LEONG WEE KEAT
THE Workers’ Party (WP) is urging the President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to look into the escape of detained Jemaah Islamiyah leader Mas Selamat Kastari, instead of the committee appointed for that purpose by the Minister for Home Affairs.
Party chairman Sylvia Lim noted that under the Inquiries Act – a new law passed last September – the President of Singapore can appoint a Commission to look into any matter “for the public welfare or in the public interest”. He can also direct that the inquiry “proceed in public”.
Her party’s concern is that the current Committee of Inquiry, as established under the Prisons Act, allows the Minister to “retain the discretion to release the findings as he sees fit”.
“The problem is that the Prisons Act states that such inquiries shall not be open to the public … This raises important questions as to how much the public will eventually be told,” Ms Lim said in a statement, even as she noted that it was technically “not wrong” to convene the inquiry under the Prisons Act since the Whitley Road Detention Centre – from which Mas Selamat escaped on Feb 27 – is gazetted as a prison.
The current committee is headed by retired High Court judge Goh Joon Seng, with former Police Commissioner Tee Tua Ba and the Home Affairs Ministry’s deputy secretary for security and corporate services, Dr Choong May Ling, on board.
In response, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson said that Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister 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”.
Pointing out that the escape of a “high-risk terror suspect” was a matter of “high public interest”, Ms Lim, who is a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, said that if the concern was that “release of certain sensitive information will jeopardise the national interest”, the Inquiries Act allows the President to direct that such facts not be made public.
Ms Lim added that “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”.