Mas Selamat's 2001 escape, 17 tonnes and preaching to the converted
By ringisei on 30 Apr 2008 10:44 PM
Haloscan Comments Closed

This post was initially motivated by the question: Just how dangerous is Mas Selamat and what is the threat posed by his escape? Re-reading the Jemaah Islamiyah White Paper (released 7 Jan 2003) for the official threat assessment, I was then reminded that Mas Selamat had previously managed to flee before the Internal Security Department's Dec 2001 dragnet. It seems that he had been on the run for more than a year before it was announced, in Feb 2003, that he had been detained by the Indonesian authorities. After three years, Mas Selamat was finally deported back to Singapore in Feb 2006. So this isn't the first time that he has slipped through the ISD's fingers.

Wong Kan Seng Resignation Theatre

I should say, from the outset, that I do not agree with the calls for Mr Wong Kan Seng to resign over Mas Selamat's escape from the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC). This probably reflects the conditioning from my time working in the civil service that has remained surprisingly intact even though I resigned a few years ago. Under the Westminster doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility [UK Parliament research paper PDF | Canadian research paper], ministers are responsible for policy decisions and civil servants are responsible for administration (i.e. implementation, operationalization).

While I share Mr Wang's reservations about including Dr Choong May Lin on the Committee of Inquiry (COI), I accept its findings that the failures were at the operational rather than the policy level.

In the case of the drowning of 2SG Hu Enhuai on 21 August 2003, due to an unapproved deviation from the lesson plan on Combat Survival Training, the instructors were suspended and punished, the Commanding Officer of School of Commando Training was relieved of his command and the Chief Commando Officer was reassigned. If the parallel is strictly applied, then the two Gurkha guards and the Special Duty Operative would be suspended and punished, the Director of WRDC relieved of command and his immediate superior reassigned (I do not know who is next in the ISD's command and control hierarchy).

Nonetheless a great opportunity for a rally round the flag moment was missed. Mr Wong could have swiftly offered his resignation, recognizing the larger issues at stake. A non-MIA PM Lee could have immediately declined it, citing convention and precedent as well as the Minister's past record, emphasizing the need for his continued contributions and focusing minds on what needs to be done next. This would have pre-empted calls for his resignation, pro-actively blunted criticism for not at least offering to resign and created the momentum to move on, a momentum that can't be created by turtling and head-in-the-sand.

And/Or the Minister for Home Affairs could have voluntarily taken a pay cut or, more plausibly, foregone a bonus [I owe this possible scenario to Loy], if only to demonstrate that not only the lower ranks pay for the consequences of mistakes/failures as well as to acknowledge and undercut grumbling about ministerial salaries.

Of course, either of these options might have set unwelcome precedents. And it is understandable that the risk adverse would not want to trust in the people to trust them. Or they could be dismissed as mere posturing or wayang, ignoring how theatre and ritual are important tools in the repertoire of political communication - not just what you say but also how you say it, when you say it and who says it. Such actions would not assuage all Singaporeans, some Singaporeans might even see them as excessive, but surely such gestures would go a long way in assuaging other Singaporeans' anger, an anger that could be driven by a great affective divide, by incommensurability but also, I hazard to guess, by fear. And this fear is what makes the Mas Selamat escape different from the above Mindef case; I am afraid of what plans Mas Selamat may be able to put into motion while he is still at large.

Fear and Loathing in Singapore

Mas Selamat is known to have discussed with Hambali [who planned the 2002 Bali bombings] and others to retaliate against the Singapore Government for the disruption of JI, including a plan to hijack a US, British or Singapore plane and crash it into Changi Airport.

(JI White Paper, p17)

Ironically some of us are fearful precisely we have believed everything the government has told us before; we have accepted the warnings, that Singaporeans are constantly threatened by terrorism, the Jemaah Islamiyah plot was a real threat and that, as Singapore JI leader, Mas Selamat was the most dangerous of the lot. If we thought that the government was exaggerating or making stuff up, there wouldn't be half as much a fuss over his escape.

He has already been described as plotting revenge against Singapore and we have been told that he has been seeking the means:

...terrorists are using explosive precursors like ammonium nitrate as substitutes for explosives. Palestinian terrorists started using these in the 1990s when controls on access to conventional explosives were tightened. The local Jemaah Islamiyah network that ISD disrupted in 2001 and 2002 had planned to procure 17 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for the manufacture of truck bombs to carry out attacks in Singapore. [Emphasis added.] Overseas, the Jemaah Islamiyah successfully used explosive precursors, nitrate-based chemicals and potassium chlorate mixtures respectively, to carry out the Bali and Jakarta Marriot bombings in Indonesia. The seizure of large quantities of ammonium nitrate in London in March 2004 and the theft of 1,200 kilograms of the same material from storage facilities in France in May 2004 highlight the need for control over explosive precursors. The foiled UK airline plot, with the intended use of such precursors, uncovered in August 2006 further reinforces the need to control explosive precursors in Singapore.

Mr Wong Kan Seng, on the Arms and Explosives (Amendment) Bill (Hansard, 22 Jan 2007)

I don't know about you but I found that pretty scary. It was a fear that had been managed by swallowing our reservations about the necessary evil of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act and putting our faith in the Internal Security Department.

How do you measure the efficacy of ISD? Although there are some aspects of its work which may be open to quantitative output measures, the efficacy of an internal security agency ultimately rests on a qualitative judgement of whether it is effective in meeting its mission of keeping the country and its people safe from security threats. The record speaks for itself.

Response given by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, at the Committee of Supply Debate on the Ministry of Home Affairs, Fri 14 March 2003

Alas the record does speak but we're not really liking what we're hearing. And also things have been getting somewhat confusing. Mas Selamat very dangerous therefore must lock up without trial. Mas Selamat escape, what to do? And earlier we believed in the government in general and the ISD in particular to keep us safe, we are now told that we are complacent because we believed in government and ISD. Huh, liddat oso my fault?

Gerald is absolutely right that we tend to be forgetful. Most of us, through active support or tacit consent or sheer inertia/apathy, will be complicit in the PAP's big thumping victory in the next General Election and the cycle of complacency continues. OH SHI-, so it *is* true! It is my fault after all.

But perhaps the internet, not just bloggers, but the state's own online archives serve as a potent inevitably public external memory enhancement device. I only hope that the right people learn the right lessons from this fiasco. But somehow the lack of contrition and the almost casual, complacent dismissal of the anxious outcry only seems to further fuel such anxiety that nothing will really change.

Two Milestones on the Road

Two somewhat less downbeat notes to conclude. First, due to the potential impact on inter-ethnic and community relations of the JI case, MHA has been relatively transparent and forthcoming with information and updates (see Appendix below) in a way that does not apply to the other invisible 26 other people who were still in detention under the ISA as of 9 April 2007 (Hansard). I hope that such updates will continue and be expanded other ISA cases as far as prudently possible.

They had taken part in terrorist training, armed jihad and terrorist planning for attacks in Singapore. They had been deeply indoctrinated with the JI's violent and radical ideology for many years. This cannot be easily undone. For example, several of them continue to hold on to the core JI belief that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live in harmony. They also believe in the establishment of an Islamic state through violent means. Rehabilitation, including religious counselling, for these detainees is on-going. Their cases are regularly reviewed.

Update on Jemaah Islamiyah detainees by Mr Wong Kan Seng (Hansard, 9 April 2007)

Second while it seems religious counselling have not been effective with Mas Selamat, such efforts have also been attempted in Egypt and Indonesia (See, for example, 'A jihadist recants' and 'Preachers to the converted', The Economist, 13 December 2007). More work and cooperation in this direction could hold great promise in de-radicalizing the radicalized and in the wider war for hearts and minds.

