SINGAPORE - Having trained non-legal personnel accompany foreign workers to police interviews would put further strain on an already-stretched police force, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (Nov 4).
This could delay interviews and result in issues such as missing evidence, he added in his ministerial statement on the case involving former maid Parti Liyani.
Mr Shanmugam was responding to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked if a scheme similar to the Appropriate Adult scheme for minors and mentally vulnerable persons could be implemented for foreign domestic workers and other work pass holders.
Last year, Appropriate Adults were activated 2,300 times, he said.
From 2015 to 2019, an average of 2,741 foreign workers on work passes were arrested each year as suspects, Mr Shanmugam said.
The volunteer pool would have to at least double for Appropriate Adults to attend to every foreign worker interview, he noted.
These volunteers would have to be trained and provided with the relevant resources, he added. On top of that, some individuals might require more than one statement to be taken.
Providing an Appropriate Adult for every foreign worker interviewed would thus become "a real constraint and load on the police".
These foreign workers are adults, he added. "The key is for the police to make sure that the foreign workers understand the questions and that their answers are properly recorded."
Mr Shanmugam said about 1,100 investigation officers handled 66,200 criminal cases in 2016.
In Singapore, the ratio of police officers to the broader population is 0.23 per cent, including full-time National Servicemen, he added.
In contrast, New York has a ratio of 0.42 per cent, while London clocks in at 0.34 per cent and Hong Kong, 0.39 per cent.
If Singapore were to increase its proportion of police officers so as to be on a par with these three cities, it would need between 6,000 and 11,000 more officers, Mr Shanmugam said.
"My concern is that there is a limit to how much our officers can do with increasing workload and increasing expectations, but without a proportionate increase in manpower," he said.
In his statement, Mr Shanmugam had cited the police force's manpower crunch as one reason for the lapses in investigating Ms Parti's case.
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh then asked how significant Mr Shanmugam assessed this issue of manpower to be. "Can it be a matter that can be resolved by directives or circulars from the commanding officers of various divisions?" he asked.
"The manpower issue cannot be an excuse," Mr Shanmugam replied, reiterating that the investigating officer had broken the rules. "Let's be clear about that."
He added that he would find out what happened in that case, and share his findings with Mr Singh, if the rules allow for it. He also pledged to get a better sense of the extent of the pressure that the police are under.
Mr Singh also asked about a statement issued by Ms Parti through migrant worker rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), in which the former maid said she filed a complaint against several officers from Tanglin Police Division on July 3.
She highlighted that her statement was taken in Malay rather than Bahasa Indonesia, her belief that there was possible tampering with evidence in order to cast her as being untruthful in court, as well as the delays in securing evidence for the case.
Mr Shanmugam added that he has not examined the Home statement carefully. His ministerial statement focused on what the judge dealt with, he said.
"As far as I'm concerned, those are the issues that are raised, that I have to deal with here. And if there is a specific concern about what has been set out in the Home statement... a question can be put up and we can deal with it."
He noted that he had already addressed several issues raised by Ms Parti in his ministerial statement, including those of interpretation and the fact that the investigating officer only viewed the crime scene five weeks after Ms Parti's former employers made a police report.
"I think, Mr Singh, that we all know that Miss Liyani is not doing this," Mr Shanmugam said. "We know why this is being done. But police will deal with it, and will respond in due course. And I'm not suggesting that anybody in this House is responsible for it."