Internal investigation, not inquiry committee, held for SPF officer's death to protect morale: Shanmugam

Shanmugam said people trust the police, but an inquiry committee would put officers "out there, hung out to dry".

Julia Yee | February 06, 2024, 06:43 PM



After the suicide of the late police officer Uvaraja S/O Gopal, the various allegations he made in a Facebook post were investigated internally by the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Members of Parliament (MPs) questioned Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in parliament on Feb. 6, 2023, on why an internal investigation was held instead of an inquiry committee and whether all allegations, including those made by others, had been investigated. 

Shanmugam replied that people trust the SPF, but an inquiry would put officers "out there, hung out to dry regardless of the facts".

"Bottom line is, do we trust the police force?"

Morale and public trust in police should not be eroded

Progress Singapore Party NCMP Leong Mun Wai said he agreed that the morale of the police force has to be looked out for.

However, he also felt that for a case where a police officer "has taken his own life after alleged workplace bullying, racial discrimination and unfair treatment after whistleblowing", a "better way to clear the air" may be to appoint a committee of inquiry.

In response, Shanmugam said it's "precisely because of the sentiments like what Mr Leong has expressed" that the morale and public trust in overseas police forces have been eroded.

Shanmugam stated that Singapore is a "high-trust society" with "tremendous trust in the police force".

He raised the example of the police force in the UK, where a survey found that most British police officers would not recommend someone else join the force, with a significant number blaming the government and its "endless inquiries".

Should officers in Singapore be made to endure public inquiries each time there is an allegation, Shanmugam said, it was like putting them "out there, hung out to dry regardless of the facts".

He said:

"You think more people are going to join the police force? Is that good for Singapore? Is that the kind of society we want?

I mean, bottom line is, do we trust the police force? Do we trust the internal affairs office? Why do you think 90 per cent of Singaporeans have trust in the police force?"

Not a case for inquiry committee

Leong said there was no reason to doubt the findings.

He said that because the case involved the death of a police officer, he believed a committee of inquiry would be prudent.

Shanmugam said it was a matter of considerable regret and dismay for anyone who had taken his own life and extended his condolences to Uvaraja's family. 

"The police force had been very, very supportive of trying to help this officer. And that's the approach they take to every police officer. Any police officer taking his life is a tragedy for us."

He assured that the case had been investigated thoroughly.

Shanmugam acknowledged that there are "proper cases" for an inquiry committee but said this particular one was not.

"This is a matter [where] I've set out the facts publicly and the people can assess for themselves, how the facts look."

"We don't make police the scapegoats"

Shanmugam reiterated that people's trust in the police force was an "excess of 90 per cent".

He said that while he will defend the police when they "have done no wrong", the government will also publicly charge officers when they have indeed done wrong.

He attributed police trust to this sense of transparency.

"We don't make the police the subject of political football, and we don't make the police the scapegoats every time [there are] inconvenient questions. We come out. We tell the truth."

Allegations made by other people also investigated

Workers' Party leader MP Pritam Singh asked if allegations made by other individuals, such as a person who claimed to be a counsellor for Uvaraja, were looked into.

Singh said there were also allegations of "sheer abuse of authority" and "prolonged surveillance".

Shanmugam replied that the investigations covered not only Uvaraja's allegations but also claims made by other people and that he had previously addressed them all in his ministerial statement.

SPF morale still high

Singh also asked how SPF's morale is currently, especially because of the case.

Shanmugam replied that surveys suggest that police morale is "extremely high".

"It is strong. Strong esprit de corps, strong morale because they know that this government does the right thing by them."

Top images via MCI