Sylvia Lim grills Home Affairs, Environment Ministers

Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim asked several questions in Parliament yesterday, two of which touched on issues which have hit a raw nerve of many Singaporeans, namely the frequent flooding across Singapore and the security lapse at the MRT depot.

Sylvia LimWorkers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim asked several questions in Parliament yesterday, two of which touched on issues which have hit a raw nerve of many Singaporeans, namely the frequent flooding across Singapore and the security lapse at the MRT depot.

Ms Lim posed a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs about what role the Government plays in ensuring that security on public transport is not compromised. In response, Second Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam claimed that the role of the police is to only provide an ‘additional’ layer of security, when needed. He said that the primary responsibility for the day-to-day operational security of depots, stations and vehicles is that of transport operators SMRT and SBS Transit. Implicit in his statement was that his ministry is clearly not to be held accountable for the recent security breach at the MRT depot in Changi.

Ms Lim also asked the Environment and Water Resources Minister to clarify the ‘confusing statements’ in the media about the role of the barrage in the floods. The Minister said that because the barrage receives water from a large 10,000 ha network of canals and drains, areas located more centrally or further north could still be vulnerable to floods if the drains there do not have the capacity to contain water during an intense downpour.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

41 thoughts on “Sylvia Lim grills Home Affairs, Environment Ministers”

  1. The Minister for Home Security should provide the Standing Instructions and guidelines given to SMRT regarding security issues. Why did the Ministry not inspect and discover their security weakness if they are an ‘additional’ layer of security.

    Then the SMRT should bear the blame and be fined for security lapse.

  2. Why should the Ministry be held accountable for the mrt depot security breach?

    When the DBS bank website was hacked, did people expect MAS to take responsibility?

    When the DBS ATM network went down, did customers expect MAS to apologise?

    When something is privatised, it’s privatised, ie no longer run by the Govt. So whoever was running it should bear responsibility.

    No doubt the Govt still regulates and supervises, but if Parliament feels that the regulations and supervision framework are not satisfactory, it should question the Govt when the framework is debated, not wait for an incident to start questioning and score political points.

  3. Wai Leong, in that case, there is nothing to the PAP government’s name, since they do not have much to do. Other governments around the world are so busy running operations that Singapore has privatised. And if they don’t have much to do, then they should be voted out.

  4. On the contrary. No doubt you’ve heard of focusing on core competencies.

    Govt’s job is to govern, regulate, supervise. The govt is rarely good at business operations. That’s why many countries have privatised their state-owned telcos, power generation, airlines, banks and other state-owned enterprises, etc.

    Because a bunch of bureaucrats running a telco will not be able to run it as well, or as disciplined and focused on the bottom line, as a bunch of hard-nosed managers and businessmen who have to answer to shareholders.

    Go to any advanced country, and you’ll see the same model. Business is run by businessmen, there are few, if any commercial services provided directly by govt.

    Indeed, many advanced countries didn’t just privatise state-owned enterprises, they divested it to the private sector completely. There are no “strategic” companies where the govt retains any stake– not even defence companies or telcos. Eg AT&T is fully owned by private investors, as is Macdonell Douglas, Amtrak, etc.

    Instead, govts in advanced countries focus on their core competencies– urban planning, crime, pollution, immigration, etc.

    So there is still a lot for govt to do, even after privatisation.

    However, the above doesn’t change the premise, ie if SMRT is in charge of railway operations, SMRT must take responsibility for any lapses in service, such as breakdowns, failure to meet service standards, and lapses in security of its own depots.

    To try to hold the Govt responsible for something SMRT failed to do is analogous to holding your father responsible for something you did.

    Vicarious responsibility does not hold in such a situation.

  5. If MHA is not responsible then I think it would be wise for them not to deploy anymore security forces in SMRT, well because like what some said it’s SRMTs responsibility and the safety of the public should be left to SMRT then.

    But I believe public security in this case, works hand in hand so MHA and SMRT r responsible.

    This episode has already illustrated that SMRT and the Government are trying to exercise finger pointing instead of helping one another.

    Shanmugans thought process might hav been like any self- centered Singaporean: “Why I so act smart and send in troops into the tube?! And got me involved too!! Okay I’ll say it’s SMRT responsibility!”

