Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Doorstop Interview During Visit to Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre
Qn: What is your takeaway from today’s visit?
Well, I came to meet the Home Team, people who were involved in handling the riot the night it happened, as well as the follow up, to meet them, to talk to them, to express my appreciation for what they are doing, to hear their views, their accounts and their experiences in this incident. I think they have a very difficult job - the Police, different parts of the Police, the Traffic Police were involved, the SOC, Special Ops Command were involved, they had the dog unit, they had the people from Tanglin Police Station and there were also the Civil Defence responders, the ambulance group, the paramedics. I think each of them had a different responsibility and had to do their job to handle this most serious and most unfortunate situation. I think that they had done a good job. I came to express my appreciation and to encourage them to continue to do their duty - as Singaporeans expect them to do.
Qn: What went through your mind when some of them were giving their own personal accounts and experience?
These are people who know what they are supposed to do. They are experienced, some of them have been 20 years in the Force, some of them not so long - there are NS men, NSFs, they are in their second year of NS, well-trained, and they know what they are supposed to do. They have been drilled, they have practised, they understand what the situation is, they made an appreciation of the situation and then they decided on a course of action to deal with it. I have a lot of respect and I was impressed with the way they explained what they were going to do and how they planned and acted. It was not precipitated, it was not on the spur of the moment, but their years of training as well as their collectedness, their calm and their courage at the key moment I think makes a difference.
Qn: PM, some analysts have spoken about the need for Singapore to have a new social compact with the foreign workers, some of them have been saying that the policy all this while has been one of segregation, and maybe we should move beyond that to integrate them emotionally and think about their social and psychological needs. What are your thoughts on it?
I think we deal with the riot and what led to the riot - the broader issues we can argue and debate. They have a point of view, as far as we are concerned, dealing with this riot, what is it which caused this to happen and how can we make sure that something like this does not happen again. I think this is our priority. Much broader factors which you can extend them to the limits of our entire social policy, population policy, I think these are broader issues which we deal with separately.
Qn: What are your thoughts about how we should go forward then as a society?
I think first we deal with this riot and the problems, and then after we have got the COI and we have identified what caused this. Were there deeper causes? Was this an incident of a riotous mob isolated in Little India on that evening? Then, we can discuss whether this raises broader questions for our society. I do not accept that we must straight away ask whether fundamental approaches or the whole way of our society is organised needs to be rethought immediately. Let us establish what caused this.
Qn: But it is something you need to think about eventually?
Let us deal with this problem first and we can think about and see whether it leads to much broader implications.
Qn: PM, after having spoken to the first responders this morning, do you feel that the security should be beefed up both in terms of numbers and maybe technology perhaps?
I think we will certainly be looking to see how we can strengthen and make the Police more effective. Technology is one aspect which we can make a lot more use of and the Police have already been experimenting – CCTV cameras, wearable cameras, communications, even equipment to deal with a situation like this. We will make sure that our people are equipped with what is the best available so that they can do their job best of all. Numbers is a much more difficult thing. I think compared to many other cities and police forces; we are much smaller and leaner than them. In Singapore, it is not easy to build up the numbers. I think the Police will be looking at this very carefully.
Qn: PM, there is a lot of accusation online about police running away from the situation but after today you have heard it from them, that it is not the case. What is your advice to the officers then?
My advice to the officers is you do the right thing, you know you have done the right thing, you have the confidence that eventually, this will come out and we will back you up. So I will not give a lot of weight to random stuff which appears in the social media – all sorts of stuff appear on the social media and we have to decide which ones are serious which ones are not. There is a COI which has been convened and the COI will look into all of this. So I told them, I do not read all the stuff which is on the internet everyday and you have to focus on what is meaningful, what is serious and then decide what you just have to let pass. There is a lot of stuff there, some to be taken seriously, some not.
Qn: PM, after your discussion with the officers today and the briefing, has it informed you in any way of the cause of the riot?
It has given me a feel from the point of view of the people who were there - how they felt it, what they saw, how they reacted, how they felt. It is very useful to me when I am reading the reports and deciding what to do next, to have that almost first hand feel of what happened that night.
Qn: What lessons do you think you can take away from this incident?
I think as I said, we will deal with all that later on. One of the lessons which we have to realise is that even in a stable society, something like this can happen, and when it happens, it is important that we have a Home Team which is able to deal with it appropriately in a calibrated, measured, thoughtful way and decisively. Deal with it at the moment, deal with it after in the follow-up actions, in the investigations, in the enquiry, in the investigations which lead to criminal prosecutions and other actions, and also in the other actions we are taking to make sure that the foreign worker population in Singapore are being properly looked after and I think this is what matters.
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