Appendix: Chronology of the Jemaah Islamiyah case

04 January 2003: Minister for Home Affairs' Comments on Why the White Paper
07 February 2003: Mas Selamat Kastari detention by Indonesian authorities announced
18 December 2003: Muhammad Arif Bin Naharudin and Muhammad Amin Bin Mohamed Yunos detained
10 June 2003: Arifin bin Ali @ John Wong detained
14 Jan 2004: Restriction Orders issued against 12 - Abu Bakar Sedek bin Hashim, Mohammad bin Hashim, Mohd Ashikin bin Mohd Yusof, Jasmani bin Bakran, Zainodin bin Ismail, Hamim bin Jaafar, Omar bin Abdul Karim, Yusri bin Mohd Yusof, Mohd Yusuf bin Mohd Noor and Mohd Shafiee bin Osman allegedly from JI; Abdul Ghani bin Omar and Mohd Abdul Rahman bin Baharom allegedly from MILF.
13 January 2005: Released - Othman bin Mohamed; Detention extended - Mohd Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan; Detained - Mohd Agus bin Ahmad Selani, Anis bin Mohamed Mansor.
22 April 2005: Released under SD: Abdul Majid s/o Niaz Mohamed; Released under SD/RO: Faisel bin Abdullah Abdat; Detained: Jahpar bin Osman.
11 November 2005: Released under SD: Andrew Gerard @ Ali Ridhaa bin Abdullah; Detained - Mohammad Sharif bin Rahmat.
06 February 2006: Mas Selamat deported to Singapore from Indonesia.
30 June 2006: Released - Azman bin Jalani, Faiz Abdullah Ashiblie, Habibullah s/o Hameed, Zulkifli bin Mohamed Jaffar and Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana; Detained - Detention of 5 JI Mas Selamat bin Kastari, Mohamed Rashid bin Zainal Abidin, Muhamad Ismail bin Anuwarul, Abdul Rashid bin Anwarul, and Abdul Nassir bin Anwarul.
09 November 2006: Released under RO - Muhammad Arif bin Naharudin and Muhammad Amin bin Mohamed Yunos.
08 June 2007: Detained - Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader, Ishak s/o Mohamed Noohu, Mohamed Hussain bin Saynudin, Mohamed Yassin s/o O P Mohamed Nooh, Ibrahim bin Mohd Noor; RO issued against Muhamad Yassin Khan bin Muhamad Yunos, Jamil bin Ansani; released under SD - Mohamed Noor bin Sulaimi, Naharudin bin Sabtu, Nordin bin Parman and Syed Ibrahim and Mohamed Yassin s/o O P Mohamed Nooh.
24 January 2008: Released - Adnan bin Musa, Fathi Abu Bakar Bafana, Halim bin Hussain and Mohamad Anuar bin Margono; RO lapsed - Abu Bakar Sedek bin Hashim, Mohamed Yusuf bin Mohamad Noor, Mohammad bin Hashim, Mohd Abdul Rahman bin Baharom and Mohd Shafiee bin Osman; Deetained - Muhammad Zamri bin Abdullah, Maksham bin Mohd Shah; RO issued against Mohammad Taufik bin Andjah Asmara.
27 February 2008: Mas Selamat escape announced

Comments (66)

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Well said. :-)

Mr Wong could have swiftly offered his resignation ... PM Lee could have immediately declined it, citing convention and precedent as well as the Minister's past record ... pro-actively blunted criticism.

This is completely unprincipled wayang that makes the KTM wanna puke. If this happened, the KTM would have written to ask WSK/PM to resign for lack of principles.

And/Or the Minister for Home Affairs could have voluntarily taken a pay cut or, more plausibly, foregone a bonus

On what grounds should we cut his pay? Not that the KTM agrees with the current pay - but if we want to cut the pay, we have to get the reason right. Of course, the KTM is fully aware that he's the only pedantic one and there are folks who want to cut his pay just to feel "shiok". Cutting his pay means very little to the KTM since the money won't be going into the KTM's pockets. :-P

If the pay cut is "punishment" for Mas Selamat's escape, then it must first be established that WKS is culpable. While it is true that MHA and WKS bear must institutional responsibility for the incident, the KTM does not agree that WKS has to bear personal responsibility (actually hor, the Government must bear institutional responsibility, not just MHA and WKS). Your citation of the Westminster doctrine and the MINDEF example is excellent.

Some will say that the present example differs from the MINDEF example because MSK affects all Singaporeans. Perhaps that's true (if he comes back and bomb us) - but if he doesn't? People should bear in mind that the MINDEF incident, someone DIED and there's NO REMEDY. In the present case, if MSK gets recaptured, then how? Can we argue that we're better off since it has allowed us to detect a security lapse? In any case, should culpability be independent on the magnitude of the mistake (which frankly is hard to quantify to begin with)? This is bogus: regardless of whether the incident is big or small, culpable means culpable; not culpable means not culpable. Simple as that.

The KTM thinks the people who say that WKS is responsible because he should have "checked the toilets" are idiots. On the contrary, if the million-dollar Minister actually goes about doing "stand by toilet", the KTM will be first in line to call for his resignation.

The Commando case is not the only recent MINDEF fiasco BTW, there was also this naval accident that caused the deaths of a few sailor girls. In the aftermath, the Defence Minister didn't resign, the CDF didn't, and neither did the Chief of Navy - but the parallels are there. The responsibility was borne by the naval officer in charge of navigating the ship and he was charged for criminal negligence I believe. This also proves that the Government is fully prepared to charge the junior officers - so why doesn't the same happen to the two Gurkhas + junior ISD officer? Obviously because there is a process. :-P Why else? Dun charge them Govt will look better or Ministers' pay can increase more? :-P

In conclusion, the KTM is of the view that this whole brouhaha isn't about fear. How many are really losing sleep over Singapore getting bombed you think? Is it really so easy to bomb Singapore even if Mas Selamat wanted to? MSK is just a lightning rod, an opportunity for those who are unhappy with the Govt to vent. :-)

It's all full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (though it's likely to cost the PAP one or two percentage points in GE2011 - but the people do have a bad memory, so who really can tell?).

Oh yes, and another thought about this wayang show business you suggested and to elaborate on what the KTM meant by all sound and fury.

Let's do a thought experiment: suppose the Govt did do as you suggested, i.e. WKS "swiftly offered his resignation ... a non-MIA PM Lee immediately decline" yada yada.

Then what? Will it help us recapture MSK? Sure, perhaps people will be less pissed off and PAP will not lose so many percentage points at GE2011.... but so what? What good does it do for us ordinary citizens?

Will the price of rice fall? Will the impending recession evaporate? So, what's the deal? Someone please convince the KTM he should be excited about this.

catholics:

You chaps seem to take the government papers seriously. Can I have your take on the Marxist Conspiracy papers. In your opinion, were the 22 catholics really marxist, or was this a plot by government to sabotage the growth of our people's feeling for the less well off filipino maids, poorer citizens.
That is where my confusion lies regarding all the Mas Selamat papers. Are all the currently detained muslim terrorist of the same calbre as the catholics then??
Or only ISA knows.

Hi Ringisei

Nice! The mob could not resist placing the blame on a well paid PAP Minister who did not admit responsibility to a level of their liking. TVD also disagrees that Minister should resign over the escape. However, the song and dance of an offered resignation was strangely not played out and yes, some political mileage would have been gained. THEY didn't roll with the punches and this would cost THEM more than it should.

The SAF Commando dunking is a very good parallel where culpability also fell on the Camp CO who was the end of the line in the chain of command of mismanaged training practices on the ground. Looks like MHA might use the same formula here, which is a reasonable one. The blame for mismanaged detention practices would fall on the WRDC CO and the buck stops there.

You are right. This whole episode probably forced the government to be more transparent than they wished, which is encouraging for all Singapore. This attitude towards "openness" in ISA cases took off when the White Paper on JI terrorism was released. The caveat is that this sharing, although limited but unprecedented, is restricted only to terrorist cases e.g. there is no news of the supposed espionage cases dealt with under the ISA. The government should really look into declassification of ISA cases. Opening up ISA cases to Parliament, the people's representatives, is a good start.

Hi KTM

The pay or bonus cut penalty is actually a good idea that should be explored because the Minister must take some responsibility although he is not culpable for the escape. With great power comes great responsibility and he can't run away from that.

The PAP argues that high pay for ministers is a novel way of ensuring a good government, with pay rise as a reward. Thus, in the same mindset, the PAP should then also be open to the idea of using a pay cut for ministers as a novel way of ensuring good government, with pay cut as a ruler chop on the hand. If they do a good job, they get a pay rise. If they don't do a good job, their pay goes down.

Ministers can still keep their job if it is an operational mess by civil servants down the line, but pay rises/cuts are incentives for the ministers to be on top of their game. Hit them where it hurts most. Don't give THEM the easy way out by allowing resignations, but make them continue working at a lower pay.

TVD,

Thus, in the same mindset, the PAP should then also be open to the idea of using a pay cut for ministers as a novel way of ensuring good government, with pay cut as a ruler chop on the hand. If they do a good job, they get a pay rise. If they don't do a good job, their pay goes down.

Ministers also get performance bonus, so if one of them screws up, the PM can in theory cut his pay by giving him less bonus. That said, the point here is not so much if pay cut is a good mechanism to ensure good government. Perhaps you are right and it is.

The question at hand is whether in this PARTICULAR incident, a pay cut makes any sense. Do you think WSK is really in any position to have stopped this from happening to begin with? Do you think the Minister is an expert in security audit? Should he be expected to be one? Was it his job to go and "stand by toilet" and to check that there are grills? It was never his job and SHOULD NEVER be his job.

Actually hor, if it's indeed true that the fellas who were supposed to do the job, i.e. the ISD guys + Gurkas were hired and put in their appointment by the Minister than perhaps he should bear some responsibility since he put the people there - but you know what: even this test fails because of the separation of the Civil Service from the political appointments. Civil servants are appointed by the Public Service Commission and not by the Ministers!

The point is very simple: you want to cut his pay? Can, but let's please have a good reason. There probably ARE good reasons to cut his pay, but this MSK incident is not a good one in my opinion. Of course, this is only the KTM's view. Your mileage might vary. :-)

Ministers can still keep their job if it is an operational mess by civil servants down the line, but pay rises/cuts are incentives for the ministers to be on top of their game.

