07 July 2014

Ministerial Statement on Government’s response to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the 8 December 2013 Little India Riot – Security- related Issues – Closing remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Mr Teo Chee Hean

            Madam Speaker, I thank Members for their support for the Government’s response to the COI report. Their comments and suggestions have helped to bring out key points, and allowed Minister Tan Chuan Jin and myself to explain the pertinent issues more thoroughly. And thank you for letting me wrap up this important discussion by making a few observations.

1.          Madam Speaker, on the night of 8 December 2013, a riot broke out following a fatal road traffic accident and it was the worst public order disturbance in Singapore in more than four decades.

2.          The COI report has described what happened that night. But as several members have pointed out, it is also important to recall what did not happen that night.

3.           The COI pointed out that while the riot was a shock to many Singaporeans… there was no loss of life, no prolonged fighting between Police and the rioters, and it was dispersed relatively quickly. The riot remained contained in a small area. Arson of private property and looting did not occur. No shots were fired by the Police, and neither tear gas nor water cannon were used on the rioters.

4.          Madam Speaker, the situation would have been totally different if we had woken up the next morning, and the “no”s in my previous sentence had been “yes”s. Singaporeans and our foreign workforce would have been deeply traumatized. The news would have echoed around the world. We would be grappling today with whether the use of force could have been avoided.

5.           Madam Speaker, a riot on the streets of Singapore is unacceptable, even with all the “no”s.

6.           I would like to thank the Chairman and the members of the COI once again for its thorough and comprehensive report.

7.           The Government accepts all the COI’s recommendations, and will implement them vigorously. The actions that my colleague the Minister of Manpower and I have detailed today to implement the recommendations will enable us to minimise the likelihood of a riot occurring, and improve our capability to deal effectively with a riot if it does. 

8.           Madam Speaker, one recurring theme in our deliberations today, and also in the COI’s proceedings and report is the dedication and the quality of our officers. Beyond quantity, it is ultimately quality that counts. It is the quality of the officers and their dedication and commitment that makes the key difference.

9.          That night the commanders and officers responded to the call, and rushed to the scene, arriving as quickly as they could. They showed dedication to duty, and courage, as they faced a large, emotionally charged crowd, with a volatile temperament – a crowd whose mood and actions could have suddenly changed with any new trigger, misinformation or misunderstanding.  Our officers and commanders were steadfast in carrying out their mission – they responded when called upon, worked together with their fellow officers, and put themselves in harm’s way to manage, contain, and eventually, quell the riot. A difficult task in the circumstances they faced.

10.       On behalf of the officers in the Home Team, I would like to express my thanks to Members who have offered encouragement and expressed their appreciation to our Home Team officers and to their commanders.

11.         Several Members have suggested that we recognise the officers for their dedication to duty that night. The Government will consider recognising the Home Team officers who answered the call to action, to quell the riot that night, in the face of personal danger and under difficult circumstances. We will also see how we can recognise particular officers who stood out for their outstanding response during the riot.

12.         Madam Speaker, the work of our Home Team officers is difficult and challenging. They work round the clock, and often put themselves in harm’s way, to keep Singapore and all of us, and our families, safe and secure. The encouragement and support from Members of this House and from Singaporeans makes a real and positive difference not just to those who were called to action that night, but to all Home Team officers. It means a lot to them that their efforts are appreciated and recognized and I am confident that with your support they will continue to do their utmost to keep us safe and secure.

13.          The Home Team and other government agencies, we have all learned valuable lessons from this incident.  By implementing the COI recommendations, we will be better prepared, and the Home Team, the Government, as well as Singapore will emerge readier and stronger from this incident.