Safety, security of citizens come first: Law Ministry

Police presence in Little India remained strong when The Sunday Times visited yesterday.
Police presence in Little India remained strong when The Sunday Times visited yesterday.

The Law Ministry said yesterday that the key question in the issue of repatriating foreign workers is whether Singapore's laws should be changed to give foreigners who come here to work the right to be heard in court before they are sent home, or if it is in the interest of Singaporeans that decisions on repatriation continue to be made by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Ms Praveen Randhawa, press secretary to Law Minister K. Shanmugam, responded in a statement yesterday to points made by activists Jolovan Wham and Braema Mathi in letters carried in the free newspaper Today last Thursday and Friday.

Mr Wham, of the group Workfair Singapore, said the Controller of Work Passes and the Controller of Immigration here "should not have arbitrary powers to revoke work passes and deport migrant workers".

Ms Mathi, of the human rights group Maruah, wanted the workers sent before the courts before being deported and said due process should not be subordinated to expediency.

Both wrote in response to earlier comments on the issue by Mr Shanmugam.

This is an excerpt of the ministry's statement yesterday:

"Today, one of the conditions under which foreign nationals are allowed the privilege to come here to work is that they can be repatriated if, for example, the Minister assesses them to be security threats.

Take the case of the 57 workers who were repatriated for participating in the Little India riot: If a court process had been necessary before they are repatriated, they could have stayed on in Singapore for a considerable period. They could have been given bail and be free to walk around Singapore, including Little India. And if they had not been given bail, they could be in our jails for a very long time, waiting for deportation.

If the rules are such that transgressors can stay on in Singapore to fight their repatriation orders, then at least some among them will be less deterred from transgressing. Some may also go underground.

These are not theoretical possibilities. The example of other countries shows that these are altogether likely and the repatriation process can take years. In some countries, repatriation is almost impossible.

Mr Wham and Ms Mathi should explain how Singaporeans would benefit if they had their way and a similar burdensome repatriation process were imposed here...

Every country has the right to choose its own system best suited to its circumstances.

Our system places paramount importance on the safety and security of our citizens, while ensuring the rights of those charged with criminal offences.

Our system is firm, just and fair."