Happy new year to all who celebrate! This is coming from a dragon baby (me!) so it’s extra good. Or something like that.
For those of you wondering why FICA didn’t feature in last week’s wrap, it’s because I ended up writing a special issue about it. I sent it out to Milo Peng Funders on Thursday. You can find it here.
Mental health services are set to be introduced at all polyclinics across Singapore, as well as 900 more GP clinics. It’s part of a plan to emphasise the importance of mental health in the “national agenda”.
A motion on mental health was debated in Parliament this past week, and Lawrence Wong, the deputy prime minister, announced that the Institute of Mental Health and Alexandra Hospital will have increased capacity, and there’ll also be an increase in the workforce. The number of public sector psychiatrists will go up by 30%, public sector psychologists by 40%, and 28,000 more frontline personnel and volunteers will be trained. The government plans to get all this done by 2030.
It’s good that this is being taken seriously, although of course we will need to wait and see what implementation is really like. It might be partly because more and more of us are growing more aware of mental health and its importance, and partly because life is getting increasingly stressful and anxiety-inducing, but I feel like so many people are struggling, whether it’s with work or school or other aspects of living in a high-pressure city like Singapore.
I hope that this new focus will also prompt us to rethink the very punitive instincts that we have in our society. We often react to problems by immediately defaulting to surveillance, monitoring, policing and punishment. Disputes with our neighbours? Call police! People smoking where they shouldn’t? Install CCTV cameras to catch and fine them! Personal possession or consumption of controlled drugs? Mandatory drug detention or prison! Outraged by some crime we’ve read about in the news? Maybe the jail terms need to be longer! Maybe people need to be caned in prison! I hope that, if we are really serious about caring for people’s mental health and well-being, we recognise how living in a city where a punitive culture is almost instinctive can be really damaging to mental health and add to stress and anxiety in our daily lives, even if it’s become so normalised that we’re not always conscious of it.
Last year, allegations made by Sergeant Uvaraja Gopal before his death by suicide went viral on social media. He claimed that his superiors had bullied him, and that his colleagues in the police force subjected him to racist abuse.
K Shanmugam, minister for home affairs and law, delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament in which he provided an update on the investigation and review conducted after Uvaraja’s death. The Singapore Police Force’s investigation into Uvaraja’s allegations about the Singapore Police Force found that some of his claims were true, and some officers had been taken to task at the time. Other allegations, they said, weren’t true. The Attorney-General’s Chambers reviewed the Singapore Police Force’s investigation into themselves and decided that “no further actions were needed”.
In 2015, Uvaraja had complained about other police officers using ethnic slurs against him. The investigation that took place then found that the cops had been talking among themselves, and hadn’t directed their comments specifically at Uvaraja. Not that that makes it okay, of course, as Shanmugam acknowledged. The officer who made the remark was made to apologise to Uvaraja in front of the whole team, and the superiors “continued to monitor the situation”.
It was also found to be true that Uvaraja’s superior officer had, in 2019, shredded a leave form that he'd submitted and uploaded the footage into the team chat group. This was apparently because the officer had been frustrated by Uvaraja applying for time off at the last minute, and also because the leave form had not actually been required. Shredding and uploading it into a group chat was a pretty nasty thing for a superior to do and apparently the officer was reprimanded.
Other allegations, Shanmugam said—like Uvaraja’s claims of ostracism, being “unfairly held back”, or cover-ups of police misconduct—weren’t true. The minister said that there was “a considerable feeling” among other police officers that a lot had been done for Uvaraja, but that “he seems to have externalised many of his issues onto his colleagues and the SPF”.
Uvaraja isn’t with us anymore, so while the minister can say quite a lot in the House and justify it as needing to protect public confidence in the police, there’s no way for him to respond to anything that has been said about his claims, his mental health and his behaviour during his time in the police force. And while the AGC did review the SPF’s investigation, the bulk of the probe was ultimately not done by an independent party. It’s something that would be so much better to have had: proper independent oversight.
The things that were found to have been true are also in themselves bad enough and point to, at the very least, some level of toxicity in the police force. The SPF has apparently reviewed its policies on such behaviour and will investigate cases of racism as “possible misconduct” and a “disciplinary breach”. It needed to be made much clearer within the force much earlier on that such behaviour is absolutely not acceptable. But I’m pretty confident this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that there’ll be racism in the police force. Police forces around the world aren’t exactly bastions of anti-racism, are they…
S Iswaran, the former transport minister now accused of corruption, is off to Australia despite his 27 charges. He’s leaving Singapore from 16 February to 4 March so he can go and settle his precious son in university in Australia.
He’s currently out on $800,000 bail, but the prosecution also demanded that he put up a $500,000 cash bail, provide the investigating officer with his itinerary and his address while abroad, and stay in contact. He’ll also have to surrender his travel documents within 24 hours of his return.
His case has also been moved to the High Court, since it’s a Big Deal.
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