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MOM says it "does not reveal specific details of cases to public". Andrew Loh.

The case of Mr Asad Madber remains a mystery

Andrew Loh

Manpower Ministry says it "does not reveal specific details of cases to the public."

On 20 September 2009, The Online Citizen reported the case of Bangladeshi worker, Mr Asad Madber Yeaz Uddin Madber. (See here.) He had been asked by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to remain in Singapore to help with investigations into his employer, Skilled Engineering, for illegally deploying its workers.

Mr Asad ended up remaining in Singapore for four years – and having to risk deportation and jail time by supporting himself with working illegally. The Special Pass which he was issued stated categorically that he was not permitted to work while under the S Pass.

The Online Citizen had emailed the MOM to ask for details of the case on 16 September. We asked the following three questions of the MOM:

-       What is MOM’s purpose in retaining him in Singapore for such a long time?

-       Has MOM provided him any help while he is being retained - such as housing, food, transport costs?

-       Has MOM settled with Mr Asad's employer over the non-payment of his salary in 2005? If so, may I know what the outcome was?

One week later, 22 September, MOM replied to us and acknowledged receipt of the email. Still one more week passed and on 1 October the MOM sent us another email responding to our queries about Mr Asad’s case. In that email, the MOM said:

“Mr Asad Madber Yeaz Uddin Madber was required to remain in Singapore as a prosecution witness following MOM’s investigations into his illegal employment. He was eligible to seek employment under the Ministry's Temporary Job Scheme until the conclusion of the case. However, there were no prospective jobs or employers for him.”

This confirms what Mr Asad himself told us when we met and spoke to him. The MOM email then said:

“A foreign worker who remains in Singapore as a prosecution witness to assist in investigations could ask to be sent home if he no longer wishes to remain here. Mr Asad only put forth his request recently. The Ministry considered his request and assisted in his repatriation on 22 September 2009.”

In short, the MOM lays the blame entirely on Mr Asad for not asking to be sent home and MOM avoided answering the last two questions we asked. The Online Citizen then followed up with another email on the same day (1 Oct), this time with five questions for the MOM, as follows:

- Has MOM provided Mr Asad any help while he was retained - such as housing, food, transport costs? Was he given any financial or monetary help? If yes, how much did MOM provide him in total for the 4 years that Mr Asad was here?

- Has MOM settled with Mr Asad's employer over the non-payment of his salary in 2005? If so, may I know what the outcome was?

- When Mr Asad was asked by MOM to remain in S'pore to help with investigations, did MOM tell him that he could ask to be sent home anytime during the course of the investigation period?

- Finally, when did the case of "illegal deployment" - which Mr Asad was involved in helping with - began and has it been settled? Or is the case still on-going or pending?

- According to Mr Asad, he was never once asked to testify or was asked to attend court hearings in the 4 years from 2005 to 2009. Is this true?

One week later, 6 Oct, the MOM replied as follows:

“We refer to your email of 1 Oct 09.

We regret that we are unable to provide you with further information regarding Mr Asad, as the Ministry does not reveal specific details of cases to the public.”

We suspect that the MOM had completely forgotten about Mr Asad – for four years – and only came to know about his peculiar situation when we enquired about it. The MOM then promptly arranged for Mr Asad to be sent home – on 22 September, one week after our initial email to the MOM on 16 September.

As for whether Mr Asad retrieved the salary that was owed to him, we do not know and the MOM is not telling.

The case of Mr Asad is probably one of utter incompetence on the part of MOM officers.

For how can one worker be told to remain in S’pore and have his Special Pass regularly renewed each week for four years, without him ever being called to testify in court? And neither was he told or updated on what was happening in the investigation in the case he was supposed to be helping with.

The number of foreign workers who faced salary disputes with their employers rose to more than 3,000 in 2008. This is doubled that of 2007.

The MOM’s excuse that the “Ministry does not reveal specific details of cases to the public” shows how easily incompetence is brushed aside in the ministry. The ones who suffer the consequences of such incompetence are workers such as Mr Asad, who has effectively lost four years of his life here.

But to the MOM, as long as Mr Asad is sent home to his country, the case is “resolved”, it seems.

Perhaps Mr Asad can be added to the set of statistics which Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong regurgitated in Parliament earlier this year, that, “On average, 85 per cent of cases in the last six months were successfully conciliated within three weeks.”

Sadly, the minister does not realize that statistics only tell one side of the story.

Mr Asad’s case remains a mystery, for no one knows if the salary owed to him was paid, or whether the MOM had provided him any assistance for the four years he was asked to remain in Singapore. And most importantly, did the MOM forget about Mr Asad altogether, for those four years?

Only the Ministry of Manpower knows the answer – but it is not telling.

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