Individual ministerial responsibility for the escape of the limping Mas Selamat Kastari from Whitley Road Detention Centre is an issue I have touched on in the past. As this is something I feel strongly about, I have had to revisit it in light of some new revelations.
Addressing this incident, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng recently reflected, “I told Parliament, that a mistake was made, there was a lapse in the security and I apologised for that and we will do everything to find him, eventually it took us a while after he ran away and we gave the Malaysians the information, where he was hiding. Having done all that. I think people did understand that yes, indeed we have done what we could, of course the first mistake cannot be obliterated it was there. I owe up to it, as the minister, I took responsibility for it, that's the right thing to do and I think people will look at that, and see on the whole based on what I have done here in the last 27 years, is that one lapse by a department fatal, fatal to their decision on electing me or not.”
It appears DPM Wong is now prepared to be held accountable directly by the electorate for the oversight of a department that came under his direct purview, subject to certain qualifications.
DPM Wong must be credited for delivering on his promise of finding Mas Selamat. However, the price of this credit note is financed by an equally heavy loan from the people of Malaysia.
Assuming this debt has not already been redeemed, it will now be for the people of Singapore to pay it back one day. What form or shape this takes we do not know yet.
When Mas Selamat escaped, DPM Wong made one other promise.
In establishing a Committee of Inquiry, he said, “When the COI completes its inquiry, we will give a full account on how Mas Selamat escaped and what has been done to prevent another escape.”
The COI completed its inquiry in February 2008 but the inquiry report left various evidential gaps.
In particular, the report noted, “There is no conclusive evidence of the exact route Mas Selamat took to escape... The COI did not make any findings as to the route Mas Selamat took after jumping over the converged perimeter fences.”
Given these findings, one would have expected the COI to be reconstituted when Mas Selamat returned to Singapore so as to fill these evidential gaps.
Instead of a COI returning to fill the gaps it had left behind, all we got was a ministerial statement which, among other things, stated that the “account given by Mas Selamat was consistent with the findings of the COI”.
Yet, that same statement went on to add, “He has not been entirely forthcoming. He has changed his story several times. In some instances, whether his accounts are completely truthful cannot be fully verified.”
The statement also disclosed actions taken against those relatives who had knowingly harboured Mas Selamat.
Unfortunately, the hearings of these persons were conducted away from the public eye or media glare. The court records, such as the judge's grounds of decision, which are usually released for such high-profile criminal proceedings are also not available to the ordinary person.
Bottomline post-COI inquiry: we have a ministerial statement and follow-up questions to the statement in Parliament, but no independent document relating to the contents of this ministerial statement has been disclosed.
If DPM Wong promised a full account of the flight of MAS Selamat, the story remains untold.
In light of these realities, DPM Wong’s willingness – albeit qualified – to be held accountable for the unfortunate escape of a prisoner of State held by a team under his direct purview should be welcomed.
The electorate is rightfully entitled to ask for more information. Perhaps, the untold Mas Selamat story will now unfold.
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