The PM and Home Minister have given their statements in Parliament regarding Mas Selamat’s escape.
I am glad that although the Committee of Inquiry (COI) report was not released, at least the details of how Mas Selamat escaped — complete with pictures — were. I’m also glad to learn that this wasn’t an inside job. And I think it’s fitting that not just junior officials, but even the Superintendent of Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC) will be punished for this lapse.
That’s the good stuff. Now for the not so good.
I wonder what was going on in the mind of the Gurkha who accompanied Mas Selamat into the toilet. Didn’t he find it a bit odd that the water was kept running for 11 minutes? Couldn’t he have banged on the door and asked Mas Selamat what was taking him so long? Or looked under the door? Or heard him opening the window and squeezing himself out? Why did he go OUT of the washroom to look for the female ISD officer to alert her, leaving the prisoner completely unattended. Maybe it was during those few seconds that Mas Selamat was able to escape from the window undetected.
Next the leap over the fence. The COI said it was most likely that he jumped on top of the covered walkway and lept across the fences to freedom. I find that quite incredible. The photo shows a double row of fencing, each with barbed wire on top, and separated by at least 2 m. The ground on the other side is filled with shrubs. Even if Mas Selamat lept across it, he would have broken his ankle when he landed.
The alleged escape across the fence is uncannily similar to the method used by NSF Dave Teo, who went AWOL from his army camp with a SAR21 assault rifle and several 5.56mm ammunition rounds. Teo lept from a parapet situated near a fence to escape. Did our security agencies not learn a thing from this very recent incident — that you should never have any fixed platforms near a fence?
I am shocked to learn that the punishment for allowing Mas Selamat to escape will be limited to only officers in the WRDC. Surely there are others in the ISD and MHA who are partially responsible.
It was reported that the toilet Mas Selamat escaped from was usually used by visitors and staff of WRDC. These visitors must, at one point or another, have included senior officials from ISD and MHA like the Director ISD, the Permanent Secretary (Home Affairs) and even the Minister himself. The Deputy Secretary (Security) who sat on the COI must have seen the same window design in the women’s toilet.
Did it not occur to any of them that there was a huge, ungrilled window with a ledge below it? Why did they not sound any alert? Were they complacent too? If so, do they not share part of the responsibility?
High security installations like these usually have regular security audits by another higher unit. If these audits were carried out, why didn’t the auditors discover the ungrilled window and the fence with a covered walkway beside it? These auditors should also be punished for their negligence. If no such audits took place, why not? ISD and MHA then bear some responsibility for not instituting these external audits.
PM’s speech today in Parliament and his responses to MPs’ questions were most disappointing.
He put up a stout defence for his Home Minister and Director ISD, saying they are “ultimately accountable” but “were not to blame”. This is a contradiction in itself. If you are accountable for something and that something goes wrong, you are to blame. That is what leadership is about.
I’m not asking for any resignations. But for everyone up the chain of command beyond the Superintendent of the WRDC to get away scot free is breathtaking! No one is going to even get fined, forfeit leave, sign extra, do push ups?
The PM said: “(T)his does not mean that if a lapse occurs down the line, every level in the chain of command, up to and including the Minister should automatically be punished or removed.”
In that case, no Minister will ever be punished for anything, because Ministers never do anything with their own hands. Everything that they do in the course of their work is actually carried out by a battalion of civil servants working under them.
PM chose to trot out the “we are not like other countries” argument, when he pointed out that we should not have a culture where Ministers “fall on their swords” whenever something goes wrong, just for political expediency. This is playing back like a tired old record from his father’s era. Most Singaporeans with half a brain will know it is less about being different from other countries, but more about protecting their own kind — the tight-knit network of elites who run this country.