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Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page

Minister’s Facebook post comes under fire

Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page
Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page

Controversial posting by Minister Khaw Boon Wan on joint-exercise

A Facebook posting by the Minister of National Development, Khaw Boon Wan, has come under fire from members of the public for being insensitive.

On Tuesday, Mr Khaw made a posting titled, “Joint exercise with Police, SCDF & foreign worker ambassadors”.

The post was accompanied by eight photographs of the joint exercise which apparently showed security personnel and “foreign worker ambassadors” simulating a situation of unrest.

Mr Khaw wrote in the post:

“We have a few foreign workers’ dormitories. What if some quarrels erupt, leading to fights or worse? These are possible scenarios, given the concentration of foreign workers in one locality. Little India riot was an extreme case, but minor scale fights could happen locally. To test our response capability, the Police, the SCDF, the dorms operators and our grassroots organisations organised a simulation exercise recently. It was a useful way to network up the various agencies, and spread preventive messages. Prevention is always better than cure.”

Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page
Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page

The posting immediately drew concerns and criticisms from the public for being insensitive, and some also criticised the joint exercise itself as being racist.

Ms Feng Yi Hi was one of the first to react to Mr Khaw’s post.

“Sir, I understand the purpose of such an exercise, but I cannot help but feel disturbed by the racial undertones,” she said. “Riots can be started by anyone regardless of their ethnicity. Positing Indian foreign workers as the next group of rioters or troublemakers does not paint racial minority groups in a positive light but only perpetuates existing stereotypes which are inimical to the development of a harmonious society. My suggestion is that ‘rioters’ in future such exercises (if any) must also consist of people of other ethnic groups. I hope the organizers can take this into consideration. Thank you.”

Mr Yee Kai also raised his concerns about the racial overtones of the post.

“Minister, the worst riots in the history of our nation were due to racial issues,” Mr Yee said. “Do we to this date still stimulate exercises based on racial conflicts putting two major racial groups fighting against each other with the civil defense and the police coming in to contain the situation under the purview of 'prevention is better than cure' ? Absolutely not. I fail to see how stimulating based on a particular racial group is relevant. There are so many other resources under the different ministries to try and understand their issues and to give them avenues to air their grievances - why not employ these resources?”

Ms Reena Melanie Mohan agreed that the joint exercise “seems very racist.”

“I can't believe such an exercise can be done at this time and age. What was the reason for a particular racial group to be signalled out? And putting up pictures isn't helping. What were you trying to educate the public?”

Mr Balaji Narasimhan said, “You gotta be kidding me... Why on earth would you want to put pictures of this?”

Other criticisms on Mr Khaw's page include:

"One of the most ridiculous things I've seen today. Out of all possible scenarios, you chose this one? Done in poor taste."

"Minister, do you think THIS is a good idea? On the one hand you say that not all foreign workers engage in the sort of actions we saw last Dec. On the other hand, the SPF and you engage in this sort of activity that betrays a level of racism that only serves to reinforce stereotypes and utterly undermines your efforts in the former. Talk about mixed signals!"

"Reenacting foreign workers being detained and arrested sounds pretty disgraceful to me. Not to mention RACIST. You should remove this post before more bad PR comes your way."

Mr Jolovan Wham, who is also the executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO which provides aid to foreign workers, disagreed with the use of foreign workers in the exercise.

“Not only are we content to push them to the margins with our policies, we are also happy to stereotype them,” he said on Mr Khaw’s page. “We don't offer them adequate social support and services, and yet we are quick to point our fingers at them when things go wrong. Foreign workers are the builders of our nation. They don't have any citizen benefits. The least we should do is accord them some basic dignity and respect.”

Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page
Photo: Khaw Boon Wan Facebook page

Mr Michael Cyssel Wee said that while few people would doubt the usefulness of conducting riot simulation exercises from time to time, the use of real foreign workers “as props” in the exercise “is dehumanising."

This is even more so "combined with the minister's preface, 'We have a few foreign workers' dormitories, What if some quarrels erupt, leading to fights or worse?', he said.

"[It] leads to an unhelpful stereotyping of a largely unintegrated group in society. It also betrays a highly reductive view, one that risks making a mockery of the issues surrounding it.”

Mr Wee said “foreign workers have helped to physically build so much of our nation.”

“Do we really treat them as builders, with the full dignity of human persons, or do we merely see them as building tools -- tools that can injure us if we do not wield them properly, or if we do not keep a tight grip on them?

“Mr Khaw Boon Wan, will you apologise in Parliament for this disappointing gaffe? Will the Ministry of Home Affairs care to explain how the conduct of this exercise got approved?”