Foreign workers removing bus stop for airforce exercise

From ‘Don’t rope in construction workers for military exercises’, 17 Nov 2016, ST Forum

(Tan Yulin): I was disappointed to see construction workers removing a bus stop to turn Lim Chu Kang Road into a runway for the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s Exercise Torrent (“Turning road into runway“; Nov 12).

Getting construction workers to do the work defeats the purpose of the military exercise. Besides testing the operational abilities of the air force to launch aircraft in a short period of time, it is also important to test the capabilities of our soldiers to convert a road into a runway.

It would have made the exercise more authentic if combat engineers had been activated to remove the bus stops, guard rails and lamp posts, without the help of construction workers.

Doing so would also have served as a test of the different forces working together in times of threat. Besides building teamwork and understanding among the different forces, such exercises should be a test of the operational readiness of our multi-disciplinary armed forces. I hope this can be taken into consideration for future airforce exercises.

Foreign workers have always been a key ‘shadow army’ behind the SAF machine, and if the writer herself had a boy going through NS, she would have been complicit in their invisible work as well. If not for maids, who would help lug our NSmen’s duffel bags home after a hard day’s training, or wash the mud off their No. 4s and boots?

Dismantling bus stops aside, the packing of parachutes has also been outsourced to non-soldiers, with some alleging that PRCs are behind it. With our dismal birthrate and shortage of manpower, it would be unrealistic to stretch our army’s capabilities right down to the most basic of logistics. That includes washing tanks and feeding the army in times of war. Though contracted to ‘civilian’ companies, I’m pretty certain that foreign workers will be involved.

Even the SAF and Police rope in foreign workers. In order to test SCDF’s anti-riot capacity following the Little India incident, actual dorm workers were roped in as part of a simulation exercise, right down to awkward reenactments of throwing projectiles at armed SCDF personnel. A much easier job than pulling bus stops out of the ground if you ask me.

Then Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan said in a FB post that the mock riot was ‘well received…by foreign worker ambassadors‘, and that it was a ‘meaningful collaboration’. Likewise, you could say the use of construction workers to prepare a runway for the RSAF is a cost-saving optimization of resources so that our airforce can focus on their flying stuff and our combat engineers can focus on their bridge-building/demolishing stuff.

It’s time we accept that foreign workers have contributed to our military operations in some way or another, from the rations that soldiers eat to the airborne equipment that keeps them from going splat on the ground. Or maybe the RSAF had intended for actual soldiers to do the dirty work in preparation for the exercise after all, but our boys were activated to other soldierly duties: Managing crowds during a MRT breakdown.

MP Denise Phua on walking time bombs

From ‘MP Denise Phua apologises for using phrase ‘walking time bombs”, 8 Apr 16, article in CNA

Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar Ms Denise Phua apologised on Friday  (Apr 8) for her choice of words in her recent speech during the Ministry of Home Affairs budget debate.

“I should not have used the phrase ‘walking time-bombs’ to describe congregations of high density,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Ms Phua, who is also the mayor of the Central Singapore, was relating a recent visit to Little India in Parliament. As her constituency covers part of the Little India neighbourhood, she had put forth some suggestions in an effort to safeguard against a repeat of the Little India riot. The suggestions include forming a multi-agency Task Force to manage security risks of congestion or ring-fencing communal residential areas.

“I have no intention to undermine any specific group,” Ms Phua explained. “I personally get along very well with the foreign cleaners in my constituency. To them and the other foreign workers in our country, thank you for your help and please accept my sincere apology if I have caused you concern.”

If the Mayor of Central Singapore had stopped at a simple apology, her supporters could still argue in her defence that she only used the phrase on unruly crowds in general. By bringing in ‘foreign cleaners’ in her follow up response, it’s clear who she was referring to. To make matters worse, her ring-fencing suggestion brings to mind barbed wire, sentry posts and District 9.

Amazingly, this isn’t the first time that Denise has used ‘walking time bomb’. She used it to describe the remote gambling industry, (though technically a website doesn’t ‘walk’ so it’s more accurate to call it a ‘ticking’ time bomb instead).  Whether it’s an online casino or a bunch of workers chilling with a six pack, anything that looks suspicious to Denise Phua is a disaster waiting to happen. Our dismal birth rate. The diabetes epidemic. The Korean fried chicken craze. They’re all goddamn ticking time bombs. At least our leaders are wise enough to avoid using bomby analogies to address the ISIS situation, unlike this inflammatory headline from the Herald Sun.

