New food agency chief “missing in action” during Little India Riot in 2013

The government announced yesterday (26 Jul) that a new statutory board called the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will be formed in April next year under the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to oversee food safety and security. It will bring together all the food-related functions under the various agencies into one central agency.

The new agency SFA will manage food safety, hygiene regulations and address issues of food supply, streamlining licensing standards for food businesses, including farmers, food manufacturers, food retailers and food service operators.

Lim Kok Thai who is currently the CEO of AVA will be heading the new SFA. Lim is a high flying scholar from the Singapore Police Force. He became the CEO of AVA only in Oct last year. Prior to helming AVA, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Police. Lim who is 45 this year, is said to have “gleaned a wealth of operational and policy experience”

Director of Operations in SPF during Little India Riot in 2013

On 8 December 2013, the infamous Little India Riot broke out after a fatal accident occurred in Little India. Angry mobs of foreign workers began to attack the bus involved and emergency vehicles that had by then arrived at the location. About 300 foreign workers were involved in the riot which lasted for around two hours. It was the second riot in post-independence Singapore, and the first in over 40 years since the 1969 race riots.

Interestingly, according to SPF annual report, Lim was the Director of Operations in SPF at the time of the Little India Riot in 2013. He was then the Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) of Police, holding the 3rd highest rank in SPF.

At the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing into the Little India Riot later, it was revealed that the Special Operations Command (SOC) force (i.e, “riot police”) needed to quell the unrest, was delayed.

COI member Tee Tua Ba, who is a former police commissioner himself, expressed disappointment that it took the SOC more than an hour to arrive at the riot scene. In the meantime, he said, the police officers on the ground were left exposed to attacks from the rioters.

The COI learned that part of the delay was due to Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Koh Wei Keong, then the 2nd Deputy Director of Operations, wanted do his “due diligence” by consulting various other officers to be sure that the activation of the SOC was required and redirected the SOC to meet him at the road where he was at, causing them to be stuck in traffic.

In fact, according to COI documents, DAC Koh who was 2 ranks below Lim, was covering Lim as the “Acting Director of Operations” on the day the Little India Riot broke out.

It’s not known why DAC Koh was covering for Lim that day but given that it was in the month of December, Lim was probably on holidays with his family outside of Singapore. In any case, Lim must have felt very “lucky” not being around during the Little India Riot and subsequently not involved in the COI hearing, unlike his poor subordinate DAC Koh who had to deal with the riot and face the COI later.

Activation of SOC no longer needs authority of Director of Operations

After the SOC arrived, the riot was brought under control. Mr Tee described the SOC as being “very professional”. However, he said that taking more than hour to be at the scene “is a long time”.

At the end of the hearing, one of the recommendations put up by the COI is to cut layers of approval or time needed to activate essential police resources so as to respond to incidents and other emergencies more quickly. Since then, the approval process for activating the SOC has been made more direct. Division commanders can now activate the SOC troops, rather than only through the police Director of Operations.

The next year (2014) after the Little India Riot, Lim who was “missing in action” at the time of the riot was promoted to become the Deputy Commissioner, holding the 2nd highest rank in SPF.

Meanwhile, Lim’s subordinate DAC Koh who covered Lim as the Acting Director of Operations during the Little India Riot continued on as a DAC. In late 2015, DAC Koh was reassigned as Commander of Jurong Division, back to the line unit and away from performing staff functions at HQ.

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