SINGAPORE -The riot in Little India last December was sparked by a fatal accident but alcohol was “a major contributory factor” that led to the escalation of the violence, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) tasked to establish the root of the incident has concluded in its report.
The 75-page document, released by the Home Affairs Ministry on Monday, also found that the riot was not caused by any deep-seated unhappiness among foreign workers here, but rather the result of an “emotional outburst” following the death of construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu.
The 33-year-old from India, had been run over by a private bus on the night of Dec 8 after he tripped while running after the vehicle. A riot that involved about 400 foreign workers, mainly from South Asia, then erupted.
“The COI’s finding is that labour issues were not involved either proximately or remotely,” said the report, which followed a five-week inquiry earlier this year that heard evidence from 93 witnesses.
The report highlighted lapses by the police in the half hour between the extrication of Mr Sakthivel’s body and the arrival of Special Operations Command. The decision to hold their positions instead of engaging the mob earlier, for instance, gave the rioters a “free rein to do whatever they wanted”, said the report. Nevertheless, the COI commended the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force for their teamwork and the leadership of their respective ground commanders then.
It also said that overall, the SPF (Singapore Police Force) responded to the riot “swiftly and efficiently”, adding that the lapses were “an aberration from the norm (and) do not reflect a serious and systemic defect in the police force as a whole”. “In the view of the COI, the SPF is on the whole... one of the finest police forces in the world,” said the COI. “The key is to learn from this incident, so that mistakes are not repeated and future responses are improved.”
The committee has recommended, among others, that the police beef up its manpower, improve its communications and command-and-control capabilities to help officers dealing with public order incidents build a better picture of the ground situation, and train and equip frontline officers to effectively defuse and contain large-scale public order incidents. It also recommended that the authorities strictly enforce rules against public drunkenness and put in place alcohol restrictions in hotspots where large crowds typically indulge in heavy drinking.
On receiving the report, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean thanked the four-man panel chaired by retired judge G Pannir Selvam and panel members Mr Tee Tua Ba, Mr John De Payva and Mr Andrew Chua. Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said that his ministry and the Manpower Ministry would study the committee’s recommendations over the week and deliver the Government’s response to it in Parliament next Monday.