    Well it has already happened, what to do…. all thanks to privatising public entities. The mother of all wrongs.

    Netizens are just being too wise ass giving they’re 2 million cents worth on analising harmful byproducts of an expensive intricate and crappy politcal system.

    A change of vote will straighten these queer politicians.

  6. You’re confused by the deployment of police to MRT stations.

    This move, as you may know, followed the Madrid train bombings and also follows in the footsteps of New York, among others.

    Its aim was to put up a show of force for deterrence after the above events.

    In case you didn’t know, apart from MRT deployments, the police have also put up a show of force in the CBD, primarily at the Stock Exchange area (in this case, aping what NYPD does again by deploying SWAT officers at NYSE).

    Why do you confuse a desire to provide a show of force for the purpose of deterrence with the responsibility of a train operator to guard its own depots?

    If the police have indeed taken over responsibility to secure SMRT, then by definition SMRT should fire all its security staff, right? They’re bottom-line oriented, so it would be in their own financial interest to do so, right?

    But obviously, the police have not taken over responsibility for guarding every single depot, and there is nothing in their actions to suggest they have taken over responsibility for SMRT security.

    And I would argue, they shouldn’t do so. It’s not right to use public resources (ie police) to secure privatised installations (ie smrt depots).

    If you want to take MHA for not enforcing higher security standards on SMRT or that the regulatory framework is not stringent enough, that’s one thing. But to say MHA should take responsibility for a break-in occurring in a facility run by a private operator is ludicrous.

    This situation is far different from the Mas Selamat case, where the Police were directly responsible.

  7. Wai Leong

    It is very simple. The point here is this.

    As a government, it is their job to identify what is the potential/strategic locations for possible terrorist attack. It need not be the MRT, you know. As long as the public is at risk, then government should be involved and work with the private sector. It is that simple.

  8. Are you trying to say that the US government is not responsible for preventing another 9-11 as the airlines are all privately owned and held???

    Or that all the security checks in the airport should be up to the individual airlines???

    I am confused by some of the posters here….

  9. My point is also very simple.

    Let’s put it this way. Every shopping centre is a potential target for terrorist attack. As is every crowded market, every hawker centre, every crowded bus, every mosque, church, temple, etc.

    Because it actually doesn’t matter where terrorists strike, the psychological impact is the same as long as there’s lots of casualties.

    Do you expect the govt to mandate that every shopping centre puts up x-ray machines and metal detectors? And police guards at every crowded market, every hawker centre, every crowded bus, every mosque, church, temple, etc.?

    Obviously it’s logistically impossible to do so, hence the usual approach govt agencies take is thru intelligence and pre-emptive strikes against terrorits.

    But sometimes intelligence fails and tragedies occur. And then people will blame the intelligence agencies for a failure of intelligence.

    In the case of this MRT break-in, there would be no basis to take the govt to task for an intelligence failure. These were just two pranksters engaging in a publicity stunt.

    So why do you want to finger the govt?

    If this was a genuine failed terrorism attempt, and the govt was caught flat-footed, then one would be right to blame the govt.

    But two pranksters out on a graffiti trip? How do you expect the Govt to know that two foreigner pranksters are about to break into an MRT depot? These are not terrorist cells that intelligence agencies track. And you want the Minister to resign or take responsibility for failing to stop that?

    Who is being OTT?

  10. So the govt can’t be blamed for 2 pranksters sneaking into a govt protected area, but if 2 terrorists broke in and planted a bomb, then one can blame the govt? Or blame them only if lives were lost, and not if it was a failed attempt? See what I’m driving at? It’s the same thing – unauthorised persons breaking into a protected area and doing what they want – and going undetected for some time – they thought the graffiti was an ad for crying out loud? How if in a future incident, they think the ticking is a clock and not a bomb? The point is if SMRT trains n depots are protected areas, someone has to answer for how the pranksters’ break in and actions went undetected for such a long time? Sylvia Lim did well to grill them now instead of waiting for people to get badly hurt in a “failed terrorist attempt” as suggested by Wai Leong

  11. Wai Leong,

    I am an NSman and my job is to protect important installations when war breaks out. MRT Depot is one of them. Is this private or public?

    SMRT is private.

    Public transport is Public

    Public security is Public.

    So we have a Grey Area.

    What do we do with Grey Areas??

    Any government in the right mind should have foresee this Grey Area long ago and discuss with private companies on best arrangements and solve the Grey Areas.

    Both SMRT and PAP is at fault here. To say PAP is totally not at fault is irresponsible behaviour.

    If it is totally private then why is the SMRT Depot so important to government after the incident ??

  12. I have a simple mind… so I hv a simple take of the whole situation… Staff of company X makes a mistake… pissed of a big customer…. Customer complains to Boss of company X… So.. do Boss says : “it’s not my fault… it’s my staff who made the mistake….I’m not responsible!!” or should he says :”sorry… on behalf of my staff… I apologise and ensure that such incidents will not happen again.”???????

  13. Huh?– you need some clarification. While the MRT depot is covered under the Protected Places Act, it’s not a Govt protected area most times, except as PDF says, in times of emergency or war.

    PDF– there’s nothing gray about public or private. During an emergency or a war, govts are typically given more powers, so what is private in peace time can be taken over by the govt. Eg civil resource owners have to give up their cranes and heavy equipment to SCDF when they are activated, that’s why they also have mobilisation exercises.

    Nothing gray there.

    Simplemind– your analogy is ludicrous. How about you do something wrong and I sue your grandfather? That’s what you’re asking in this case. The SMRT head of security didn’t do a good job, you are not happy with his CEO not taking responsibility, you even want their regulator to take responsibility.

  14. Wai Leong – you were asking who was being OTT, and suggested that 2 pranksters committing graffiti was different from failed terrorist attempts. My point is that there is no difference as long as a protected place ends up not being protected – whether from pranksters or JI terrorists who threatened to blow up a train station. Sylvia Lim did well to grill the govt, given that they knew there were previous terrorist threats at MRT stations.. and please don’t argue that stations are not the same as depots… a time bomb in a train placed at a depot can blow up in a station. The govt is supposed to serve and protect its people…and should be grilled if only to keep them on their toes.. It does not help when we have citizens (civil servants perhaps?) who think the govt can do no wrong…

  15. Wai Leong,

    If a criminal were to break loose and carry a gun, and hide in Singapore, then there is a potential threat to public. The police will identify the strategic areas where he will hide.

    Suppose he hide in your unit in a private condo, and the police has gathered intelligence. Are you saying it is up to the security of the condo to do the job? The key point here is potential threats.

    Singapore is under the potential threat of terrorism, we all know. If, 15 years ago, you tell me certain places are not potential location for the threat, I may agree.

    Like this one

    You are argue certain place is not strategic, but you cannot argue the fact that it is the responsibility of government to identify certain locations for potential threats.

  16. The question is who is supposed to protect a protected place. You think it’s the govt, I happen to think that it’s the responsibility of the operator at the lower level, and the govt at a national level.

    It’s a two-tier system, in other words, with individual operators responsible for the security of their own premises, and the govt watching out for threats at a national level, and sending in resources to areas where intelligence assessments indicate potential for trouble.

    Given the limited resources of the govt, it’s not reasonable to expect the govt to be in charge of first-tier security for non-govt installations, ie setting up fences, putting guards, patrolling, checking visitors, etc.

    Hence this function has been decentralised to individual operators, who should meet any standards expected.

    If individual operators fail to meet such standards, they should be penalised.

    And if the govt fails to meet its obligation to detect and deal with threats, it should also be penalised.

    But don’t confuse one with the other.

  17. As an aside, Gerald’s description of the exchange does not read like a grilling to me. A proper grilling would have been like an Inquisition.

    There’s another OTT.

  18. Wai Leong,

    You are living in dream land.

    There are Grey Areas everywhere in Singapore which only surfaces when things happen.

    The recent floods are examples, Grey Areas on what actually Stamford Canal, Marina Barrage, drainage system can really do. Now the government is rushing to review this out but too late.

    Similiarly, for SMRT case, you cannot differentiate peace time and war time so casually. There are SOPs to be finalised and arrangements to to be fixed.

    These must be done so especially in PEACE time, and not wait until war comes to your door step then start planning or else what is my reservist for ??

    It is obvious the PAP was negligent in this area and should have discussed and fix arrangements which are Grey with private companies with Public Interest.

    So that everyone knows whose responsibility it belongs to especially the critical areas.

