SINGAPORE: Singapore's Ambassador to the United States Ashok Mirpuri has responded to an editorial by the New York Times published in December last year.
The editorial, entitled "Singapore's Angry Migrant Workers" was published on December 28 and reprinted in the International New York Times two days later.
It claimed the Little India riot was caused by the frustration of migrant workers in Singapore over their wages and living conditions.
In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said that Ambassador Mirpuri had responded to the Times a few days after the editorial was published and set out the facts.
However, instead of publishing the letter, the Times prevaricated and raised fresh objections each time previous objections were met.
The MCI statement said the Times objected to the Ambassador saying it had in any way been mistaken in its facts.
The Times claimed that would render the letter a "correction", which would have to be cleared by a senior editor, and would not be publishable in the letter pages.
It then objected to the setting out of the facts as to who the rioters were, despite not having objected to this earlier. It also refused to allow the Ambassador to so much as suggest that the Times had been mistaken in its analysis of the causes of the riot.
Ambassador Mirpuri had said in his letter that the editorial suggested that the 400 migrant workers in Singapore rioted on December 8 because of frustration over their wages and living conditions, yet offered scant evidence for this.
He clarified that the rioters were employed by dozens of different employers and stayed in different residential dormitories, and that the riot occurred on the workers' day off and was localised to a congregation area for recreation.
The riot had not spread to dormitories, workplaces or any other location, and Ambassador Mirpuri said it was thus most unlikely that the rioters were motivated by the issues raised by the editorial.
He added that the government's preliminary assessment is that the rioters had acted spontaneously, triggered by a fatal traffic accident.
He said that a committee of inquiry, headed by a retired judge, will establish definitively the factors that led to the riot.
Ambassador Mirpuri explained in his letter that migrant workers do contribute to Singapore's economy, and work here legally and voluntarily.
He said that Singapore strives to ensure that they are fairly treated and properly paid, with laws that deal strictly with errant employers who ill-treat employees.
Surveys also show consistently that the vast majority of Singapore's migrant workers want to continue working in Singapore.
The Times editorial stated that "the government hopes to increase the overall population from 5.4 million to 6.9 million by 2030".
But Ambassador Mirpuri refuted this, stating that this was a top-end projection for purposes of long-term infrastructure planning.
He added that while there will continue to be a need for migrant workers, especially in the construction sector, the government has been tightening the inflow of migrant workers to slow the growth of the population.
He added that migrant workers are treated with respect, but firm action will be taken against those who break Singapore's laws.
MCI said in its statement: "The New York Times, like any other newspaper, is entitled to express its own opinions.
"But when it suppresses rejoinders that express a contrary view, and show that the Times is mistaken, it gives the lie to its claim to champion freedom of speech and the truth." - CNA/al
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