Where the screw ups happen, matters. How many levels deep do you think the influence that Minister or senior civil servant goes? The KTM believes that it can be no more than two. Just think about it: suppose a private man goes steals a rifle and goes AWOL (which is not much of a stretch for the imagination), do you think the Chief of Army could have done anything about it? Or the Defence Minister? Doesn't matter if you cut their pay or increase their pay. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

And finally, it doesn't seem to the KTM that Ministers get to keep their jobs if things blow up on their watch. Anybody happy with the current public transport system? :-) What happened to the former Transport Minister BTW? :-P

catholics,

Can I have your take on the Marxist Conspiracy papers.

Interesting question. Never read the papers before, so no opinion here. Anyone knows where they can be found?

In your opinion, ... was this a plot by government to sabotage the growth of our people's feeling for the less well off filipino maids, poorer citizens.

Perhaps you can explain what you mean by "sabotage the growth of our people's feeling for the less well off filipino maids, poorer citizens"? Even as we speak, we have these NGOs lobbying for the maids. Another thing: if Mr Wang gets arrested, then maybe there's some evidence to support this theory. :-)

Are all the currently detained muslim terrorist of the same calibre as the catholics then??

Probably not, but you might need to explain what you mean by "calibre". In any case, not clear what where you're heading with this question.

KTM,

Wayang. Unprincipled? This is politics! ;) My less glib response would be if the escape should be seen as a localized issue or a national security issue; I argue that it is a matter of showing leadership on the latter given the gahmen's own history of presenting the JI issue. This leads on to the other issues of:

Risk. IMHO the Commando Camp drowning case and RSS Courageous were more serious in the sense that people died as you rightly pointed out. But the incidents did not create further risk in the way that the Mas Selamat escape does. Of course I hope he will caught soon and he won't be able to put any plans into action while on the run but the history of other JI militants on the run (e.g. Azahari) suggests otherwise. The PAP might be right to accuse some of trying to make political capital at their expense but it is grossly unfair to tar all their critics with the same brush.

Pay cut. I'm not big on cutting basic pay either. A cut to the performance bonus would be more appropriate though, again, I'm thinking of it in terms of the efficacy of the political gesture and symbolism which is more proactive.

In any case, it's just a counter-factual. Or a thought experiment to explore other possible ways of handling such a crisis. I think the alternative would have shown leadership, reaffirmed national security messages and provided reassurance. But obviously given that you might have found it unprincipled (though that might have been due to the way I presented it rather than how it might have appeared if it had been executed by skilled political communicators), we have very different evaluations of efficacy already. ;)

catholics,

I would like to seek clarification, like KTM, about what you mean by 'calibre' as I don't quite understand what you are asking.

I take gahmen accounts seriously though that's not incompatible with taking them with a pinch of salt. I only speak for myself, likewise for KTM, TVD and other SA contributors so our mileage on govt reports vary, sometimes very widely.

[P.S. I assume you are speaking for just yourself too, despite the implication of your nick.]

WRT to the 'Marxist conspiracy', I haven't read the actual reports either so I can't make a useful direct comparison. But if the online archives are any indication, the transparency in the JI case is much much better - a White Paper, regular updates with press releases, parliamentary answers to MP's questions. This is a progress of a sort that Singapore should have more of.

TVD,

In the case of the Commando drowning incident, Chief Commando Officer was also 'reassigned' (does anyone know how his career fared after that?) - I don't think this additional levelling-up has also taken place for the Mas Selamat escape. What do you think?

Some (KTM agree?) might argue it shouldn't because no one has lost their life as a result. But I argue that the cascade of risk created by the escape makes it just as serious. According to Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, has shown how JI members on the run have been able to tap considerable and extremely diverse resources based on the fragmented Darul Islam alumni.

Catholics (sorry):

Yes, I speak just for myself. Sorry for using the wrong nick :(

I apologise unreservedly.

Yes, our Singapore government is very good and they are very much accountable to Singaporeans like all other first world countries.

Other sources should be suspect except our Straits Times.

eg

http://www.singapore-window.org/sw01/010521m1.htm

http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com/2008/04/singapore-governments-biggest.html

I just feel a sense of helplessness now with Mas unaccounted for. At least if he escaped and made a video recording overseas, there is a closure for me.

Thank you.

ringisei,

In the case of the Commando drowning incident, Chief Commando Officer was also 'reassigned' (does anyone know how his career fared after that?) - I don't think this additional levelling-up has also taken place for the Mas Selamat escape. What do you think?

You must understand that MINDEF is huge lah. Suppose you want to reassign Director, ISD ... reassign to where? SPH? :-P

Hi KTM

OK I think I understand your valid points - he must bear institutional responsibility (agree) but not personal responsibility as he is not directly culpable (agree). So he should not get the sack or resign (agree) but what is something between an apology which he made and a resignation? I thought a temporary pay cut or a bonus cut is a good compromise. However, you implied that the Mas Selamat escape and its management per se do not warrant a pay cut, OK I am swayed and maybe that is the case. So the only penalties WKS endured was to offer a loss of face for an apology in parliament and diminished political points (but Singapore voters won't remember this incident when the time comes to choose).

Indeed! What happened to the former Transport Minister? :)

Also, re-assigning former ISD personnel to SPH is a good idea. :) Containment in the sense that we know where they are leashed, and everybody is happy.

Hi Ringisei

Good point on the cascading risks of the Mas Selamat escape as it only brings up more questions on how much "institutional responsibility" WKS and we can take in perceived MHA debacles before it becomes his personal responsibility. I don't know the answer and whether this is begging the question on the link between the two types of "responsibility".

If Mas Selamat comes back with a bang, or helps others make Singapore's F1 a booming success, is it time for WKS to leave eventually - like after he clears the mess as best as he could since a political leadership change just after a terrorist attack in Singapore could be counter-productive. But if he clears up the mess after a crisis originally "allowed" by his ministry under his watch, does it mean he can keep his job as he redeemed himself? I suppose it is a matter of how lenient and forgiving we want to be to our highly paid ministers.

Ah Pek

Joe:

Former Chief Commando Officer, Colonel Noel Cheah WK is now the Defence Attache in the HIGH COMMISSION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE - NEW ZEALAND, based on the Government sources.

Link here.

TVD,

If Mas Selamat comes back with a bang, or helps others make Singapore's F1 a booming success, is it time for WKS to leave eventually - like after he clears the mess as best as he could since a political leadership change just after a terrorist attack in Singapore could be counter-productive.

If this happens, WKS will probably become unelectable and his political career will be cut short, regardless of whether he's culpable or not. You know, at the end of the day, the discussion that we're having here is also "all sound and fury". Looks good on paper and fun to discuss intellectually only.

Politics is often not about rationality, just like all the brouhaha over MSK is not really about MSK. What would the KTM say to WKS if that happens? Sorry hor, occupational hazard. People do get retrenched even if it's not their fault and people get run over by trucks every now and then. Such is life.

Also, re-assigning former ISD personnel to SPH is a good idea.

The KTM wasn't being serious. :-P

Oh yes and for the sake of discussion, may the KTM highlight that the argument that "when shit happens, someone must resign" is not always true.

Recently, a bunch of London cops shot and killed a Brazilian by mistake. Again, there were calls for resignations, but nobody resigned. Not the Commissioner of Police Ian Blair. Not the minister.

KTM,

"This is bogus: regardless of whether the incident is big or small, culpable means culpable; not culpable means not culpable."

I won't go so far as to say that one is either culpable or not; there are varying degrees to culpability; it does not function in an all or nothing manner. A rough analogy would be a criminal attempt, there may well be no tangible harm, but there is always the risk of harm. Of course in Singapore most attempts have been converted into direct crimes; the Road Traffic Act can be one example.

Of course this does not establish that WKS is directly responsible for the lapse in security. Nevertheless it is reasonable that one would expect the Head of an organisation to accept some form of responsibilty.

Regarding the incident of the naval vessel and the commando training incident (Ng Keng Yong and S Balakrishnan), it is entirely possible that the system was problematic to begin with but people chose to ignore it until Mr Murphy struck. And then in order to do damage control they offered as "sacrificial lambs" the junior fellas.

Joe, many thanks for the heads up on COL Noel! Will be interesting to see where he goes after the NZ DA posting.

catholics, no worries and thank you for sharing your views. I certainly hope that, if MSK has escaped overseas, that the Indonesian police will come to our rescue again!

KTM, point taken about MINDEF vs ISD size. Come to think of it though, we might be more forgiving of the Defence Minister given how big the organization is (and perhaps even because most of our NS experiences has taught us how difficult it is to run it) in contrast to the smaller and supposedly vely important ISD. Smaller should also have been easier to supervise?

Ringisei,

The KTM just came across this article in TODAY where Low Thia Khiang is being cornered by the TODAY reporter. For what thinks the KTM ... isn't it time to move on? But the article does raise an interesting question.

In all fairness, the KTM thinks that MP Low is an excellent Opposition MP. He is down to earth and has a real passion to serve the people. In fact, even though the KTM doesn't agree with WP's policies, if the KTM were a Hougang resident, he would, more likely than not, vote for MP Low.

The interesting question arising from the TODAY article is the following: why the non-answer "I did not call for the resignation of Wong Kan Seng"?

