TODAY: Mistakes made, but don’t generalise

DPM Wong rebuts claims that the Home Affairs Ministry is complacent

Loh Chee Kong

THE public had been waiting for this day, when details of Mas Selamat Kastari’s unthinkable escape would be revealed. Yet, the public gallery at Parliament House was hardly packed – it held just its usual audience of students and Government officials.

Parliamentarians, nevertheless, were brimming with questions after Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng delivered the findings of the Committee of Inquiry. In all, 18 Members of Parliament (MPs) rose to pose questions, with as many as 10 MPs, at one point, vying for the Speaker of Parliament’s permission to speak.

Veteran Opposition MPs Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong each stood up more than once and both wanted to know “whether heads will roll” – in Mr Chiam’s words – and if the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should bear responsibility for the “serious security breach” at Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC).

Directing his question at Mr Wong, who is also Home Affairs Minister, Mr Low asked: “I wonder if this episode is also the result of the complacency of his ministry, for failing to supervise the agencies under his charge?”

Mr Wong – who was “completely shocked” when he learnt of the escape via SMS on Feb 27, in the middle of a Parliament sitting – replied: “From time to time, problems do take place and this is one instance. Does it mean that therefore, the whole ministry and all its departments are complacent? I think that will be stretching the argument too far.”

The disciplinary proceeding must be allowed to “run its course”, he said. “Those found accountable and liable will have to answer for those mistakes or lapses.”

Yio Chu Kang MP Seng Han Tong asked how the Internal Security Department (ISD) could “restore public confidence” in its work, while Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee suggested the MHA examine whether it has “taken on too much”.

Mr Wong noted that while security agencies elsewhere are organised differently, those here should come under the same umbrella to complement each other’s work. “The problem lies in the breach of procedures by some individuals in the WRDC. We should not generalise this to the whole ISD.”

In his speech earlier, Mr Wong reiterated the successes of the ISD’s counter-terrorism efforts – such as unearthing the Jemaah Islamiyah and its Al Qaeda links – not to absolve it of its officers’ mistakes, he said, but “because we need to be fair and balanced in our judgment and not throw the baby out with the bath water”.

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