Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility!

Andrew Loh

Yes, we are all appalled. In fact, we are more appalled than the Home Affairs Minister.

Appalled at the “lapses” (if ever there was a euphemism for a screwup, this is it), appalled at the “complacency”, appalled at how our security personnel are so lackadaisical about their jobs.

But most of all, we are appalled that the Home Affairs Minister still has a job.

Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility!

Where is it? Where did it go to? How is it that it can be avoided, side-stepped, blamed on someone else – not once, not twice, but three times!

Mas Selamat Kastari – the number one alleged terrorist in Singapore – the man who escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC) and is still at large.

Double escape attempts at the Subordinate Courts by two men facing charges for “robbery with hurt”. That is, two dangerous men.

A 61-year old man passes through all checkpoints at the Budget Terminal and gets on a plane — with his son’s passport. One wonders about the consequences if he was not an ordinary man.

All this within a span of 4 months – the last two after Mas Selamat gave the guards at the WRDC the slip in February this year.

Responsibility so far has been laid squarely and conclusively on the shoulders of those “on the ground”, leaving the man at the very top of the security department unscathed, unpunished, and un-disciplined.

Yes, leadership responsibility has been explained away with euphemism, semantics, play of logic and lame excuses about how the lower rungs have not or did not follow operational procedures.

A convenient cop-out by the minister

This is a convenient cop-out, a finger-pointing exercise to save one’s own hide.

Leadership responsibility does not end at operational procedures. It starts with respect that subordinates have for the leader (or not) and ends with the leader having the moral authority to lead (or not).

One question which all these so-called “lapses” raises is this: Does the leader of the department not command such respect and moral authority which would lead to subordinates taking their jobs seriously enough to prevent such “lapses”?

In other words: Are the subordinates’ lack of seriousness due to the lack of moral authority which they, the subordinates, see in their leader?

And if this is so, the leader is no longer fit to lead and must be relieved of his duties and position. This is even more so when the leader, or minister, is in charge of national security, where any lapses have the potential to result in the loss of lives, as in two of the three cases above.

Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility!

It is shameful indeed that when subordinates do their job well, the leader of the department is praised and accolades heaped on his head. Yet, when subordinates fail in their jobs, the same leader or minister lays the blame squarely on them.

Where is the responsibility?

Where is the leadership?

Where is the accountability when one is paid one of the highest salaries on the entire planet as a public servant?

In a statement released to the media on the latest slip-up at Changi airport, Minister Wong said:

Any lapse by any department in the Home Team is a failure which all in the Home Team family must bear. (link)

Honestly and in all seriousness, I do not know what that statement means at all – as far as ministerial responsibility is concerned. I, and I suspect many others as well, wonder what the minister would “bear” for any failures, and how he would do so. The last time I checked, the minister still has his job and in all probability would also receive a substantial bonus for the year, together with his world-class salary.

Real root of complacency

Nah, the complacency is not with the ground troops. The truth is that complacency has its roots with the men at the very top of Government. 42 years of being in absolute control of power has caused this complacency.

We had hoped that we have men in Government who would not shy away from taking responsibility for failures. Instead, we are faced with a situation where accountability has become non-existent because of absolute power.

Singaporeans will call for Minister Wong’s resignation. The media will defend him, for sure, as they did during the Mas Selamat fiasco. The Prime Minister will also defend his minister.

The only people who lose will be Singaporeans, and Singapore, because should someone like Mas Selamat come back for a “return hit” (as Lee Kuan Yew called it), it is ordinary Singaporeans’ lives which will be lost, along with disastrous consequences for the country’s economy.

As for Government responsibility, we are beginning to realize what absolute power can do. The question I’d like to ask is: Will the Prime Minister ask for Minister Wong’s resignation only if or when lives are lost due to such lapses? Is that the bottomline? If it is so, then the Prime Minister should say so. Otherwise, such blatant disregard for taking responsibility can and will only do further damage to the Government’s claim that it is a government of integrity.

As was said in a TOC editorial, at the end of the day, Wong’s recalcitrance is bad for the PAP, but worse for the country.


For the record, courtesy of “Copyman” who posted this on TOC:

Some of MHA’s achievements:

2004 – Huang Na’s killer escaped on toilet break under police custody.
2006 – Tan Chor Jin (One-Eyed Dragon) escaped to
Malaysia, allegedly on a fake passport.
2006 – NKF Richard Yong managed to flee to
Hong Kong.
2008 – Mas Selamat Kastari – toilet break again.
2008 – Two detainees’ attempted escape frorm
Subordinate Court.
2008 – Ng Ting Hwa, the employee who siphoned almost S$2m from his company, fled to
Malaysia when he’s under investigation.
2008 – Gurkhas’ scuffle over salary.
2008 – A retiree unintentionally bypassed
Changi Airport’s security using his son’s passport.


Wong Kan Seng’s elections record

First elections – 1984

Kuo Chuan – 64.55%

Second elections – 1988

Toa Payoh GRC (3 men)


Third elections – 1991

Thomson GRC (4 men)


Fourth elections – 1997

Bishan – Toa Payoh (5 men)


Fifth elections – 2001

Bishan – Toa Payoh (5 men)


Sixth elections – 2006

Bishan – Toa Payoh (5 men)


A span of 24 years, 6 elections.

Contested in only one – 24 years ago


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