Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre on February 27, 2008.
It has been 90 days since.
There has been total silence on what the government is doing to capture him since the debate moved into the sphere of responsibility for the escape and the expressed desire of the government to repair its reputation.
The last thing that Singaporeans learned of the plans to capture the escapee was that the government was now adopting a “targeted approach based on intelligence”. This was on April 11.
The relative, some would say, total, silence since then is disconcerting, to say the least. This is especially so when you consider all that the government itself has said about the man – he is dangerous, he is “a wily person who could persuade his custodians”, and so on.
MM Lee Kuan Yew also warned Singaporeans about a ‘return hit’ if Mas Selamat has ‘crossed the border’. (CNA)
One mistake and we’ve got a big explosive in our midst. So let’s not take this lightly. (MM Lee, New York Times)
So, why has there been total silence from the government about plans to capture this alleged ‘wily’ terrorist?
For one thing, the pre-occupation now is with ‘repairing’ the damaged reputation and image of the security forces, particularly the Internal Security Department (ISD). Indeed, all public speeches of late by government ministers were geared towards this end.
The then Law Minister, Professor S Jayakumar, urged Singaporeans to give the ISD officers their support on April 15. He said:
They have continued working patiently and resolutely with the detainees, their families, and the Malay community. These are crucial yet delicate tasks, and the officers deserve our full support.
(“JI escape: One blot should not mar good work, says Jaya”, Straits Times, April 15, 2008)
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong echoed the Law Minister on April 26:
We have to repair our reputation, both as a government as well as a country. Our reputation has suffered as a result of the escape of Mas Selamat. But let's look for ways to repair that.
(“SM Goh says it's time to repair reputation after Mas Selamat's escape”, Channel NewsAsia, April 26, 2008)
On May 26, the Minister for Home Affairs revealed the disciplinary action taken against eight officers for the escape – but still no update on what the capture plans are or whether there is any progress.
So, besides knowing that the government is now adopting a “targeted approach based on intelligence” and that the government believes Mas Selamat is still in Singapore, the public does not know what else the government is doing to capture the most wanted man in our island.
This is in acute, sharp contrast to the media frenzy which followed immediately the escape in February.
It thus seems that the government, and the security forces, have not learned their lesson which many have criticized them for initially – failure to provide the public with adequate and accurate information about Mas Selamat and the government’s plans to re-capture him.
Again, it looks like there is a lack of accountability and transparency.
Perhaps repairing the government’s reputation is more important than providing the public with crucial and timely information which may help in capturing the alleged terrorist.
And by the way, how long is the government giving the Home Affairs minister to capture Mas Selamat before it decides that failure in doing so warrants the minister assuming full responsibility? Even in Parliament today (May 26), all that the minister would do was to reiterate that the government believes Mas Selamat is still in Singapore - and nothing further.
Sir, I said on the 21st of April, that we've no information that Mas Selamat has left. It's the same position that we still hold today.
The minister has had 90 days already – to capture a limping terrorist, with the entire security force at his disposal, in this tiny island.
The buck, surely, must stop somewhere.
Read also: Breaking News: Supertintendent of detention centre sacked over Mas Selamat's escape (with video of DPM's Wong's speech in Parliament.