There is always reason for all things and the KTM will engage in some speculation here. From where the KTM is standing, it's quite clear to the KTM that MP Low is a very reasonable man and it not unlikely that he would have come the conclusion that the DPM is not sufficiently culpable for the MSK incident to be asked to resign - why else would he not have asked for the resignation?

But then, why can't he just make the statement like the KTM, "No, I don't think that it's necessary for the DPM to resign"? Simple. Politics. If this statement was made, he would have alienated many of those who are expressing their unhappiness with the Govt at large by using this incident as an excuse.

This is all philosophical, and it's a bit sad thinks the KTM. Does politics really have to be like this? If people are not being reasonable, should leaders not have the moral courage to tell them so for sake of votes? Then again, as evident from the blogosphere, people really don't like to be told that they are wrong and are not making any sense - and telling them so is a sure way of kissing your votes goodbye.

Politics. Life. Complicated Mess. :-P

KTM,

Your argument reminds me a bit of Col Jessop's outburst from A Few Good Men: 'You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!' :) We say that we want politicians to tell us the truth but sometimes we don't like it when they practice what we preach. Thus LTK's non-answer - ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.

But I don't think of this as necessarily a bad thing, my views being largely influenced by Stephen Krasner's work on sovereignty and Nils Brunsson on organizations (PDF).

You might be right to decry how some are using the MSK incident as an excuse to vent their wider unhappiness. But I do not think this necessarily makes that wider unhappiness or the desire to express it illegitimate. Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, listened to but despite the PAP's (generally) good intention, they excel at making many people feel unvalued, humiliated and/or ignored. IMHO this is a serious problem for the long term viability of our polity, brought about the lack of real competition in the political sphere while the PAP preaches the merits of competition in all other spheres of life.

If anything, it shows that LTK is a skillful politician and that it may be profitable for some in the PAP to learn from him. ;)

Singaporean:

Ringisei

Under the Westminster doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility [UK Parliament research paper PDF | Canadian research paper], ministers are responsible for policy decisions and civil servants are responsible for administration (i.e. implementation, operationalization).

Well, i am going over this issue again - high Ministerial pay and higher than normal accountability. While I am in agreement with the reasoning offered by your example on the Westminster doctrine, my agreement has to be tempered by the fact that we are having the most world's most expensive ministerial officers - who may put our Westmister cousins to shame / in awe.

Howelse are we going justify the value proposition of paying a premium price as a nation. Going by the above doctrine, then our Ministers will always be immuned from accoutability as long their policy decisions are well-thought out with enough checks / control.

In fact, policies may be made so onerously stringent for the purpose of implementation to further ensure this "immunisation". On paper at least, the policies are sound. And again, civil servants are responsible for administration (i.e. implementation, operationalization)as per the Westminster doctrine.


Singaporean,

Thanks for pointing out the flaw in my reliance on the Westminister doctrine. Actually both the UK and Canadian papers I link to have also pointed out that the distinction between policy and administration is not always clear.

However I'm not so sure if, a priori, high pay increases one's extent of responsibility - there could be an argument made that other systems underpay their political office holders (UK Parliament MPs certainly think so, having voted themselves a whooping above-inflation pay rise despite an expense claims scandal).

But I do agree that it increases other's expectations of the highly paid office holder and can be an effective political (rather than legal-rational) stick to beat the PAP on the head with.

On the other hand, are there any useful analogies that can be drawn with the richly paid bosses of the big banks like Chuck Prince, Stanley O'Neill and Marcel Ospel who got the sack even though I'm sure they are not directly responsible for the sub-prime mess? Something along the lines of responsibility proposed by InSpir3d?

Ringisei,

Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, listened to but despite the PAP's (generally) good intention, they excel at making many people feel unvalued, humiliated and/or ignored. IMHO this is a serious problem for the long term viability of our polity, brought about the lack of real competition in the political sphere while the PAP preaches the merits of competition in all other spheres of life.

Agree. Absolutely. Lack of competition is glaring. :-)

On the matter of pay versus responsibility, the KTM does not agree that more pay necessarily increases responsibility. Responsibility is determined by job scope, not pay. It might increase the "perception" that there should be increased responsibility, but prema facie, it is hard to the KTM to imagine why it should since it's supposedly the same job we are talking about.

Question: when the Ministers last increased their pay by x% do we necessarily think that they work x% more hours? The KTM would venture a guess that their work patterns are unlikely to be dependent on their pay per se.

Of course we have to accept the fact that in politics, perception is sometimes reality - however since we're a bunch of kay pohs talking about this in a vacuum, we can afford to be more pedantic. :-)

On the other hand, are there any useful analogies that can be drawn with the richly paid bosses of the big banks like Chuck Prince, Stanley O'Neill and Marcel Ospel who got the sack even though I'm sure they are not directly responsible for the sub-prime mess?

It is true that it is possible for a brilliant policy to fall flat on its face because of poor administrator (execution), in the context of MSK, there is no ambiguity is there? Was there a need for policy for the WRDC staff to know that it was their responsibility to keep the facility secure at all times and to keep prisoners from escaping? No policy there. Obviously purely administration.

Re: sub-prime mess. The derivatives that caused the mess are a new animal and the bosses of the banks must have approved their involvement in the fray. In this light, this is obviously a "policy" and responsibility/culpability is inescapable.

Drawing on the same analogy, in GIC's recent acquisition of stakes in UBS and Citigroup, the Chairman of GIC must be held accountable for them if things go wrong because these are HUGE deals that definitely must be approved at the very top. The KTM has no problems with this at all.

What seems to be the problem however is the fact that people who have no idea what's going on are kpkb'ing over this deal and decrying the billion dollar paper loss that's currently on the books. Frankly, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict that there would be paper loss. In fact, the US government is unlikely to be able to hold off a recession for too much longer and there will likely be even a even larger paper loss in the coming months. The KTM believe that we're unlikely to see a recovery for at least three years (if it even happens), but so? Was it a wrong investment?

The difficulty in this case is not so much figuring out whether there is responsibility or not, but in deciding whether or not there was wrongdoing - and suppose for a moment that the KTM is right and we shouldn't worry too much about the stock price for the next 3 years.... should we then assess these deals at the 3-year mark, 5-year mark or the 10-year mark?

In some sense, unless UBS and Citigroup go under, it's actually hard to go wrong if we hold on the assets long enough, 'cos that's the way the market works. But how long is long enough?

And how do we even begin to quantify possibly opportunity costs? Idea here being that just because the stock price doubles in 10 years ain't enough. We have to consider the "optimal" or at least market-rate investments that could have been done in lieu of the said investments in order to say something sensible.

The delay may also give rise to a sticky issue as follows: the Chairman of GIC in say 5 (10?) years when we can indeed decide beyond reasonable doubt whether the investment today was a good or bad one may not be the same. If same, easy; if not, and the investments tanks, then how? Should the then Chairman be asked to resign for the mistakes of his predecessor?

It's a can of worms. The Singapore situation is very weird 'cos we're muddling finance and politics.

ted:

Strange to note that KTM comes out from the wood works guns blazing when it concerns the current establishment's blunders. Wonder what will he have to say if indeed there is an attack on the Singaporean Public led by MSK or his associates. Blame the man in blue on the streets or ISD operatives for incompetency to stop such an attack? I wonder indeed.

ted,

Strange to note that KTM comes out from the wood works guns blazing when it concerns the current establishment's blunders.

Strange meh? If there are no screw ups, what's there worth writing about in boring Singapore? :-P

Wonder what will he have to say if indeed there is an attack on the Singaporean Public led by MSK or his associates. Blame the man in blue on the streets or ISD operatives for incompetency to stop such an attack?.

As usual, will depends on the facts of the case loh. In case you're wondering, the KTM is not a psychic or prophet. Unable able to comment on speculative events of the future.

But you can be sure of one thing: the KTM will certainly have something to say if it happens. :-)

Singaporean:

Ringisei

Thank you for your reply. I agree with your statement that "it increases other's expectations of the highly paid office holder." It is a natural human expectation.

It is difficult not to link high pay with one's extent of responsibility though there may not be a "legal" basis to do so (but a moral one is definitely on the table). The very idea of dispensing high pay to someone in any organisation (be it private or public sector) is for the purpose of continuous value addition and the prevention of negative value from being created either individually / collectively.

It is also fair to expect higher than normal accountability if the negative value being created is a big and serious one.

MAS's escape has resulted in a huge negative value with much wider implications. Governmental precedent has been set in this high profiled case - good example to quote for future "mistakes" less serious than MAS's escape or of lesser resultant costs.

dismantle ISA:

Dear Ringisei,

KTM mentioned, 'Recently, a bunch of London cops shot and killed a Brazilian by mistake.'

Is there a possibility that ISA detained some of the 26 terrorist by mistake? What recourse would these Malays have? Nil? Would they be in remand for 6 months, 6 years or 16 years until they declare that they have been guilty of the charges and 'rehabilitated'?

Even in the case of William Ding, the teacher wrongly accused of molesting his pupils, he had his day in court and was found innocent.

If MHA made a mistake / some mistakes on Mas Selamat, is there not a possibilty of ISA making another mistake with any ONE of these 26 'terrorists"?