There are less controversial ways of employing such violent metaphors. You could call an obese man with heart problems a ‘walking time bomb‘ and no one would call you out for hate speech. Or kids who are prone to temper tantrums (What makes your little walking time bomb tick?15 March 2016, ST). Even teenage sex is a ‘ticking time bomb’. It’s a metaphor that’s designed to instill irrational fear and creates more impact than just saying ‘The crowds in Little India are, well, A CONCERN’. Still, it’s best to avoid any utterance of the word ‘bomb’ in Parliament. In today’s climate, a bomb is no longer a staple Wile Coyote prank in a cartoon. People have been arrested for making bomb hoaxes over the phone. No other 4 words in the history of the English language would incur more time, resources and chaos than you shouting ‘I HAVE A BOMB’ on a plane.

Little India is not the only place that may require you to suit up like our Explosives and Ordnance Unit. Geylang has also been affectionately termed by Police Commisioner Ng Joon Hee as a ‘potential powder keg‘ in 2014.  The chances of anyone actually getting injured in these ‘lawless’ enclaves is low however, compared to the ticking time bomb that is peak-hour commuters on a platform in Jurong Interchange MRT.

I guess it will be the last that we hear of Denise ‘Time-bomb’ Phua’s pet phrase. Maybe we’d all be less harsh on her had she used ‘a bubble waiting to burst’, ‘a kettle boiling over’ or a ‘pimple waiting to pop’ instead.

Maid starved by employers until all ‘skin and bones’

From ‘Couple on trial for starving maid till she weighed just 29kg’, 14 Dec 15, article by Vanessa Paige Chelvan, CNA

A Singaporean couple is on trial for allegedly starving their Filipina domestic helper. She weighed just 29kg when she escaped from their Orchard Road condominium in April 2014. Lim Choon Hong and wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, face one charge each under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which states that employers are responsible for the “maintenance” of their foreign employee, including providing them with adequate food.

Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, had worked for the couple for almost 1.5 years before she escaped and sought refuge at HOME, a non-profit organisation that assists migrant workers, including domestic helpers.  Ms Thelma lost 20kg whilst working for Lim and Chong. She told HOME of only being given instant noodles to eat twice a day for over a year. On some occasions, she was given bread.

…Chong would sometimes add some meat and vegetables to her food, Ms Thelma told the court, but in the form of “one slice of tomato … or cucumber“.

Ms Thelma was never allowed to eat out with the family. Even when Lim and Chong brought their three children to stay at Raffles Hotel, they packed instant noodles and bread for Ms Thelma.

…If found guilty, Lim and Chong could be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$10,000.

In 2014, Singaporeans wasted 788,600 tonnes of food, which works out to be 2 bowls of rice per person per day, or 1400 A380 planes. Mere scraps of this obscene excess are ending up in the stomachs of our foreign workers. Maids are given instant noodles, and construction workers are fed with bread as chewy as tyre. 

Like rape, such incidents are likely to be under-reported out of fear of stigma, retaliation or of losing their jobs. Yet, the MOM tells us that over 99% of FDWs surveyed report having ‘sufficient food to eat’ daily, and continue to assure us that our guest workers are generally satisfied with their employers, until they decide to flip cars over and burn them, that is. Those driven to hunger and desperation may resort to begging neighbours for food, or in the most extreme case, take it out on the employers themselves.

Despite our rising affluence and how people like Theresa’s alleged abusers can afford a condo in Orchard and have staycations at the Raffles Hotel, we still have maids being treated worse than animals, a hideous symptom of a self-proclaimed First World society practising modern slavery behind closed doors. Starvation and being monitored more tightly than prisoners aside, we have a shameful, horrific history of maids having their nipple bitten off, being fed dogshit and getting kicked in the groin.

Lim and Chong are treading a thin line with their penny-pinching tyranny. A Malaysian couple were sentenced to HANG for the crime of starving their Cambodian maid to death, which was tantamount to murder. If found guilty, the pair should not only be jailed for torture, but banned by the MOM from ever hiring helpers of any sort. The next victim may very well lose more than just a chunk of her weight.

Singapore turning away Rohingya boat people

From ‘Challenge, opportunity for Singapore’, 19 May 2015, ST Forum

(Mohamed Yazeed): THE complicated situation arising from the desperate migration of Rohingya people from Myanmar poses both a challenge and opportunity for Singapore.

The historical narrative we subscribe to, of Singapore being small and vulnerable and, hence, needing to do whatever it takes to survive, should not be an excuse to abandon our humanity.