    They can plan with SMRT and SBS Transport Price Increment,Routes but not security ?? Do not kid us.

  19. Wai Leong,

    You are very insisting that you are right and PAP have no blame but cannot provide reasons and your reasons are vague.

    Just Yes and No.

    You are proving how irresponsible PAP is when it comes to problems.

    When good things happen, its all their credit.The world cannot be so one-sided.

  20. The debate on SMRT security would not have culminated into this conflagration if the establishment in default is one that does not fall under the umbrella of this one big holding company that’s been perceived, rightfully or wrongfully, to bear close affinity to the whole government machinery. Guilt by association, that’s what it seems to be promulgated. Would it have happened to another private enterprise, say just another MNC, this could well have been an insouciant event, to be dealt with as an act of mischief. The vortex of emotions clearly shows in an increasingly disgruntled populace.

  21. PDF– pls read carefully. Reasons have been provided by me in detail. You are free to disagree with my reasoning, but do not make claims that I’ve not given clear reasons for my views. That only shows either you don’t read what I wrote, or you don’t understand what I wrote.

    And to be even more clear– I don’t defend or support the PAP. Whichever party is in power, I’d say the same thing.

    You think the PAP is trying to absolve itself of blame. I say that the Govt (of whichever party) is not to be blamed for a break-in into premises which are fenced by SMRT and patrolled by SMRT security guards.

  22. Wai Leong,

    Government is Government, private is private, their responsibilities sometimes are mix (for example social responsibilities) but most of the time, it is very clear.

    In this case, obviously the Government didn’t identify the MRT depot as a potential threat, otherwise it will work hand in hand with SMRT. So in this case, this lapse in security is no concern to the Government and it is debatable. You can’t push the responsibility away or outsource it. It is not like private business.

    Whether it will work if the Government wants to it, if it is really a threat, I can tell you it can.

  23. Wai Leong, you may think that the government should bear no responsibility to protect the integrity of the SMRT depot. However, the govt has inadvertently got itself involved by taking responsibility of transit security – those grey beret guys within the MRT stations.

    MRT stations are analogous to MRT depots in that trains move from one place to another. It is not practical to draw a line to divide the public train station from the private depot, because if a threat originated from the depot, the MRT station would be affected nonetheless. It would not make sense to protect one without protecting the other.

    Security is only as strong as the weakest link. In this case it was the MRT depot, because even if you stuffed the MRT stations full of troops and policemen, they are in no position to prevent a bomb from exploding at the station if it had been planted on the train at the depot. If such a tragedy occurred, the govt cannot absolve itself of responsibility for not protecting the depot. This is where your line of reasoning starts to fall apart.

    It only works conceptually when there is no disaster. But if there is, you can say all you want, but the people will hold the govt responsible, not SMRT.

    I think they call this “Reductio ad absurdum”.

  24. Chee Ken Wing, you ae mistaken that, by putting on an occasional show of force, the Govt has taken over responsibility of transit security.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Govt has also put on a show of force in Shenton Way, Special Ops Force police show themselves from time to time.

    So if a bank robbery occurs in Shenton Way one day, by your reasoning the Govt should also be responsible? Because the govt, through a show of force, has taken over responsibility of security, right? And because, though an ordinary robber he may be, but he could have brought not only a knife, but could also have brought a bomb into a bank, right?

    Wrong. Your kind of logic is without basis.

  25. Chee Ken Wing, and by the way, please also understand how govt agencies around the world deal with bomb threats.

  26. Wai Leong,

    Any robbery or bom explosion at Shenton Way, of course will blame government because we taxpayers are already paying for the police force for security.

    PAP will claim credit when crime rate is low or police tackle crime rate fast, similiarly when crimes happen or soar, PAP must answer. Everything comes in a package.

    Didn’t George Bush and his intelligence team got blamed for 911 for not acting on information and sharing information ??

    The same result should happen to PM and his team.

    Some robberies can be prevented depending on police following leads and tip offs which only people in the industry will know.

    In the end , it will go back to the government.

    I do agree on the grey area logic brought up. There is no way government can be 100% blameless.

  27. People can blame anyone they like. What’s being discussed is whether there’s any substantive basis to blame the govt.

  28. Wai Leong wrote: “That’s why many countries have privatised their state-owned telcos, power generation, airlines, banks and other state-owned enterprises, etc.”