26 'terrorists'. 26 fractured families. What if another Mas Selamat goes missing while under their watch?

Imagine the wretched feelings of the wife and her children. What recourse do they have against MHA for misplacing their sole breadwinner? There were no videos showing his escape and there can be no closure for the family.

What is your panel's stand on the continued existence of ISA?

Please advise.

(Please delete this para if necessary - I commented yesterday about the possibility of dismantling ISA. Has it been censored or did you chaps not receive it? If this is deemed too sensitive for this blog, I will cross post at TOC. )

Thank you.

Hi Dismantle ISA

The populist argument is to dismantle the ISA but it need not be so black or white. The question is how to make changes to the ISA such that its powers are not abused while "national security" needs are met with as much transparency as possible.

Dear Dismantle ISA,

re: Your previous/earlier comment was probably eaten by the anti-spam plugin. Apologies. Not entirely sure what happened because I'm not familiar with the Movable Type platform. I've lost the odd comment myself due to server connection problems which is why I've started using Typekey here. A bit more leh cheah but it seems to have helped wrt preventing comments going MIA.

I'd rather that we not have the ISA but all states, even the Western liberal democracies, have some form of legislation that provides for detention without trial because of the tension between law enforcement (punish *after* a crime has been committed) and intel work (preventing an attack *before* it happens). IMHO the practical issue is to how to have more independent safeguards and oversight to prevent the ISA being abused for political convenience.

Of course it is possible that those detained are innocent because their cases have not gone to trial but based on the evidence released thus far, the government's case against the JI looks a lot more solid than the Marxist conspiracy case and it has been corroborated by US, British and Australian intelligence agencies.

dismantle:

Agreed, JI has been corroborated by the fact of Bali Bombing and Marriot Hotel bombing. No doubt about that!

ISA has done its work in the past. Good job, so says PM Lee and WKS and ISA must hold their head up high.

ISA has also been less successful with Chia Thye Poh and Said Zahari and our famous Francis Seow. How many years were they detained, and ISA could not get a 'confession' from them and allowed Said to publish a book.

famous poem from Pastor Martin Niemöller:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, (substitute with muslim)
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up

I hope people will get down to this sooner than later - dismantle or repair ISA.

26 detainees are still in detention. Who is speaking up for them or their loved ones. Do they fear disappearing like Mas? Have the evidence against these 26 been corroborated? (PS I am not talking about JI, but these 26 individuals with 26 families.)

Does the panel say we are better off cos the liberty of some are worth destroying, so as to ensure the safety of the majority?

ISA did a good job, but only for Mas Selamat (?). The whole idea of self radicalisation via internet sounds really like a 'witch hunt' - which PM Lee accuses the citizens of doing.

http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_129332.html

Actually I thought the COI would look into this, so I was sorely disappointed - that a former judge would not comment on this aspect of detention. But then again what was really revealed to us and what was not??

Maybe I cannot handle the truth as mentioned by Jack Nicholson and like in the show, A few Good Men - it was ok to let that one rookie soldier die and not fell the top man.

I don't know.

Hi guys,

I am just wondering, how do the ISA's counterparts work in the Western countries, if any? Do they allow for judicial review into the detention or is judicial intervention ousted?

dismantle,

The KTM frankly doesn't know enough about the workings of ISD to comment on your question, though he agrees in general with Ringisei's point that "even the Western liberal democracies, have some form of legislation that provides for detention without trial because of the tension between law enforcement and intel work" as evidence that some form of ISA-like legislation is somewhat defensible.

Does the panel say we are better off cos the liberty of some are worth destroying, so as to ensure the safety of the majority?

The point that the KTM really wants to make is the following: there is NO PANEL. Singapore Angle is a group of Internet kay pohs who happen to be squatting together. We have no illusions of being some collective that can speak in one voice (think Borg) and you are kindly requested not to refer to us as a collective. We are not "the panel" thank you. :-)

Consider referring to us as "you people" maybe? :-P

Actually I thought the COI would look into this, so I was sorely disappointed - that a former judge would not comment on this aspect of detention. But then again what was really revealed to us and what was not??

Review of the ISA would not have been under the terms of reference for the COI, so it is expected for the COI not to have commented on the ISA. They were already quite busy trying to figure out what happened to MSK.

I didn't think that 'the panel' implies one voice but I do agree with KTM that we do not speak with one voice. I am definitely a boh liao internet kay poh though I hesitate to apply that label to the rest of the regular contributors. ;) 'You people' is fine too. Specific arrow lagi bagus.

Ned Stark,

The UK is currently legislating to extend detention without trial from 28 to 42 days; the US does not have detention without trial for US citizens but has almost indefinite powers to detain foreigners for as long as they like though there is strong judicial review available in both cases. The CIA, DIA and NSA have been up to no end of black ops and cloak n dagger funny business; for a great, almost thriller novel like (but factual) account, I recommend Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine.

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

So far no one seems to be discussing the management of the escape after it have happened - from crisis control, to communications to public to effective results (i.e. capture of MSK) - how would one rate the performance of Wong and his ministry?

Also, I feel that the COI process was seriously flawed. As mentioned in various blogs so far, there was critical conflicts of interest to have the Minister investigated to appoint his own COI, with members formerly reporting to him as well as currently still reporting to him.

So what is your views on the performance of the post-escape management, as well as the conduct of the COI, Mr KMT?

AC,

So far no one seems to be discussing the management of the escape after it have happened - from crisis control, to communications to public to effective results (i.e. capture of MSK) - how would one rate the performance of Wong and his ministry?

The KTM doesn't understand what you mean by crisis control. MSK and SARS are different kettles of fish. It is not possible for the KTM to comment the search operations because (i) the KTM doesn't know exactly what MHA did - he just saw a lot of police, Gurkhas and other folks doing all kinds of stuff; and (ii) even if the KTM has the details of the search operations, he also won't know whether it was "done right" or not since the KTM has no expertise whatsoever in such operations.

Re: PR, not need to say, people also know it's a bloody disaster, but as mentioned by the KTM above, "so what if it's not"? Is it material to the capture of MSK whether or not the PAP wins or loses goodwill? The KTM would however say the he thinks that informing the public 4 hours after the escape was not too late.

People never pause to think that the first order of priority would be to secure the area and try to capture MSK. Also to do a press release, these folks have to get their facts right. If issue press release w.o. the right facts, it will be an even bigger PR fiasco. Even weeks after the incident, people still aren't clear what colour pants the fella was wearing, so go figure. Finally, the Minister must clear the press release and he die die will make sure he understands what the heck happened.

You know huh, even today, we also dunno what actually happened. Imagine what the Minister would be thinking in the 4 hours following the escape and trying to extract a coherent story from his subordinates. Imagine, you have to take responsibility and you cannot get a straight answer from you staff to know what actually happened. But that's occupational hazard for him. :-)

I feel that the COI process was seriously flawed. As mentioned in various blogs so far, there was critical conflicts of interest to have the Minister investigated to appoint his own COI, with members formerly reporting to him as well as currently still reporting to him.

While there is an apparent conflict of interest with the appointment of the MHA DS, this is actually quite common practice for Government COIs, so the KTM wasn't surprised. People dun believe can go and find out about the other COIs that are convened and see loh. :-) Of course, in this particular case, there is a public perception issue, so the Government might have been wiser to have left out the MHA DS.

Question: why do you have a person from the home ministry on COIs? The reason (in theory) is that with someone familiar with the work of the ministry, the COI will be in the position to ask better questions. Hands up anyone how knows how ISD works? This is the theory lah, whether people buy or not is a different matter. In any case, the COI is not chaired by the DS, and 2 out of 3 ain't bad lah.

So what is your views on the performance of the post-escape management, as well as the conduct of the COI, Mr KTM?

Sorry, perhaps you can elaborate on what you mean by "post-escape management"? As for the conduct of the COI, like that loh. What more can be expected? The KTM is reasonably sure that the three members of the COI are well-aware of the spotlight on them and they die die will also try their best to come up with a good answer. The final answer on the escape is a bit duh, but can we blame the COI? In any case, none of us kay pohs are really in the position to comment on the work of the COI. Hands up anyone who actually read the COI report? :-)

Another thing that people may wish to keep in mind are the terms of reference for the COI. The COI was supposed to establish how the escape happened, i.e. figure out the facts of the case, and who/what was responsibility. The COI was not supposed to review the ISA - so it is not the COI's fault for not saying anything about our current policies on preventive detention.

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

Effective crisis management is the ability to sort out in the chaos of a crisis a timely and effective response that is coupled with coherent communication to both internal parties and the public. Did MHA's efforts come across as effective crisis management?

The initial announcement of the escape to the public is tardy - every second counts as with time the escapee will have more opportunity to mask his escape e.g. cover tracks, change attire, leave the immediate vicinity of the detention centre etc.

What follows is even worse - it took them several days to piece together what attire the escapee wore (which was unclear even to the point of the publishing of the COI), as well as whether he limps or he does not limp. So after days and weeks of delaying to get the facts 'right', they still got the facts muddled up, wrong or missing.

