When public prosecutors, Tan Wee Hao and Tan Yanying first embarked on the case against Parti Liyani, it is doubtful that they ever expected the furore that the case would cause a few years down the road. At that time, it would likely have been “just a foreign domestic worker” versus the mighty Liew Mun Leong and family. Open and shut case, easy peasy.
Yet, due to revelations of potential police botch ups in investigating the case, problems with the evidence, the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s (AGC) decision to prosecute despite that and not to mention the lower court judge, Olivia Low’s troubling decision, Parti Liyani’s case was thrown out by Justice Chan at the High Court. Not only has this angered the Singaporean public, it has also now made international news.
Despite the snobbish attitudes of some of us, our treatment of blue collar foreign workers has now likely become the undoing of our international reputation as a globalised first world country.
There are parallels between the Parti Liyani case and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in migrant worker dormitories. Both are caused by our country’s utter disregard for these workers. There is no shying away from that uncomfortable fact.
When COVID-19 first broke out in Singapore, the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led Government were keen to showcase their abilities at handling this pandemic. After all, haven’t we learnt lessons from SARs? Singapore appeared in the global media as the shining example to follow where virus containment was concerned. Alas, this hubris was not to last long as the virus soon ravaged our migrant workers – right under the watch of the international media who were first attracted to us because of our alleged initial successes.
It soon became apparent that news of dormitory based migrant workers getting infected was public as early as February. Yet the authorities did nothing. In its rush to demonstrate its prowess, no one in power thought of how the virus might spread in tightly packed dormitories. Basically, they were forgotten – not even an after thought at that time. Dispensable and disposable – packed in dormitories we don’t see – out of sight, out of mind.
As international news outlets began to report on our squalid dormitories, it soon became apparent that our utter disregard would be our undoing. Despite the Government’s desperate attempts to differentiate between community cases and migrant worker cases, the damage was done and the numbers were high.
The Parti Liyani case is really not that different. No one “in the system” really considered her – not at the start anyway. Despite the catalogue of errors, the AGC still made the fateful decision to prosecute. Yet, it is once again our systemically callous processes where foreign blue collar workers are concerned that has come back to bite us in the ass.
This is completely avoidable if we open our eyes to uncomfortable truths and own up to it. You can only suppress the underdog so far before the seams burst open.
Yet even as the Parti Liyani case makes headlines, there is still no announcement of a Committee of Inquiry (COI). Just like there has been no follow up on a review into the Government’s handling of COVID-19. But of course, there are resources to investigate PJ Thum.
The mind boggles.