BY PEH SHING HUEI
SALUTED: Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim praised the security forces for their hard work in the islandwide manhunt.
THE opposition Workers’ Party (WP) has called for an alternative panel to be set up by the President to look into the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari.
Instead of the committee that was set up by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, the WP proposed yesterday that President S R Nathan appoint a Commission of Inquiry under the Inquiries Act so that investigations “can proceed in public as the President shall direct”.
In a press statement signed by chairman Sylvia Lim, the WP noted that Mr Wong’s Committee of Inquiry is being set up under the Prisons Act.
This is not wrong, since the Whitley Road Detention Centre is considered a prison under this law, said Ms Lim.
However, she pointed out: “The Prisons Act states that such inquiries shall not be open to the public. The Committee will submit its report to the Minister, and no part of the proceedings may be released to anyone except with the Minister’s written permission.
“This raises important questions as to how much the public will eventually be told, since the Minister retains the discretion to release the findings as he sees fit.”
As announced by the government, the independent committee is headed by former High Court judge Goh Joon Seng and will look into how Mas Selamat, 47, broke out of the detention centre a fortnight ago and recommend changes to prevent similar breakouts.
“In a matter of such high public interest as the escape of a high-risk terror suspect from a government-run facility, what assurances or checks are there that the public will be given full information?” asked Ms Lim, who is also a Non-Constituency MP.
“In the interest of transparency, other governments have conducted public hearings into sensitive matters such as intelligence failures.”
Since Independence, seven Commissions of Inquiry have been formed, including one on the Sentosa cable car accident in 1983 and another on the Hotel New World collapse in 1986.
In recommending that the President appoint a commission of inquiry under the Inquiries Act, Ms Lim noted that this would “allow the inquiry to proceed in public as the President shall direct”.
“If there is concern that release of certain sensitive information will jeopardize the national interest, the President may direct that certain information not be made public,” she added.
She asserted: “Since Singaporeans have been marshalled to assist the authorities to hunt for Mas Selamat, the least the Government could do is to keep us fully informed of the inquiry and its findings.”
But Ms Lim also gave credit to the security forces, saying they have been “hard at work in an island-wide manhunt” and that the immediate priority has “rightly” been placed on Mas Selamat’s recapture.
Reply from Home Affairs Ministry
“Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng has stated that after the Committee of Inquiry completes its inquiry, we will give a full account to the public on how Mas Selamat escaped and what has been done to tighten security to prevent such a thing from happening again.”
HOME AFFAIRS MINISTRY SPOKESMAN, in response to The Straits Times yesterday