And in the end the bottom-line is still not met - the escapee could not be recaptured. MHA failed to secure a single prisoner, MHA failed to recapture the fled prisoner, MHA failed to have even any idea where the prisoner might be found.

And so to me, Wong not only needs to bear institutional responsibility for the escape, he needs to bear responsibility for the poor crisis management that followed the escape.

As for the issue of conflicts of interest in the COI, we did not appoint NKF's staff to audit and investigate the NKF even when they are more familiar with the internal workings of the NKF than anyone else - similarly, for a security lapse, there are other security experts that can be appointed based on the scope of investigating a escape without needing to know the complete intelligence framework within the ISD.

That conflicts of interest happened in the past is no excuse for future conflicts of interest - especially in the light of the double standards where private audits are concerned. Perhaps poor standards in the past for the avoidance of conflicts of interest could be attributed to an increasing complacency in the government after being in power for so very long. Should we encourage this complacency or should we aim for higher standards of transparency and accountability?

AC,

Let's get the facts straight: till today, we still dunno what MSK was wearing correct? Is it conceivable that MHA could have gotten better information out earlier? It is obviously incompetence, what is not clear is what it's got to do with crisis management.

The KTM thinks that 4 hours is reasonable reaction time for the MHA to try to sort out what to say - but if you think it's too slow, then it's too slow loh. So what? You think if MHA had informed the public earlier with its half-past-six-dunno-what-he's-wearing-dunno-whether-he-limps-or-not information, it would have made a difference?

Can you imagine Wong Kan Seng asking his staff, "so what is he wearing?" and all his staff look at him blankly and say, "sorry sir, dunno" - and the man then has to stand up in Parliament to accept responsibility.

Dunno why you are going on and one with this thing about "crisis management". This is not a *REAL* crisis lah. SARS is a real crisis. Rising rice prices and inflation, maybe that's the real crisis. If scully Singapore get bombed, then it's a real crisis. You really scared that you will get bombed tomorrow meh? Dun have to get too excited.

From the perspective of MHA, yes, it's a crisis - and truthfully, the PR fallout is pretty nasty - but hor, if you agree with the KTM that this whole MSK episode is really not about MSK but about high ministerial pay and other unhappiness with the Govt, it is probably impossible for MHA/WKS to have done too much better on the PR front. Unless they manage to catch MSK, they will look stupid no matter what they say or do and people will have things to say.

NKF is not the same as WRDC because you can get any Tom, Dick or Harry accountant to go and audit NKF. WRDC has security concerns. If you cannot appreciate that, there's nothing more than the KTM can say.

That said, as the KTM mentioned above, MHA could probably have done better and not appointed their DS to the COI. But would it have made a material difference to the outcome of the COI?

What exactly is the point you are trying to make anyhow? Perhaps if you can be more straight to the point, we can cut to the chase.

AC,

To add what the KTM said earlier, if you want to accuse MHA/WKS of bundling the handling of the matter AFTER the escape, you may want you to question the strategy MHA has adopted in trying to recapture MSK.

Frankly, the KTM is quite tired of all these comments about whether the information was given in a timely way, why the speech didn't sound contrite enough, why it took the PM so long to make a statement, etc. These are quite petty and insignificant. Perhaps they may hurts the PAP's image, but from where the KTM is standing, these are not major concerns to the KTM since he is not PAP member and PAP's image has little to do with him.

What's of concern to the KTM as a private citizen is how the Govt is cleaning up the mess - but then again, the KTM is not too kuncheong about this also 'cos he's pretty pretty sure that MHA/the Govt is doing their best to try to recapture MSK to try to save face.

Perhaps it is indeed due to mismanagement and incompetence which is why MSK still hasn't been recaptured yet - but this is something that the KTM doesn't know enough to comment on. Maybe you can find out more, let us know how it went and comment in more detail. The KTM believes that Chiam See Tong asked if dogs were used or something. Anybody knows what came out of that question?

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

My point is that Wong owes institutional responsibility for the escape of MSK, and he owes further responsibility for the messy communication and ineffective attempts to recapture MSK.

My point is that given the mistakes made, Wong's apology cannot pass muster, and PM Lee's late cavalier comments do not help either.

I don't know if the ivory tower in which the KTM fries his kway teow is really that far from the ground, but a proper apology and a proper, timely statement from the PM matters to me and many others that I have spoken with.

Signs of contrite humility go a long way towards the closure of the matter - but it seems like it will be a long, long wait for that to happen.

AC,

My point is that Wong owes institutional responsibility for the escape of MSK, and he owes further responsibility for the messy communication and ineffective attempts to recapture MSK.

My point is that given the mistakes made, Wong's apology cannot pass muster, and PM Lee's late cavalier comments do not help either.

Thanks for summarizing your views. The KTM has responded to them above. Some points the KTM agrees with; some he doesn't and on some he doesn't care to have an opinion.

I don't know if the ivory tower in which the KTM fries his kway teow is really that far from the ground, but a proper apology and a proper, timely statement from the PM matters to me and many others that I have spoken with.

This statement frankly bothers the KTM. What you seem to be insinuating is that the KTM is some dunno-what-elite-uncaring-face and he is alone and stupid not to agree with you. Well, as it turns out, from where the KTM is standing, there are people who are not losing sleep over the MSK incident. Many (most?) were of course shocked that something like this happened in Singapore, but they are not losing any sleep over getting bombed. Neither did they read Wong Kan Seng's speech nor count how many days the PM took to make a statement or what the PM said in particular. You don't believe, you can climb out of your well and ask the prata man or mee pok man what they think. They are seriously more worried about the price of rice!

Actually why don't you explain to us WHY MSK's escape bothers you such a great deal? Are you losing sleep over getting bombed? Perhaps you may think that just because many bloggers seem to agree with you, you must therefore be right. Perhaps you are, but you know what, having an opinion needs no referendum one. The KTM is pretty comfortable having an opinion of his own even if nobody agrees with him.

We were actually having quite a good discussion and you can do better than throw up this "everyone agrees with me, why don't you" statement. Quite frankly, the KTM is not trying to convince you that you are wrong or that he's right. This is really NOT an important issue to him at all - have you seen the KTM blog about it? He's just being a big kay poh here.

Signs of contrite humility go a long way towards the closure of the matter.

The Govt is unlikely to make more statements about MSK unless he either gets caught or bombs Singapore. If you cannot find closure because of this, you have the KTM's sympathies.

While you are hung up over this, perhaps put yourself in WKS's or the PM's shoes. The KTM would hazard a guess that they are more likely than not to be feeling more "suay" and sorry for themselves. What did they do to have MSK escape? Could they have done ANYTHING to have prevented the escape? The answer is pretty obvious isn't it? Would you be gushing apologetic or would you feel damn suay if something like that blows up under your watch? If you are feeling suay, how inclined are you to be making another protracted public apology?

dismantle ISA:

KTM feels it is time to move on too. Chua Lee Hoong feels all that we lost is our face. Could it bee that there was never any threat in the first place? No one feels that Mas is of any immediate risk to Singapore?

I feel that ISA should be dismantled. How many of the 26 'terrorists' are really risky? I for one felt Chia Thye Poh and Said Zahari was released and it was just one big embarrassment that show ISA should be embarrassed, not proud of their track record.

But who am I?

Even KTM feels he does not know enough about ISA to comment. Actually nobody does. And that scares me. All MPs should actively make it their point to know how ISA works and that none of their constituents face the abuse of long detention without trial.

Yes the UK approach is a good first step. Thanks Ringisei. Especially important before our next election cos I really do not wish to find Andrew of TOC detained for inciting 'riots' - a very likely charge given our ISA / PAP track records!

So before we get wool pulled over our eyes, start talking about saving or helping filipino migrant workers, Myanmar cyclone victoms, let us urgently look at our own backyard and help the 26 muslim families and make sure ISA does not operate on its own terms, without any accountability to the MPs and their citizens who elected them. (recall Saddam was killed without any WMD found- and that is a large USA intelligence - and not linked to 9/11 at all!!)

Like PM Lee said, ISA personnel can make mistakes too, regarding Mas. Are any of the 26 detainees a mistake? What procedures are in place that they get a fair hearing. Has any MPs asked this question, especially after Mas Selamat, or are they under a whip not to talk about this? Even William Ding has his day in court against overzealous public prosecutors regarding the molest of boys.

Mas Selamat gave all Singapoeans a chance to relook the workings and relevance of ISA in Singapore. I hope concerned MPs and Opposition will take this up in Parliament. Do not feel threatend cos PM Lee and DPM says otherwise. Use the UK model for a start. This will definetly lead to less fear and a stronger democracy in Singapore, without fear.

Thank you.

ted:

Hmmm so the KTM is saying that the view of his and others who don't bother about MSK escape and of those who neither care whether an apology was issued by the highest overseer , matters much much more than those who do bother and wants to hear some form of apology.

Oh well, nothing new there though.

Dimantle ISA?

Dismantle CIPB?

Seow or Crazy or what?

Hello, it's as good as dismantling CPF, HDB or IRAS. Better still, why not dismantle PAP!!!

These are their power bases and cash cows!!!

Like what Lord Acton said about power and corruption, you think they'll give up meh?

