Protecting their own kind

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.

The Escape

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?


Responsibility

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.

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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.

12 thoughts on “Protecting their own kind”

  1. What I found most incredible about the whole episode is how a man with a minor disability could scale a wall with such ease and leap over the barbed tops of fences. He must be quite the acrobat.

    I’ve entertained the possibility of conspiracy theories, but if this whole deal is actually staged, it really doesn’t make sense. Activating the entire army to hunt down a lame escaped prisoner is just too much of an embarrassment.

    And now that the photographs of WDC are out, they really need to recreate Alcatraz somehow so this doesn’t happen again. Sigh.

  2. I would disbelieve the Terrorist Jumps Over the Fence theory completely but for the fact that the COI asked one of the Gurkhas to re-inact that feat. (Or was it a fact?)

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention about the conspiracy theories. I’m disappointed that Low Thia Khiang fell for the oldest trick in the book. He had asked Wong Kan Seng if there’s any truth in the theory that Mas died while in custody. Wong’s reply was Do you think that is true? Low said No. As expected Wong said “Then I see no need to fuel such speculation.” HE DIDN’T ANSWER THE QUESTION!

  3. What if Mas Selamat had truly died in detention and this whole fracas is one big wayang- what then? No one could bring this issue up or try to expose them. You yourself will be in WRDC where Mas Selamat used to be, accused of plotting to overthrow the government or self-radicalized terrorism.

    Few months we’d find Mas Selamat bones in Mandai and thy will say “See? What did we tell you. He didn’t die in WRDC.” This case is as good as closed.

  4. Gerald,

    “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.”

    this is exactly since Singapore’s independence, I yet to see any government ministry truly responsible and accountable for anything at all.

    ShinCorpse, NKF, EDB_NSW saga, Global Crossing, to speak a few. None at all. Perhaps, this is the first in history of the world that nothing ever happen to the longest ruling power and dynasty.

    Your particular quote says it all and well.

  5. The TOILET, as many have pointed out, appeared(appears) new. Its’ construct, again, as pointed out by many, does not seem congrous to normal layout of a usual toilet.

    And to me; one of the many conspiracy theories floating around will hit the pupil of a bulls’ eye. It will be spot on but remain a mystery forever.

    patriot.

  6. When things goes well, credit is given to the persons @ the top, how he/she has guided the people down the line..the civil servants are basically implementing the policies that the top people thought of, that’s why they are worth their weight in gold. When things goes wrong…its the other way around……-justspeakinglah

  7. i’m hardly surprised when the news reported wrdc was never audited in security adequacy by any external unit under mha’s charge. not long ago, the papers also reported that the economic development board (edb) had NEVER been audited by the auditor-general before in its 40+ years of existence.

    in fact, i don’t think any prison in singapore has ever been audited before.

  8. It seems Sylvia Lim had also asked about the auditing issue.

    I’m told that Gurkhas are not allowed to communicate with inmates. Perhaps they need to relook the role of Gurkhas as wardens.

  9. Dear Gerald,

    This whole issue has been one big mess.

    It is sad to see the top man not take responsibility for the actions of their people. Whatever happens to leadership by example. I do not believe that the majority wants WKS to resign what we want is to see disciplinary actions taken by WKS on himself or by the PM on WKS.

    Just as parliament had rubber stamped the “Carrot” system to reward “Talents” for sacrificing their privacy, time, commitment..etc by giving Ministers million dollar wages, surely they are able to establish a system where there is the “stick” to ensure that the ministers do not get complacent (and I thought we are the ones who are complacent).

    Morale among ISD will sucks big-time for sure when they see their bro-in-arms who serve with them in the trenches being punish for their mistake while the big boss on the top just skirt the issue, blame them for the mistake and then hide under the covering of the PM’s defence.

    Is this then the precedent being set among the ministers where things go right, I get my million dollar pay package and take the credit. When things go wrong, I get my million dollar pay package and blame my minions.

    From what we have seen of Parliamentary debate so far, there has only been 2 ocasions when we see the PM and his company debate so passionately and resolutely, one was during the ministers pay hike debate (basically making them multi millionaires in one term) and the Selamat Fiasco.

    Regards
    Newcastle

  10. I think I would like to offer a neutral take on this issue. I have myself been a victim of such a request to “hang” while seeing the buck stop at my level.

    We were out on exercise and my guys collected reams of electronic intel. When we came back, a week later there was a planned and schedule security audit. It was unfortunate that these reams were not kept and discovered packed (for processing)in a unlocked cabinet. The room was locked though, and my unit has security and then there is also base security.

    Nevertheless, it was a security lapse and pointed to some degree of complacency. Perhaps you could even say it implied more grave consequences.

    My men were punished undoubtedly, and so was I. When I was punished, I was indignant and even after much retrospect, I thought to myself how I could have known or prevent the lapse. At the end of the day I concluded that it was my blind spot. Shocking bad luck.

    The next question was, did I think my Command and supervisor should go down with me? I would have been comforted and probably closed rank with him on this issue if he did. It was however necessary, because although it was his unit and remain accountable, his sphere of influence was even more remote on issues at this level of detail.

    Within me, there were many days of sadness, knowing the my clear record marred forever perhaps hindering my growth. I however accepted this like a man and moved on.

    I am therefore not too surprise with the level of “hanging”. I’m certain that if it was a integrity mistake or even grave policy error which imbues direct responsibility to a minister, it’s that level that hangs and not the lower ones.

    It just like when big CEO of company gets the boot for approved the policy to engaging in mortgage back securities and not all of his people below who designed and executed the trades.

    Regards
    Hanged

  11. As expected Wong said “Then I see no need to fuel such speculation.” HE DIDN’T ANSWER THE QUESTION!

    By giving that reply, he has in fact answered the question. Not answering YES is fueling further speculation.

  12. Owl said. The S.T. reported a woman saw MSK at a bus stop after his incredible escape, apparently hoping to be given some money. Subsequently another man saw him going up a flight of steps. Nothing mentioned in the COI report about interviewing them to establish the truth. Coincidently, the infamous S.T. also reported a SINGPOST van being stolen 2 hours before MSK’s escape. Did the authorities interview the Singpost driver and were any valuable contents missing ? What about any traceable evidence ? The van was only found 2 days later, abandoned somewhere in AMK. It begs the question whether it was utilised as MSK’s mode of transport. I do not think any crook would want to steal a van with such prominent markings.

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