As the Parti Liyani case continues to hog headlines and set social media alight, the mainstream media has also waded into the debate. This is not just a case about a foreign domestic worker (FDW) being wrongfully convicted of theft in the lower courts being exonerated by the High Court, but one that involves influential people connected to the establishment.
More than that, it throws open uncomfortable questions that need to be discussed more than ever. Firstly, are we an elitist society that permits unconscious bias to seep into facets of how our civil service and government agencies operate?
Secondly, are we a society that tolerates people from different social classes receiving a different brand of justice? Thirdly, is the establishment so firmly ensconced in their ivory towers that they are utterly disconnected to the feelings of the public?
The Straits Times recently published an article that aimed to dissect the issues brought about by the Parti Liyani case. Given that the Straits Times comprises the mainstream media that most Singaporeans get their news from, it is somewhat disappointing that it has apparently sought to downplay the seriousness of this matter. While there was some attempt to bring up both sides of the story, it falls somewhat short.
Most notably, it said:
“Unfortunately, the emotive factors of this case are so strong that many Singaporeans are liable to project into this case their own feelings about the ills of Singapore society, regardless of how well the facts fit the theories.”
The verdict delivered by Justice Chan of the High Court is black or white. It is a fact that the burden of proof was not adequately discharged by the Prosecution. It is a fact that the chain of evidence was broken and improperly handled. It is a fact that the police issued a warrant of arrest without first interviewing Parti despite the fact that she had already left the country. It is a fact that the Judge of the lower courts, Olivia Low did not call for an independent valuation of the allegedly stolen items and it has now been revealed that some of the items are broken and/or worth significantly less. It is also seemingly clear that Low suppressed the fact that Parti wanted to complain about being unlawfully deployed by the Liews to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) from coming out in the initial hearing. The list goes on.
With this factual matrix, it is much less about emotions and more about disturbing disquiet that people rightfully feel concerned by. To somehow bring up projection and emotions on this case is dismissive to say the least. Why is the Straits Times seemingly downplaying the right for people to be angry about this? Anger at injustice is a good thing. Yet, it is being painted here as if it is negative.
Anger at inequality drives people to correct the injustices. I would venture to say that it is such anger that fuels activists and pro bona lawyers. If injustice does not promote emotions, Parti might well be in jail today for something that she did not do.
Further, the Straits Times said:
“So those who believe that Singapore’s system is inherently elitist, with the elite having their own set of rules, will see evidence of bias by law enforcement officers in the face of a privileged and powerful complainant.”
As pointed out above, the facts are the facts. It isn’t about fitting in theories to suit our narrative. Is the Straits Times trying to downplay public anger for whatever reasons best known to itself? Yet if this is what it is doing, it comes across patronising and misguidedly self righteous.
Another point noted by the Straits Times is :
“In overturning the conviction on appeal, Justice Chan both exposed a potential flaw in the court system and righted it, within the court system itself. This last point bears repeating.“
With all due respect to the Straits Times, this completely misses the point. The truth of the matter is that without the help of activists and pro bono lawyers, Parti’s case would never have reached the High Court. In other words, Parti was exonerated in spite of the system and not because of it and this is what we as a society have to honestly reflect upon and rectify.
The police and the lower courts which are tasked with ensuring that these injustices do not occur in the first place failed to do so. This is what we need to investigate. The fact that the High Court did its job right is commendable but ultimately irrelevant to the mistakes we need to correct.
The Straits Times article concludes with :
“I hope that, just as we want Singaporeans to be fair-minded in assessing this case, and test their theories against the facts, the authorities reviewing the case will be similarly fair-minded and probe for underlying biases and systemic flaws beneath the particular facts of this case.”
Can fair minded probes be assumed if there is no independent Committee of Inquiry convened? Given the potential conflicts of interests that have been uncovered, any inquiry has to be public, transparent and without a shred of potential conflict. It is interesting that a column exhorting the public to be fair is not in the same vein asking the authorities to demonstrate fairness.