Let's face it: If they cannot CONTROL, they'd do their best to CONFUSE!!!

Yes, the Mas Selamat Jalan Joke is just that! The COI report on so many screw-ups & loopholes happening at the same time is credible meh? Walau, even James Gomes got more prime time CCTV than Selamat Jalan. Are they more interested in fixing opposition than national security??? Honestly, I'm so bloody confused that I wonder what they want to control & confuse us in the first place.

Was it the GST increase?
Budget Surplus?
Crazy INFLATION
Ministers' Embarrassingly Princely Salary?
OR what?

Now it's Do-Good Time Wayang of helping the poor!!!

Suka, suka, they throw smoke bombs . . .

And we get suckered . . .

Aiyah, Let's Move On, lah

dismantle ISA,

So before we get wool pulled over our eyes, start talking about saving or helping filipino migrant workers, Myanmar cyclone victoms, let us urgently look at our own backyard and help the 26 muslim families and make sure ISA does not operate on its own terms, without any accountability to the MPs and their citizens who elected them. (recall Saddam was killed without any WMD found- and that is a large USA intelligence - and not linked to 9/11 at all!!)

What you say is very sensible. Sadly, there are not many people who are too interested in this cause.

Nevertheless, like the KTM said earlier, you dun need a referendum to champion a cause that you believe in. Perhaps continue to find out more, and try to convince some MP (or perhaps someone like Siew Kum Hoong) to raise the issue in Parliament.

The KTM admires your passion and conviction. Hopefully, you can act on it and we will eventually have better outcomes in society. :-)

ted:

From which ear did you hear the KTM say the "view of his and others who don't bother about MSK escape and of those who neither care whether an apology was issued by the highest overseer, matters much much more than those who do bother and wants to hear some form of apology"?

If you cannot read Engrish, perhaps crawl back to kindergarten and learn something before you post on this forum.

dismantle:

feedmetothefish

Thanks - it is a light bulb moment to me!

The day ISA get reviewed by PAP is the day GIC reveals how much reserves we have in the coffers and how much we lost in Suchou. Some things are state secret. We tell you and we gotta kill you. (or I will tell you over my dead body - at least MM Lee confessed that our Citibank and UBS investments could be duds in today's ST - 2 out of 10 items - he mentioned.)

In the meantime, I wish to believe that changes will come for a better Singapore -

CPF system and annuity schemes, foreign workers vs NS Men , inflation, poorer Singaporeans but huge Budget surplus, NTUC fairprice excessive surplus, Town council surplus, ever growing HDB prices leading to insufficient CPF for retirement etc etc. GRC system, changes in electoral boundaries - Hot potatoes all.

I also hope no bloggers will get called up for sedition or something.

God bless Singapore.

KTM,

While I am very grateful that you've made this comment thread very lively and thought provoking, your 'kindergarten' response to ted wasn't exactly the most productive way to move forward either.

ted,

I hope you weren't trolling KTM there because I do share his view (though I am not entirely comfortable with the way he has chosen to express it) that your comment is a gross misrepresentation of what he's been saying so far. Given that you're one of my (two or three) regular commenters, I had expected better than that from you too.

Wang:

KTM/Ringisei

Will opine that any manager or executive in charge of the division may not necessarily to face the block but at the least performance reviews should be severely in the red after any "fiasco".

Regards

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

You might want to try out your own advise to 'dismantle ISA' on improving one's English - which part of my ivory tower comment insinuated that the KTM is alone and stupid to not agree with me?

Just because I don't lose sleep over MSK's escape doesn't mean that I am happy over the way the government treated the matter.

Just because the people around me did not become chronic insomniacs over the escape of MSK, did not mean that they are happy that Wong got away scot free for the mess that is MSK's escape.

I agree that we were having a discussion, but for some reason my ivory tower comment seemed to have touched a nerve somewhere.

I honestly did not expect that the government will anything other than "the ostrich" with the MSK case and keep silent while hoping that Singaporeans will forget everything by the next election.

What I am proposing, is that Wong SHOULD have done a better apology, and that Lee SHOULD have made a statement earlier and chastised Wong.

You can disagree, and you can very well have met multitudes of prata and mee pok mans who can't be bothered with the whole incident at all. But none of it is any basis to challenge my assertion that I did speak to many people who were unhappy with the way the government handled the whole incident.

Hi dismantle ISA

"Like PM Lee said, ISA personnel can make mistakes".

The Act is the ISA, and the Department is the ISD.

How many of the JI members were detained on just grounds? You are very right that as there is little transparency for the public on the individual cases, we just have to take their word for it, just as in most government statements about the state of our economy, HFMD etc. But at least one JI member, Nazir, had widely known criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan to represent him. So actually ISA cases seems like a court with lawyers and judge, but yet again it is not. The unsatisfactory thing about the ISA is that it functions as a super closed court and not even the normal closed court for sex crimes. The government's reason is that sources have to be protected and that as no crime is committed yet terrorists can't be arrested under the Penal Code, believable arguments to an extent. However, as long as they don't revamp the ISA such that it becomes more open somehow, conspiracy theorists and ISA-critics using the dated infamous Marxist conspiracy example would have a field day.

You and I have the same objective of wanting more transparency in ISA cases. While you want it thrown away, the ISA is more acceptable now if is becomes more "open" in terrorist cases - a delicate matter of balancing priorities. The big question is how.

Hi AC

Again the topic of delicate balance between the expectations of the people and that of the government. TVD believes that while the unprecedented apology is humiliating for WKS, and his resignation is a bit extreme in the context of the escape and its management per se, there has to be more visible show of contrition and chastisement from WKS and the PAP. Occupational hazard as KTM aptly puts it. I am still looking for reasonable answers.

For saving-face reasons, as the media and government has "moved on", I doubt WKS and co would revisit the escape debate again. For us, we still want something more substantial from the PAP. They on the other hand want a closure. However, are they trying to make up for it bit by bit by trying to appease us by their "lighter" touch Internet regulation policy announced very recently? So in essence, one ministry screwed up and the other ministry recently tried to make up for it in other ways. Is there a subtle government-people haggling going on?

Wang,

Yes, I have broad sympathy with your idea. Which is why I had suggested in my post that cutting the Minister's performance bonus should have been considered; a sort of 'sacrificial offering' which makes for powerful symbolism along the (not altogether dissimilar) lines of the legendary Lee Iacocca's USD 1 per annum salary that, if skillfully executed, shows a 'nan zi han da zhang fu' willingness to take responsibility, displays appropriate contrition and reconnects politically with the wider populace.

AC:

Hi TVD :

I think of it as an issue of moral authority.

If a leader would not own up to mistakes done and apologize accordingly, what example is being set to the people below him? How could people maintain trust and faith in a leader that tries to avoid responsibility when things go wrong?

As for the proposals to deregulate the internet, my optimism is not high at all. At the end of the day, it is still being chaired by Lee Boon Yang and Bhavani, whose track record lean heavily towards conservatism.

I predict token gestures of liberalization grudgingly granted, that will last until the first major political setback linked to unfavorable internet coverage, whereupon new control measures will be set up with a vengeance, at many times the pace it took to liberalize somewhat.

I sincerely hope that my prediction is wrong.

Wang,

Will opine that any manager or executive in charge of the division may not necessarily to face the block but at the least performance reviews should be severely in the red after any "fiasco".

Perhaps you are right, but this is in the realm of management philosophy. As a manager, when things blow up, the KTM will not punish those who have NO possible influence on the event even if they are up the chain of command. What's the point? If the fella is incompetent, will perhaps use this as a reason to remove him, for such is life. :-P But suppose the fella is useful. Why punish him? What do we gain? On the contrary, forgiveness might win hearts and improve morale. :-) To a large extent, it's also a matter of principle. But as always, your mileage might vary.

AC,

You might want to try out your own advise to 'dismantle ISA' on improving one's English - which part of my ivory tower comment insinuated that the KTM is alone and stupid to not agree with me?

Perhaps the KTM failed Engrish in kindergarten. Perhaps you can explain to us the meaning of your ivory tower comment then?

Fundamentally, statements of the form "everyone agrees with me, why don't you" irritates the KTM and the KTM believes you can do better than that. Honestly, if not, the KTM wouldn't even have bothered to engage you.

But none of it is any basis to challenge my assertion that I did speak to many people who were unhappy with the way the government handled the whole incident.

The KTM did not seek to challenge this assertion. In fact, the KTM has no reason not to believe you. What was the ivory tower about again?

Wang:

Ringisei

Will go along with your comment.

KTM

In any responsible organisation, even if there is no direct responsibility, any good manager/executive would need to face the music for at least the fiscal year involved. So agree to disagree with you.
Regards


ted:

Well, I attended a PAP Foundation Kindergarten...sorry, my dad and mom couldn't afford to send me to a better one.

Wang,

In any responsible organisation, even if there is no direct responsibility, any good manager/executive would need to face the music for at least the fiscal year involved.

The KTM is keen to understand what you mean by this statement. Perhaps the KTM can explain what he means using a more concrete (but fictitious) example.