Let us not speak of justice and compassion, yet turn away when there are human beings facing the horrendous fate of dying out in the ocean, which is right at our doorstep.

Although Singapore cannot accept any Rohingya due to the size of our nation, we can take the lead in trying to solve this problem at its roots.

Earlier this month, the Singapore Kindness Movement reported that we are becoming more ‘gracious’. Apparently the study did not evaluate whether Singaporeans were willing to escort drifting, hungry refugees onto our island and offer them food and shelter, instead of shooing them away because we can’t cope with the influx thereby letting them perish in the middle of the ocean or get robbed and raped by roving pirates.

In 1978, the late LKY responded to critics of our nation’s reluctance to extend a helping hand to Viet refugees, saying that ‘you’ve got to grow calluses on your heart or you’ll just bleed to death’. In other words, we were looking out for our own, and trying not to play Good Samaritan like someone opening his own doors to a horde of festering lepers. Except that at the time we were already letting thousands of migrants in through another door to boost the economy, nevermind the ‘small size’.  Despite all the money rushing in, we still had a heart of stone rather than one of gold. And for good reason too, according to S Rajaratnam, who in 1979 said that us extending a helping hand would mean ‘encouraging those responsible (for the exodus) to force even more refugees to flee’. That being ‘nice’ isn’t going to help humanity in the long run. Still, one of those Viet refugees rejected by us turned out to be a rather successful Australian governor.

Today, we continue to adopt the hard pragmatic stance of self-preservation at the expense of our ‘humanity’, but while turning away ‘illegal’ boat people, we welcome with open arms rich Chinese fraudsters and grant them PRs, or Caucasian hooligans who beat up taxi drivers and jump bail.  As the richest member of ASEAN, we fully expect our neighbours to give us the side-eye for brushing some desperate, stateless, fellow humans aside. It also doesn’t help that we’re on chummy terms with military junta leader Thein Sein, so much so that we have even named an orchid after him.

Meanwhile, despite the Rohingya crisis smack in our backyward, we send medical teams to far-flung disaster-struck Nepal to rebuild lives and go around dropping spare change into donation cans at 7-Elevens. Perhaps our callused heart is not that cold after all.

Chinese fugitive Li Huabo’s PR status revoked

From ‘Former Chinese govt official Li Huabo sent back to China’, 10 May 2015, article in CNA

Singapore has revoked the Permanent Resident status of former Chinese government official Li Huabo and sent him back to China on Saturday (May 9). According to reports, Li was sentenced in Singapore in 2013 to 15 months’ jail for receiving more than S$240,000 in stolen funds in his Singapore bank account.

The money was said to be part of the S$19 million in total that he had siphoned off from the Chinese government over five years.  A spokesman for Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said in a statement that following Li’s release from prison on Saturday, he “was sent back to China as he has no valid grounds for further stay in Singapore”.

ICA added that it had also revoked the PR status of Li’s family.

Li is a former finance official from Poyang county in Jiangxi province and was on the list of 100 most wanted economic fugitives released by China last month.

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, ancient Singapore is depicted as a haven for sea pirates, led by Chow Yun Fatt’s Sao Feng. Up till today, we remain an attractive refuge for corrupt fugitives from China or Indonesia, although our government insists that our ICA’s filtering is top-notch and have been doing their darnedest to keep ‘undesirable elements’ out of the country. Snarky, this Disney.

According to Bloomberg, Li pumped $1.5 million worth of investment into the country, lying that he was a GM of an energy company during his application for PR. He fled to Singapore in Jan 2011, only to be caught just 2 months later after a tip-off. By then, the permanent resident had amassed a 3-bedroom apartment in a ‘luxury condo complex’ and a heavy gold Rolex, among other worldly possessions. Li Huabo’s lawyer was none other than the late Subhas Anandan, who argued for a shorter jail-term. If it weren’t for the Skynet operation, he’d be living a life free of ‘healthcare scares, CCP crackdowns and pollution’ in our wonderful country. Worse, he’d be enjoying SG50 perks like the rest of us, or sipping expensive wine in his jacuzzi (after tormenting and spitting at his condo manager into allowing him to do so). God help us if he eventually were to become Singaporean. He doesn’t even help us win ping pong medals like Li Jiawei did. Oh, wait.

