, the groups said it was "not right" for the MHA to suggest that the claims of police abuse made by Chinese nationals He Junling, 32, and Liu Xiangying, 33, were baseless.

The MHA had said last Saturday that the drivers had ample opportunities to raise their complaints either during or after investigations. The pair, who were jailed for instigating other SMRT drivers to strike last November, claimed that they were slapped, punched and threatened in custody. Both have served their time and have been deported to China.

But yesterday, the advocacy groups and individuals rejected the Government's explanations.

The driver He also sent a typed statement written in Chinese to reject the points raised by the MHA. This was sent through Workfair Singapore, a civil society group.

Driver He explained in his letter that he was not familiar with the workings of government organisations here and was alone with neither the presence of a witness nor surveillance cameras when the alleged beatings took place. He did not foresee a "good outcome" from his reporting the matter and this was why he did not consider doing so.

Last Saturday, the MHA said that the two men retracted their allegations in further statements recorded in February and March. Driver He denied this in his letter.

He further said that on two occasions when he was approached by police officers in jail, he told them that he would not be pursuing the cases of alleged abuse. "However, this did not mean those things never happened... I have never retracted my accusations," he wrote.

The statement released by advocacy groups and individuals said: "The veracity of a claim should not be dismissed simply because of the timing in which the complaint was made."

It also called for the MHA to "reveal how the drivers' statements were contradictory".

"This incident still leaves many questions unanswered," it said.

In its statement last night, the MHA and MOM said the statements from the groups and He repeat allegations the Government has already answered.

They noted that the drivers did not raise their complaints with the police or the courts. He, in fact, withdrew his allegation and then contradicted himself.

"Nevertheless the Police Internal Affairs Office did investigate their claims and found them baseless. The Attorney-General's Chambers concurred with these findings."

Yet in repeating his claims yesterday, He did not give details, said the MHA/MOM statement.

"Either he makes a police report and substantiates his allegation with evidence or the allegations must be regarded as unfounded and spurious. He cannot have it both ways - casting a smear without having to offer any proof."

Turning to the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals, the Government said that they should have "facilitated a proper investigation of He's allegations, instead of hindering the investigation while continuing to cast aspersions on the integrity of the police."

The six individuals behind the statement are: ex-Internal Security Act detainees Teo Soh Lung and Wong Souk Yee, Dr Paul Tambyah, who is on the Singapore Democratic Party's Healthcare Advisory Panel, Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, vice-president of migrant workers' rights group Transient Workers Count Too, Ms Jacqueline Tan from HealthServe, a non-profit organisation concerned with migrant health issues, and one Gao Daolin.

The statement they issued together with NGOs had questioned if MOM's processes and outcomes were "justice-oriented", and suggested that the MOM has adopted a "narrowly legalistic stance", dismissing claims it defines as non-statutory.

In their joint statement last night, the ministries said: "The NGOs and individuals also continue to repeat their reckless allegations about our labour laws, unions, and the Ministry of Manpower without any basis.

"Our tripartite system could not have worked for more than 40 years now if it had been based on oppression of workers and suppression of labour rights."

brynasim@sph.com.sg