By Yasmeen Banu
In a rather frustrated posting online, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade GRC has lashed out at the authorities for the “very long” wait “for the higher authorities to effect the change” she has been asking for in Geylang.
“As an action oriented person who expects results,” MP for Geylang Serai, Fatimah Lateef, posted on her Facebook page, “I have indeed waited very long for higher authorities to effect the change I, my grassroots leaders and my residents want to see.”
Geylang, popularly seen as Singapore’s red light district, was cast into the spotlight two weeks ago when Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee described it as having “a hint of lawlessness within the streets of Geylang.”
In his surprising revelation to the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, Mr Ng said, “Geylang presents a complex and complicated social ecosystem, tinged with a definite criminal undertone. This is in stark contrast to Little India, untidy though it may be.”
Mr Ng said that while overall crime rate in Geylang has decreased, the number of public offences recorded in the area has increased.
In 2011, there were 34 offences, 38 offences in 2012 and 49 offences in 2013.
He described Geylang as “more of a worry” than Little India which saw Singapore’s first riot in more than 40 years last December.
Mr Ng said Geylang presented “a clear and present danger to public order.”
But for those who have been calling for more action to be taken to clean up the area, Mr Ng’s remarks are no revelation.
In November 2011, for example, Ms Lateef asked the government to provide an update on the management of the vice situation at Lorong 24 of Geylang and its vicinity, and the medium to long-term plan for the control of vice in the area.
In his reply, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean said, “Police have continued to work closely with the grassroots, other government agencies and various stakeholders to reduce streetwalking, and other illegal activities along Lorong 24 Geylang and its vicinity.”
In Ms Lateef’s Facebook post yesterday, she wrote about the efforts done on the disamenities related to vice.
“Hundreds of hours (may be more) of meeting police, anti-vice, agencies (multiple) and yet I am still waiting for their CONCRETE [sic] action plan. If prostitution has to continue, KEEP IT SYSTEMATIC, CLEAN, INDOORS, ORGANISED, REGULATED PROPERLY [sic]… These are not too difficult to do if the will is there.”
“I have been waiting,” she continued, “not just waiting but, waiting and DOING a lot of things within my capabilities as one person, one MP, one woman.”
The Ministry for Home Affairs (MHA) has no doubt been aware of the situation in Geylang. Hence, shouldn’t the authorities have bolstered resources and sped up anti-vice plans?
While Ms Lateef has taken follow-up actions such as lighting up the dark back lanes and alleys, which to date have had 133 lamp posts added since 2007, having regular grassroots patrol, and having put forth a concept paper since 2007 on proposed plans, which she continues to discuss with relevant personnel during meetings, crime rate seems to still be a major concern.
“Other issues related to high human traffic and load e.g. littering, parking, safety issues etc, are explored very regularly,” she said.
“I am very particular with follow up with agencies and they need to update me on a timely basis.”
But she added: “I am still waiting for the relevant authorities to ACT in a major way, in a major clean up.”
She said that she has managed to sort out and solved “many issues based on targeted approach [sic], working with specific condos, MCSTs, groups of residents and grassroots as well as agencies.”
“But understanding of the dynamics of the area and the vice trade is crucial,” she explained. “Some areas could be like a game of cat and mouse.”
Ms Lateef said she is determined to “do what I have to do as the people’s rep even if it takes a long time.”
“I have stamina,” she said.