Suppose the KTM is CEO of some company consisting of several divisions. Suppose one of the division creates and sells a product that ends up in recall, perhaps some battery that explodes and catches fire once in a while. This leads to massive losses for the company.

Question: will the KTM sack the head of the division? Well, depends on the facts of the case. Suppose the reason why this problem arises was failure in QA and Engineering section, why should the division head be punished if the SOP is there and the only reason is that was negligence or perhaps simply an oversight at the lower levels. The test for the KTM w.r.t. to accountability is the following: was there anything that this person could have done within his expected job responsibility to have prevented this incident?

Just because the KTM doesn't "punish" the fella doesn't mean the are no consquences. First, the KTM must suay suay give an account to the Board. Battery laupok, KTM's fault huh? :-P Next, such incidents will affect profits and of course there will be less bonuses all round. The division that screwed up will most definitely get less bonus - how else to manage the morale of the other divisions that didn't screw up?

Has the KTM described an irresponsible organization? :-) If so, perhaps it's good that the KTM is a KTM and not a CEO. :-P

accountable:

KTM fails to recognise that Richard Yong slipped away after being declared a bankrupt in the NKF case.

After Huang Na murder, Took Ling How also slipped back to Malaysia. All these under WKS watch.

What good did Mas do? He helped to flush out hundreds of illegal workers hiding in our forests - something the MHA again showed how they have failed over the years!! (See how ST manage a spin to cover how incompetent WKS was all these years!)

Wong Kan Seng made it super clear that the head should be held responsible / accountable for the actions of their 'party.'

http://singaporemind.blogspot.com/2008/04/good-leadership-high-principles-and.html

Go read and have a good laugh. Nice play of 'politics'.

KTM / WKS / LHL - nice try, but some things are easy to forget. Others are not!

Next elections, if PAP again attempt this demonising of the opposition - Chinese Chauvinist / American Spy etc etc - let us be ready.

ted:

Something more constructive here other than trolling, Catherine Lim's commentary on the matter as follows:

1. http://catherinelim.sg/2008/04/23/the-mas-selamat-scandal-its-impact-on-the-government-people-relationship/

2. http://catherinelim.sg/2008/04/27/more-comments-on-the-mas-selamat-scandal/

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

The ivory tower comment is derived from my impression that the KTM comes from the more privileged segment of the society, and that he does not quite see from the eyes of the man on the streets as well as he thinks he can.

Let me rephrase my points on the MSK incident : In an example given by the KTM, the MSK escape has been presented from the context of a corporate inquiry - how a CEO would have dealt with business mistakes made and so forth.

What about the events of the MSK escape from the context of what a Singaporean might see?

That mistakes were made, but the minister refused to accept any responsibility and made a half-hearted apology that's more defensive than apologetic?

That the half-baked apology was endorsed by our PM, who shrugged the matter off with his long awaited first comments on the escape?

That conflicts of interest are a non-issue to our government - the minister under investigation is somehow the best person to appoint the COI, and that he proceed to put his current and past subordinates as 2 out of 3 of the members on the basis that WRDC's secrets are so ultra secretive that they can only find 1 member out of a huge list of current and previous senior civil servants that can be trusted?

I feel that it is not that Singaporeans including myself are unable to forgive and forget - it's just that we don't get the sense that anyone up there is sincerely apologetic for the MSK mess to begin with.

AC,

The ivory tower comment is derived from my impression that the KTM comes from the more privileged segment of the society, and that he does not quite see from the eyes of the man on the streets as well as he thinks he can.

Perhaps you are right. As it turns out, the KTM does understand how the man on the street thinks: and there are two camps - those who care and those who don't. In any case, the KTM never claims to be a mind-reader and neither does he feel that he needs the man-on-the-street to agree with him on his opinions.

There are people who care about substance more than form. Perhaps you might feel that the apology is half-hearted - but so?

The KTM appreciates how you feel about the whole incident. The KTM's "in the well" comment arises the KTM's impression that folks like you fail to appreciate that there are views out there other than (and different from) your own and there are people to whom, these things you mention, don't matter. Perhaps the KTM is squatting in some ivory tower - but it doesn't detract from the assertion that the KTM is making.

That mistakes were made, but the minister refused to accept any responsibility and made a half-hearted apology that's more defensive than apologetic?

There are good reasons for everything and what's missing is empathy here: as the KTM has mentioned, the Minister probably feels more "suay" than apologetic and given the circumstances, that's only natural what. The minister has accepted responsibility by the way. Half-hearted or full-hearted, is really a matter of opinion.

sick:

Yes, the minister has accepted the apology. And PM Lee has accepted that we should not go on a witch hunt, which the PAP proceeded to do at EVERY ELECTIONS.

http://singaporemind.blogspot.com/2008/04/good-leadership-high-principles-and.html

This was a good case study - a good reminder - for me at least.

Just like KTM says, there is a big group that says, nothing's changed, let us move on.

There is a group that says, enough. Enough inflation, enough of GST rise to help the 'poor' , ERP charges to help smoothen the road, now child seat belt charges to help the expat kids or richer local kids(imagine a young family with $1600 income and 2 school going children - just missing the line for social help) - enough of 'it is your fault, you did not upgrade yourself' story - while we bring in more China dishwashers with low pay to help the coffee shop owner- enough of means-testing to help the poor again, enough of 'targetted help'.

KTM, you are right, the group who are unhappy are a very small minority. It is a matter of different views between the haves and have nots - but our minister would call that 'jealousy' 'nitpicking' 'enhancing the social divide' 'marxists socialist bleeding liberals'.

Sure, we need to help the Myanmars - but have we looked at our own backyard? 20 % lowest salary whose salary has gone down over the past years, you think anything is going to get better after the relaxation of China workers?? Blame the Singaporeans AGAin for not 'upgrading fast enough"?

It is true - for some priviledged elite - Singapore is the Best Home Ever. Ever. These are the 66 percent who thinks there is no alternative, what we have is the best of the worse. So KTM - you may just be right.

I can't wait to vote again. Aljunied (and ST) fiasco as exposed by Mr Wang was juicy.

And when WKS arrests another 26 terrorists, maybe the percentage will jump to 80%. Let us see.

AC:

Hi Mr KTM,

When I mentioned about looking through the eyes of the man on the streets, what I meant was the ability to empathize with them and to see from their perspective.

It's not that I could not perceive different views on this matter - it's just that the different views have different champions, and it is natural for one to raise the points that are close to their hearts.

Does Wong's 'apology' accept responsibility, and is it half hearted? I believe that if the opposition falls into a position where they had to apologize and accept responsibility - if they had pulled an apology worded like Wong's, the government and the mass media will fall over themselves in a major frenzy to attack the inadequacies of the apology.

As for whether Wong's apology was crafted/limited by political necessity, I believe that from the perspective of a citizen, it is my obligation to challenge when standards of transparency and accountability fails. It is far too dangerous to work on the basis of blindly trusting that our government will always be good, and that they will always serve the best interest of Singaporeans.

AC,

I believe that if the opposition falls into a position where they had to apologize and accept responsibility - if they had pulled an apology worded like Wong's, the government and the mass media will fall over themselves in a major frenzy to attack the inadequacies of the apology.

And your point? Perhaps you are referring to the Gomez incident? :-) Well, the KTM wasn't impressed with PAP's handling of Gomez either and he also didn't care about the apology that Gomez made either. In this light, perhaps the KTM is "fair"?

In any case, wasn't the Opposition already making a din over this incident? Eh, you think if Low Thia Khiang stood up and said "WKS should resign" the media wouldn't report huh? :-P What's stopping the Opposition from going on and on? Common sense, believes the KTM. :-) Now that bloggers are "falling over themselves in a major frenzy to attack the inadequacies of (WSK's) apology," the world is a better place?

Finally, please do yourself a favour and express your own opinions instead of having pretension of speaking for the man-on-the-street. This seems to be a common malaise on the blogosphere. You write well and you seem more than capable of standing up for your own opinions.

As for whether Wong's apology was crafted/limited by political necessity

Not political necessity. More like lack of political finesse, but you think Singapore would be a better place if the politicians are all Oscar-winning actors and actresses? Frankly, the KTM is not entirely upset with the present situation of having politically-challenged bureaucrats as politicians. Like that we can have straight-talk and less theatrics. :-)

Wang:

KTM

Noted on your example and background example. Have no objections to it, however as the division head is ultimately responsible for division performance, well lets say the fiscal/monetary aspect will be heavily in the red for the ultimate head and those in the direct line although not necessarily for all.

As the aphorism corporate wise paraphrase states, the person has to take the bric bracs with the monetary rewards or disincentives applicable with the big bucks.

Regards

UNSW case:

Interesting article in ST on Sat about UNSW fiasco - final tally from the losses were disclosed. And it indicated issues where the Asia President of UNSW was also sitting in the EDB board.
That show a red flag for Singapore governance system - where our MM is also Chairman of GIC and insists that accountability of GIC performance be given only once every 5 years or something - over the long term.
Really, who 'audits' GIC and checks and guides the management in case of poor governance issues? President Ong has brought up this case and there is still no resolution till today.

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1945 words | Categories: Defence, Policy

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