The Parti Liyani (Parti) case has highlighted the different way in which the various foreigners who work in Singapore are treated by law enforcement.
While well heeled foreigners were initially allowed to drink in public despite it being a time when circuit breaker measures were in place, Parti, a lowly paid foreign domestic worker (FDW) was essentially pursued in a seemingly excessive fashion.
It must be made clear that this publication is in no way suggesting that there was any ill intent on the part of law enforcement. What is manifestly clear however is that there has been a difference in how two different groups of foreigners have been treated. Whether this is due to inherent prejudice or unconscious bias is anyone’s guess.
In a recent live Facebook video made by Lim Tean of the Peoples’ Voice Party, he mentioned that it was unusual for the police to issue a warrant of arrest so quickly without first interviewing the alleged perpetrator. Yet, this is precisely what the police did for Parti even though she had already left the country.
Contrast this with how the well heeled foreigners were initially left alone to drink in public in Robertson Quay amid circuit breaker times in which such actions would have constituted an offence. Doesn’t seem very fair does it?
Did the fact that she was “just a maid” while the Liew family were influential and affluent have anything to do with it? This is of course something that the various ministries will have to investigate.
Of course, the well heeled foreigners were eventually punished although this might have been because videos of them drinking went viral causing widespread anger. But were they punished in a reactionary manner to quell public outrage prior to a General Election?
If a crime is alleged to have been committed in Singapore, foreigners (regardless of where they are from or what job they do) and Singaporeans should be treated in the same manner in accordance with the laws of Singapore. Yet, the fact that Parti’s ordeal dragged on for so long in comparison to how the Robertson Quay foreigners were initially allowed to drink unmolested does demonstrate that even if the black letter law is fair, our implementation of it, for whatever reason, is lacking.
In an interview, pro-bono lawyer for Parti, Anil Balchandani said that while Singapore’s Penal Code protects vulnerable migrant workers such as domestic helpers against harm committed against them, there is little recourse under the country’s criminal justice system for them to defend themselves against accusations.
There are, of course, many reasons for this. Our migrant workers may not always know their rights or how the system works and very little resource is available currently to educate and help them in this regard. This in turn makes it easy for those in positions of power to exploit them.
Besides the obvious issues of potential evidence fabrication and a catalogue of errors in processes in this case, there is a wider issue of societal injustice between how different groups of foreigners are treated that needs to be examined.
The immediate takeaway though is that one’s voice does count. If the local NGO, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) had not spoken up for Parti and supported her all these years financially and emotionally, her case would never have made it to the High Court in the first place. And if the photos of the Robertson Quay foreigners had not gone viral, would they have been punished?
The next step however is to ensure equality in treatment.