By Andrew Loh
In Parliament on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean urged members of the House not to indulge in speculation over the cause or causes of the Little India riot last December.
He made his call several times as MPs queried the minister on various issues over the incident.
When Member of Parliament (MP) for Tampines GRC, Irene Ng, asked for assurance that the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot would be open and transparent, and that it would consider all possible factors which led to the riot, DPM Teo gave her the assurance.
However, he also cautioned Ms Ng and other MPs not to jump to conclusions about the causes while the investigations are still ongoing.
Nominated MPs Janice Koh and Nicholas Fang had asked if the disorderly behaviour of the workers had anything to do with the relationship between the foreign workers and the authorities.
Ms Ng had asked that the COI looked into the possibility that factors such as the “cultural map” of foreign workers, and “festering grievances that may have been related to their employment issues or social exclusion”, had led to the riot.
DPM Teo chided her for “indulging in speculation”.
“I would say that we should be careful of this kind of speculation on various kinds of causes,” he said in reply, “because (Ms Ng) is suggesting a variety of causes, some of which may be true, some of which may not be true.”
DPM Teo’s remarks prompted Ms Ng to object and to take exception to how DPM Teo had characterised her queries. Ms Ng said she was reflecting concerns from Singaporeans on the ground.
DPM Teo then said he apologised if he had mistaken what Ms Ng said for conjecture. He also clarified that the terms of reference under which the COI will work give it the “latitude to examine any factors” which may have contributed to the riot.
DPM Teo’s call for MPs not to “indulge in speculation” is the same one he made on 9 December, the day after the riot, where he said it was “really not appropriate to speculate on causes and actual events, because police are conducting an investigation at this point in time.”
“So once again I ask the members of the public, stay calm, not react to speculation and also to let the fact be established.”
But DPM Teo’s call in Parliament may also leave some puzzled – because while he urges MPs and the public not to indulge in speculation, he himself and his ministers have suggested and speculated on the likely cause, or a contributing cause, for the riot in the days after the incident.
As reported by the media:
Even the Acting Minister for Manpower has offered – several times, and categorically – that foreign workers did not face systemic abuse. He described such suggestions as “far-fetched.”
But to dismiss any possible cause is also speculation, is it not?
Indeed, DPM Teo himself, in Parliament on Monday, said although alcohol may not have been a major factor which led to the riot, there “were indications that it was a contributory factor in the incident.”
“As regards to the alcohol issues, we do have indications that alcohol was a factor,” he said, “and that certain individuals who may have been directly involved in the incidents leading to the riot … were under the influence of alcohol to one extent or another.”
“So we think that alcohol was a contributory factor, though probably not the only factor.”
Meanwhile, thus far, there have been no confirmation that alcohol was in fact a factor. The police have so far not gave any confirmation that it was. At its press conference on 9 December, the police said, in response to a reporter’s question on whether “the rioters were intoxicated”:
“We are unable to confirm this at this point.”