So, how conducive exactly is ‘squeaky clean’ Singapore to fugitives, con-men who deceive elderly widows, and white-collar crooks? As early as 1958, Indonesian tycoons of Chinese descent were transferring millions of dollars into the country and sought permission to reside here for good. Today, Indo enforcers continue to scour areas like Orchard Road to snare runaway graft criminals, such as vote-buying businesswoman Nunun Nurbaeti. Even some of our forested areas, like Bukit Panjang for example, have been described as a ‘fugitive’s playground‘, having supposedly harboured the likes of runaway terrorist Mas Selamat. And let’s not forget the most famous fugitive of them all Nick Leeson, who even has a movie made in his honour, including scenes of the lead actor’s (Ewan McGregor) bare buttocks. A pretty boy in a beautiful city with plenty of dirty cash to spare.

It’s ironic that a country once described as ‘Disneyland with the death penalty’ has, at the same time, been accused as a ‘safe haven‘ for tax criminals and absconding corrupt officials. Maybe all the covert ‘laundering’ happening under our noses has contributed to the ‘squeaky-clean’ image. Li is but one of 6 wanted criminals suspected to be in hiding in our tiny island, probably taking advantage of the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries to escape the death penalty back home.  I wonder if fellow Chinese national and PR Yang Yin has sufficient ‘grounds for further stay’ here. An expensive Rolex and a nice house apparently didn’t deter our authorities from sending Li back to the motherland.

TRS creators charged with sedition

From ‘The Real Singapore duo slapped with 7 charges under Sedition Act’, 15 April 2015, article in CNA

The couple behind socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) – a 26-year-old Singaporean man and a 22-year-old Australian woman – were on Tuesday (Apr 14) each charged with seven counts of sedition.

Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi allegedly published seditious articles on the website between October 2013 and February 2015. One of these articles falsely claimed that an incident between police and some members of the public during a Thaipusam procession on Feb 3 had been sparked by a Filipino family’s complaint that the drums played during the procession upset their child. The contributor of the article posted on another website that the allegations made in the TRS piece were untrue.

Yang is Singaporean, while Ai Takagi is Australian. According to the charge sheets, the particular articles have the “tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different groups of people in Singapore, name, between ethnic Indians in Singapore and Philippine nationals in Singapore”.

…Under the Sedition Act, the duo are liable, on conviction for a first offence, to a fine of up to S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to three years, or to both. As for the charge under the Penal Code, they are punishable with imprisonment of a maximum of one month, or a maximum fine of S$1,500, or both.

From St article 15 April 15, Couple behind TRS website face sedition charges

From St article 15 April 15, Couple behind TRS website face sedition charges

The ‘seditious’ articles are still online as we speak. In the Thaipusam article, it is alleged that the provocative but flawed eye-witness account ‘asserts’ that a Filipino family CAUSED the clash. Since instruments are banned during the festival, I would imagine the police confronting the musicians anyway, with or without a crying Pinoy child. But if anyone tries to push the argument of cause vs correlation they may just find themselves at the receiving end of a contempt of court charge.

If it weren’t a Pinoy family but say an Indian family of another caste, would that constitute ‘sedition’? What about the xenophobic backlash against the celebration of Philippine Independence Day in Orchard? Shouldn’t those Singaporean bigots who fumed against the event get slapped with sedition charges as well? Or the PRC family who complained about the smell of curry from their Indian neighbours. When does a symptom of xenophobia become deadly ‘seditious’?

In the other offending article on Filipino employers, Pinoys are described as ‘relentless backstabbers’ and generally ‘share the same traits’. This guy was basically stereotyping a particular race/nationality, just like how some Facebooker complained about the smell of a certain race on the MRT, or some ex-presidential candidate thought he was in Bombay while on a bus. If I say ‘those damned Americans are a bunch of redneck hillbillies’, would I be accused of inciting hostility among groups? When Amos Yee derided Christians, he was ‘causing distress’ and ‘harassment’ but not ‘promoting ill-will’. If he had insulted another religion would he be slapped with sedition? We were all even called ‘dogs’ once by PRC scholar Sun Xu. I doubt he was bitten by a single charge. Anton Casey flew to Perth before anyone thought about whether his remarks were deemed seditious because some Singaporeans got so insulted they wanted him to pay dearly with his life.

Does hiding racial stereotypes behind ‘stand-up comedy’ protect you from sedition charges, like if you mimic an Indian accent for example? If Kumar says ‘You Chinese buggers all only know how to gamble’, do I have a case against him?  The acronym ‘PRC’ is particularly offensive. In the ‘pee in a bottle’ article, the writer simply assumed that the woman who let her grandson drop his pants and wee in public was a ‘PRC’. Nothing else was mentioned about how she wanted to sabotage all hotpots in Geylang and blow up all the PRCs eating from it. PRC is the ‘n**ger’ of Chinese nationals. Just like when Edz Ello called us ‘stinkaporeans’, we couldn’t take it and demanded that he join the Sedition Squad.