    Exactly. So pray tell me why are MPs and Ministers’ names found as chairpersons, board of directors and senior decision makers? Do you want me to start quoting the list? Also tell me which 1st world country PM has his wife in a government investment body managing public billions of dollars?

    Gee… whatever you are smoking, I might want some of those.

    Mas Selamat’s escape. Not Minister of MHA’s problem. Flooding. Not Minister of Env’s problem. MRT security lapses. Not MHA’s or LTA’s problem. Housing issues. Not Minister’s problem. Over-crowding. Not Minister for Transport problem. Loss of billions. Not Minister of Finance problem. Budget forecast and deficit (previous years). Not their problem. Town Councils loss. Not their problem.

    If I had paid peanuts, I’d expect monkeys. But then I didn’t, did I? So the actual answers to these problem may be so obvious and staring under our noses.

    But all I get is:
    Singaporeans’ complacency, global crisis, market factors, too high expectations of government, too lofty ideals of youths, “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre”, lesser mortals, etc.

    People put the blame on the government when they are told the ministers have to be paid millions because ‘we are the A-team’. So when things don’t go well, can the Z-team resign?

    *rolls eyes*

  29. One should learn to see things clearly, and not let dissatisfaction, unhappiness and frustration over the failings of PAP in other areas cloud one’s vision in this particular area.

  30. Wai Leong,
    My vision is definitely not clouded I can assure you. And so are a lot of other citizens. Don’t give me that ‘I am a frog in a well’ mentality, and the high-handed ‘look at the bigger picture’ advice.

    Basically I want to see accountability. If you are being paid like CEOs, then take the responsibilities that come with the status and salaries. I seriously dislike the flippant attitudes and answers that have been given out to the public, and of late the fault always lie with us.

    The PAP should pick up an advice or two:
    When someone criticizes you, it’s not to put you down. Rather it’s for you to pull up your socks that you are not addressing our concerns well.

    How’s that for a ‘big picture’ advice?


  31. This is not about frogs and wells or how big your view is.

    If A made a mistake, you don’t jump after B.

    And esp, you don’t let 20 other things that B did wrong to cloud your views.

    That’s perceptual bias.

  32. This debate is both interesting and worrying. Interesting for the relentless effort of both sides in stating their stand. Worrying because of the logic posted by Wai Leong.

    This is hardcore belief on his part, which may not work to the interest of Singapore if we want to move forward.

    But yes, he has every right in saying what he wants to say. And I feel that the posters engaged in this debate with him is like 对牛弹琴, playing guitar to the cow literally speaking…

  33. This is not about 对牛弹琴.

    In any public debate it is a given that the two parties will never agree with each other, unless one’s position is so weak as to be logically unsustainable.

    What is important is whether arguments made by both sides are well-supported by logic, and whose arguments are substantive, properly founded in logic and reason and how the audience decided, after hearing the clear arguments of both sides.

    Hopefully, if there were any hidden agendas or faulty logic or petty animosities, they would have been exposed so that the audience can make an informed judgement of the issue at hand.

    That’s the true purpose of a debate– to enable an audience to listen to both sides and make up their own minds.

  34. And in reference to someone claiming I have a “hardcore” belief, may I state that some posters here have equally “hardcore” anti-pap beliefs. So much so that they cannot differentiate anger against pap for this issue from anger over 20 other issues.

  35. You made certain nice points there. I did a search on the subject and found a good number of persons will go along with with your blog.

  36. Regarding the MRT matters, I have heard enough about the security issue. Until we are prepared to even guard our busiest stations
    with military guards from our Armed Forces, we have done nothing but tempted some recalcitrant Caucasions (so far)to prove that we are extremely vulnerable. Who is observing these issues with interest but the possible TERRORISTS? We have arrested and detained some already? This is a cinch for possible terrorists because they hardly need to take risks to find out where the weaknesses are. The occasional Caucasion whose appetite has not diminished will try again and make a big break this time.
    Don’t ever let the same thing happen like in UK when a suspected terrorist was chased through a train and was eventually shot dead because he refused to surrender ?
    Will this be enough to cause serious concern to our country.
    Let us hear from our security (must be integrated) what is being done to minimise the possibility from the same thing happening in Singapore

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