MARUAH first wrote to TODAY Voices regarding repatriations relating to Little India riot:
The Ministry of Law replied:
(“Singapore’s legal system is firm, just and fair” Ms Praveen Randhawa, Press Secretary to the Ministry for Law, TODAY, Dec 21, 2013):
Our response to the Ministry of Law is set out below:
The Government’s position, as articulated by Ms Randhawa, is essentially that foreigners are allowed into and to remain in Singapore at the Government’s pleasure, and that they have no right to challenge the Government’s decision on whether they can stay or should leave. We believe that many Singaporeans would respectfully disagree as we do believe that everyone – Singaporean or foreigner – should be given due process to justice and fairness.
Due process fundamentally refers to a requirement that the state respects all the legal rights of a person, in particular when seeking to sanction or penalise that person. The Government argues that foreigners being subject to repatriation are not entitled to due process. This may be the technical position under Singapore law today. But is it the right position for a society that upholds the rule of law?
Most migrant workers take on significant debt to work in Singapore. This makes deportation a very heavy penalty, with repercussions on the workers and their families beyond just an inability to work in Singapore. A just and compassionate society should recognise this reality, and not make deportation orders lightly. We do not think, and are not asserting, that the Government makes such orders lightly. But we do think Singapore can and must do more to ensure that decisions on any punishment of such vulnerable workers via repatriation is justified, reliable and transparent.
The repatriation orders made by the Government are not transparent and open. For example, in this case, based on Ms Randhawa’s statement, it seems that the Government has played judge, jury and executioner in deciding who should be charged, repatriated, or given advisories. But the public is none the wiser on how and why the Government arrived at those decisions. Publishing the reasons for such decisions, even in summary form, would be a good start. The Government should also explain how its executive discretion on repatriation decisions operates consistently with the Public Prosecutor’s independence in making prosecutorial decisions.
And without an avenue of appeal, there is no way to test the validity of such administrative decisions. One or more of the repatriated workers are already claiming that they were completely innocent and forced to admit to involvement in the riots. The ability to seek recourse to the courts, or even a quasi-judicial tribunal, would provide strong safeguards against such claims. We also would not shortchange the Government and our courts, and discount their ability to design an expedited process that minimises the time needed to properly process repatriation cases.
Ms Randhawa says that the decisions to charge 28 workers, repatriate another 57 and give advisories to 200 more were made only after intensive investigations by the police. She does not mention that the state had actually charged 35 workers after investigations, but had to drop charges against 7, 4 of whom were later repatriated. This demonstrates that these decisions and investigations are not infallible, that there is room for error, and that the judicial process or even a quasi-judicial process can test the state’s decisions and protect the innocent.
Singaporeans value a society that upholds the rule of law. A society that upholds the rule of law must be mindful of, and do its best to guard against, the possibility of mistakes by administrative bodies acting in good faith. Expediency and a person’s nationality are not good enough reasons for not ensuring an adequately rigorous process before imposing significant penalties on a person. We think of Singapore as a global city — we must therefore apply appropriate legal processes to citizens and non-citizens alike. Many Singaporeans would share these common values of fairness, justice and transparency.