Parti Liyani probe : hard truths that didn’t fit our convenient underdog narrative
All of us love an underdog story. We are sentimentalists at heart. We want to be the underdog champion. We want the good guys to win. We want the bad guys to be punished. We back the poor and needy. We offer disdain for the rich and powerful, particularly those who earn millions, own big houses and look down on the rest of us.
So, like many of us in Singapore, I joined in the chorus to celebrate when I first read that a humble little maid from Indonesia has taken the powerful family of Liew Mun Leong all the way to the High Court and won. Bravo to the criminal justice system. Kudos to the brave judge. Salute to the NGO and the pro-bono lawyer who cocked a snook at the establishment.
We are all busy people. We have no time to be discerning. Our brains pick what we want to believe. Ms Parti is the victim. The Liews are the bad guys. It fits into the romantic narrative in our heads. We put Parti on the pedestal and worship her as our Malala.
But is that the case now?
From the new facts that arose from Parliament session this week – phew, the Law Minister went on and on – for three hours I’m told – it looks like sentimentalists like us are now faced with a lot of inconvenient truths.
We have to ask ourselves a few hard questions. As a society, are we going to be honest enough to admit it when we got it wrong when new facts present a different uncomfortable scenario. Or, as some of the Western media love to say, don’t let facts get in the way of a good story?
First and the most important, if the news reports are correct, and none of the writers or even the Minister is prepared to say it outright given the new facts, it would appear to me that the probe is suggesting that Ms Parti is not so innocent. But then, we don’t want to be out of step with the populist narrative that the poor maid is the underdog and the victim. Worse, we do not want to be accused or seen as siding with the rich and powerful. Parti is after all acquitted by the High Court judge and it would be difficult for the Government to suggest a different decision.
Which brings me to my second point – the High Court’s strange decision. If I read the news reports correctly, the probe is suggesting that the High Court judge – while he is entitled to make a judgemental call on the evidence submitted – may have made a giant leap and took a sweeping view and decision on the case without any strong evidence.
What he has decided essentially was this: I think there are doubts about the Liews’ statements, particularly the incoherent son Karl, and then made an inference, Oh, they have a motive to fix her and she must therefore be innocent. With that, he completely disregarded all other incriminating evidence and inconsistencies in Parti’s statements and let her go. She basically got off on technicalities, not because all the incriminating facts, evidence were demolished beyond reasonable doubt in court. It is like saying a robber is caught red handed in CCTV camera with all the loot and weapons in his body but because the victim was not consistent with his statements, we disregard all the facts and clear evidence and then make a big leap to acquit the robber.
For me, the biggest smoking gun came from Parti’s own admission. “I only took about 10 to 15 men’s clothing belonging to my employer’ s husband. I admit that I took it without informing my employer or her husband…I only admit to taking the 10 to 15 men’s clothing belonging of my employer’s husband without consent. I DID NOT STEAL ANY OTHER ITEMS.’’ Can someone please tell me how is that not theft. And then, she said the watches found in her were gifts from a friend. And then she changed her alibi to say they were found in the trash. She also said the Gucci bag was a gift from previous maid. And then she changed again to say she found it from somewhere else. And then she went on with many other inconsistencies in her statements to the police.
No matter, the High Court judge chose to disregard all these glaring facts. He somehow arrived at the conclusion that there were suspicions – which were not challenged – that the Liews had a motive to fix her. He reckoned they wanted to prevent her from coming back to Singapore in case she reported them to MOM for illegally using her at Karl’s house for work. But that didn’t make sense at all because the Liews themselves had admitted to the police they used her for work at Karl’s house. Plus, she doesn’t need to be in Singapore to report to MOM on any abuse; she can report them online from overseas. In any case, it appears she had originally wanted to complain about the short notice and not about the illegal deployment. With the motive angle demolished this week, what we are saying here is the High Court made a wrong call in acquitting her of all charges.
I have followed many court cases before including recent medical saga where doctors got off but with a scolding. What I couldn’t fathom now is why didn’t the High Court judge convict her on those valid charges that were clearly beyond reasonable doubt – many of these items were found with her when she returned, and these have nothing to do with the so called tampered boxes. And she has already admitted to taking some items. Deal with her on those and at the same time disregard the Liews’ inconsistent statements and acquit her of other charges. And then publicly tick off the Liews for their “cavalier’’ attitude. I am not a lawyer and I may be wrong, but I would have thought that was quite a reasonable decision. Alas, the High Court decision is final and we have to accept it.
Now what is my biggest take from the session this week. Or rather my biggest worry. As a medical doctor, if a poor patient accused me of any impropriety, would I want to defend my honour and dignity and take her on in court? What would all the netizens and trolls say? What if I lose on appeal?
I hire a maid at home. I leave her at home most of the time. If for some twist of fate, she decided to go bonkers and start stealing from my flat, would I still want to make a police report against her.
After seeing the ordeal and damages done to the Liews, I am afraid I am unlikely to jump on the first cab to report her to the police.
I worry for the employers of the 250,000 maids in Singapore.