Likewise, the PRC stripper article was about how ‘the majority’ of Chinese women come here on bogus work permits to steal other people’s husbands. Nothing new here. People have been harbouring negative stereotypes about ‘China women’ for more than a decade. Do we see people rounding them up and hanging them from trees and poke them with hot skewers? No. Do people make wild empty threats against the entire community on Facebook? Of course. Do we need to bother with what they say? I guess it depends. The Sedition laws seem to guard against the possibility that people take such comments so seriously they would brandish a flaming pitchfork over it. In the past, ‘seditious literature’ was serious business. They were documents specifically designed to instigate a mutiny against British imperialists, not some rant about why you think people from a certain country suck.

If the TRS offends you, you have the moral obligation not to read or share its articles. If you experience discrimination at work, you can take formal action with the authorities without dehumanising the entire race online. Let’s not kid ourselves that racial/foreigner tensions don’t exist. We are an island of tribes and little cosy enclaves getting the job done in spite of our differences, not a ‘It’s a Small World After All’ theme ride.

Illegal Geylang peddlers pranked by Merlion TV

From ‘Police investigating video pranksters’, 25 Jan 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

A group of pranksters who pretended to be plainclothes officers in order to terrorise illegal cigarette peddlers may have got themselves in trouble with the real police. The pranksters, who call themselves MerlionTV, uploaded a two-minute video on Jan 14 called “Scaring the s*** out of illegal dealers in Red Light District”.

It shows a crew member approaching cigarette peddlers in Geylang and pretending to be an interested customer. But right after, he walks away and pretends to speak into a mouthpiece. In one segment, he is heard saying: “10/20 Romeo, we found a subject, we found a subject.”

Another crew member then lunges from the shadows, and the peddler is then seen running away desperately. The crew members give a short chase before returning to the abandoned cigarettes and showing off the goods.

Three peddlers, all seemingly foreigners, were targeted in the video, which carries a disclaimer saying the crew “did not impersonate any police officers or law enforcement entities”.

Geylang is scheduled for ‘re-zoning’ and a public alcohol consumption ban to free itself from its reputation as a sleazy foreign worker enclave with an undercurrent of ‘lawlessness’. Until then, it’s still open season for syndicates to ply their contraband trade, in this case what the ICA calls ‘duty-unpaid’ cigarettes. Not sure if the Merlion TV team knew that they could be fined $500 for buying the stuff, even if what they pulled off here was part prank, part vigilante sting operation, a fake vice raid that the SMRT Feedback group would surely approve. Though laughs were intended, the video does raise some serious questions about the state of enforcement in the district, like ‘Where the hell were the actual authorities’? and ‘Are these immigrants even legal?’

Impersonating an officer is a serious crime, of course. You could wave your fake badge and swing your fake baton and pressure prostitutes into having discount sex with you. Or you could ‘confiscate’ sex drugs or cough syrup dressed up in fake police paraphernalia bought from Peninsula Shopping Centre. Maybe the real police can check that place out for a change. Imagine all those fraudsters out there wearing tight black shirts with the words ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on them scaring gullible folk into surrendering their ICs, money, phones or even their damned virginity. I may even be forced to give up my queue for Hello Kitty at Mcdonalds if I get approached by one with a fake stern mug.

In a previous ‘Purge’ prank, the guys were stalking innocent bystanders with a weapon and managed to get away scot-free to indulge in more ‘extreme Candid Camera’ silliness. Now, the police are again hot on their tails for creating what could be deemed a ‘public nuisance’, though technically they did not identify themselves as police officers. But this is Geylang, not Bishan Park, and people getting chased all over the place screaming ‘Mata lai liao!’ is the norm. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary ‘fear, alarm of distress’ out of the ordinary here, and if the Police decide to arrest the team for making a mockery out of the profession, you’d expect fans to complain that the cops should be out there rounding up the masterminds behind the illicit street trade instead of locking up some video pranksters with a warped idea of fun.

The fact that foreign workers appear to be exploited here suggests that there’s more to this than just an underground black market trade, probably someone ‘higher up’ is plotting a revenge gang war as we speak. Ironically, the people behind the Purge prank are giving the authorities greater reason to ‘purge’ dirty, chaotic, smutty Geylang once and for all. And since we are imposing a liquor control zone in this hotbed of vice, how about passing a Bill to ban all selling, possession and smoking of cigarettes too? Duty paid or unpaid.