There was an 'eagerness' to pin cause of Little India riot to alcohol: Vincent Wijeysingha

Vincent Wijeysingha was a witness on Day 16 of Committee of Inquiry (COI) into Little India riot at the State Courts on March 13, 2014. There has been an "eagerness" by the Government to pin the cause of the riot in Little India to alcohol, rath
Vincent Wijeysingha was a witness on Day 16 of Committee of Inquiry (COI) into Little India riot at the State Courts on March 13, 2014. There has been an "eagerness" by the Government to pin the cause of the riot in Little India to alcohol, rather than to examine if it was the result of its own economic policies, Workfair Singapore activist Vincent Wijeysingha told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Thursday, March 13, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

There has been an "eagerness" by the Government to pin the cause of the riot in Little India to alcohol, rather than to examine if it was the result of its own economic policies, Workfair Singapore activist Vincent Wijeysingha told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Thursday.

"The Prime Minister... (in his) eagerness to make this point on alcohol, suggests there has been a great scramble to find a cause, a reason, to exonerate the Government and its policies," said Dr Wijeysingha, adding that the State's decision to deport the suspected rioters before they could go to trial meant it was a "wasted opportunity to examine the alcohol thesis".

Last December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters while on an official visit to Seoul that interim arrangements to calm the ground on the first weekend after the riot dealt with "a question of alcohol", and that a public consultation on liquor sale and consumption was already underway prior to the riot.

But Dr Wijeysingha told the committee that this was no different from what happened in England - with both British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron having made similar comments after riots happened on their watch - and that the "alcohol thesis" has been made by the authorities "even though we have no forensics evidence that the rioters were drunk".

But when State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy told him that it was "a matter of public record" that multiple witnesses who were at the scene that night had given evidence that rioters had behaved under the influence of alcohol, Dr Wijeysingha disagreed, and said it was so far merely "a matter of public assertion", given the lack of definitive evidence. "My concern is that we have already fallen into the alcohol thesis so firmly," said Dr Wijeysingha.

But the committee members disagreed with his viewpoint, noting that many of the issues raised by residents who live in Little India - such as foreign workers sleeping on the void decks, urinating and vomiting - stemmed from too much drink.

"Do you seriously believe that the vomiting in Little India is not drinking related? If you don't believe it, maybe you can go down and check it out," said committee member Andrew Chua, who is also chairman of West Coast Citizens' Consultative Committee.

yanliang@sph.com.sg