Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Make ISA Orders More Accountable & Transparent


I refer to the letter sent by the Permanent Secretary's office to The Straits Times in relation to a commentary concerning the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA).

I wish to seek some clarification, and also to share some ideas.


In that letter, the Permanent Secretary's office makes this argument: "Since the 9/11 attacks, several foreign governments and security agencies have expressed that they wished they had legislation similar to Singapore's ISA, to fight terrorism effectively. Singaporeans expect no less of their Government, to keep them and their families safe against catastrophic terrorist acts."

Would the Permanent Secretary's office be willing and able to provide the list of foreign governments and security agencies that have expressed such an interest? And if they have so wished, why has each foreign government or security agency failed to implement an equivalent of the ISA?

I wish to add that, in the absence of such clarification, I am most concerned about the position the Permanent Secretary's office has taken.

The position is akin to saying, for example: Several Singaporeans have expressed that they wished they had an opposition in Parliament, to provide check and balance to the dominant party in Parliament.

However, when one looks into the issue more deeply, one can potentially argue that having an opposition in Parliament comes at a cost. And that is a price most Singaporeans - that is those who have returned the ruling party to power again and again - are unwilling to pay.

Likewise, it is also possible that the "several foreign governments and security agencies" have considered the Internal Security Act to some extent and realised it too has a cost attached. And that is a price they are uniquely unwilling or unable to foot.

Unfortunately, one can only appreciate this if the Permanent Secretary's office is willing and able to provide the list of foreign governments and security agencies that have expressed they wished they had legislation similar to the ISA.


The Permanent Secretary's office also states that there is an ISA Advisory Board with wide powers, which can hear representations about an Order of Detention and make "recommendations to the President".

I would like to suggest that the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the interest of transparency and accountability to Singaporeans, look into making public all such recommendations by the ISA Advisory Board to the President.

Of course, one appreciates that, due to relevant national security concerns, not all the recommendations can be made public.

And clearly, such disclosures should be made with the consent of the Judge of the Supreme Court, who chairs the ISA Advisory Board and is ultimately responsible for making the recommendations.

I am of the view that releasing at least part, if not all, of the recommendations to the public would encourage some confidence among concerned members of the public that the due process of the law has indeed been observed.

The President too should make public all reasons for accepting or not accepting the recommendations of the ISA Advisory Broad, without compromising relevant national security matters.


I hope the Permanent Secretary's office will provide the necessary clarification. I also hope the Permanent Secretary's office will consider my suggestions, with the office of the President.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?

No comments: