'Complete abhorrence', 'absolutely unacceptable': Shanmugam & Josephine Teo on Myanmar maid's death

"There are safeguards in place, but we must do better to prevent such an egregious incident from ever happening again," Minister Josephine Teo said.

Julia Yeo | February 25, 2021, 01:30 PM

"The bestiality of the conduct is shocking," said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, describing the "extreme abhorrence" of Gaiyathiri Murugayan, a 40-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to beating her domestic helper to death.

Complete abhorrence at what happened, said Shanmugam

The Attorney General had pressed for the highest possible charge for this case, said Shanmugam in a doorstop interview on Feb. 25.

Gaiyathiri initially faced charges including the intentional murder of her helper, Piang Ngaih Don, which meant that she possibly faced the death penalty.

However, due to the evidence available, the charges were downgraded to culpable homicide, to which Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty, Shanmugam shared.

"I'm sure I speak for many Singaporeans when I express our complete abhorrence at what happened. What was done to Piang, the foreign domestic worker was terrible, completely unacceptable," the minister said.

Ex-cop husband will face disciplinary proceedings by SPF regardless of outcome of criminal trial

Gaiyathiri's husband, Kelvin Chelvam, an ex-policeman, had been interdicted by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) since 2016, three days before he was charged.

While his case has not been heard by the court, Shanmugam told reporters that Kelvin will face disciplinary proceedings conducted by the SPF regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial.

He is facing five charges, including voluntarily causing hurt against a domestic helper, using criminal force, and causing the disappearance of evidence, as he is alleged to have removed the CCTV system from the crime scene, and for providing false information.

"Police officer or not, the law will take its course," said the minister.

No place for abuse against foreign domestic workers in Singapore

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, who was also present at the doorstop interview, described what had happened to Piang as "appalling" and "absolutely unacceptable".

"There is no place for abuse against foreign domestic workers in Singapore. There is simply no place for it. This is not the kind of society we are," Teo said to reporters. "We will do what we can to protect them, whilst they are here."

"There are safeguards in place, but we must do better, to prevent such an egregious incident from ever happening again," Teo stressed.

Ongoing reviews to improve system protecting foreign domestic workers

She added that there are ongoing reviews in three areas to improve the current system -- safeguards against abusive employers, the reporting system for doctors, which includes a mandatory six-month checkup for foreign domestic workers, and lastly, to involve community and partner organisations more, to be able to detect signs of distress quicker.

She elaborated further on the second area, that doctors have a duty to report to the police or the Ministry of Manpower if they detect signs of abuse or distress.

"We have made this point explicit in 2017, and we will have to further strengthen this," Teo said.

According to court documents seen by Mothership, Piang was seen by a doctor in May 2016, where the doctor had noticed bruising around both of Piang's eye sockets and cheeks after asking her to remove her mask and sunglasses.

However, Gaiyathiri told the doctor the injuries had been sustained from a fall as Piang was clumsy.

Piang was eventually killed an assault lasting from the night of Jul. 25, 2016, to the morning of Jul. 26.

The prosecution has asked for Gaiyathiri to receive a sentence of life imprisonment, while her defence is asking for a sentence of 14 years in prison.

The penalties for culpable homicide not amounting to murder are life imprisonment and caning, or up to 20 years' jail, a fine and caning. Women cannot be caned.

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Top image via Ministry of Home Affairs, The Straits Times/YouTube