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Mas Selamat’s escape – It is about Govt incompetency, not race or religion

Andrew Loh

It is shocking – the way the entire Mas Selamat Kastari escape is being painted as a racial-religious issue by the Government and Members of Parliament.

While trying to assure Singaporeans of our peace and harmony between the races, the Government may, inadvertently or ignorantly, be stoking unhappiness among one particular group of Singaporeans – Malay-Muslims.

It would seem that the way the Government is painting the picture, and with a lap dog media going along with its dictates, the Mas Selamat story is no longer about Government incompetency, which really is what the whole fiasco is truly about.

In 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in defending the then Home Affairs Minister, Wong Kan Seng, from calls for the minister to resign, said:

“Singaporeans need to know what went wrong, and what the Government will do to fix things… While the minister is ultimately accountable for the policies and operations of his ministry… this does not mean that if a lapse occurs down the line, every level in the chain of command, up to and including the Minister should automatically be punished or removed.” (Straits Times)

Recent disclosure by Wong’s successor, K Shanmugam, has shed light on how Mas Selamat managed to escape – and it is not improbable that it was a direct failure of Wong that may have allowed Mas Selamat to do so.

Shanmugam revealed that investigations have shown that Mas Selamat had taken refuge at his brother’s home and that Asmom (Mas Selamat’s brother), his wife Aisah, their daughter Nur Aini and son Mahadir “have all independently admitted to the fact that Mas Selamat had stayed overnight in their home between 29 Feb and 1 Mar 2008.” (See here)

The obvious question, which Nominated Member of Parliament, Viswa Sadasivan asked, was: "On the day of the escape, shouldn't it have been standard operating procedure for the security forces to actually go down to the homes of the immediate family members?"

Shanmugam’s reply: "[The Member] will remember that I have said taking into account his family members, which numbered more than a hundred, and with contacts they number many more. I don't want to go into details on what surveillance was done because they are really operational security matters …"

And then Shanmugam added: "[It] is not in the interest of our country for us to disclose these matters. However, Member can be assured that what was done has been reviewed and I'm satisfied that all the necessary steps were taken."

Well, the fact is that Shanmugam’s explanation, if you can call it that, is plainly unacceptable.

For first, it is Mas Selamat’s immediate family which should have been monitored as they would be the most probable people that he would seek help from. And they certainly do not “number more than a hundred”? Or is the minister claiming otherwise?

Mas Selamat had taken shelter in his brother’s home.

As someone said on TOC’s Facebook, “He didn't go hide with his mother's fourth cousin's third uncle's sixth auntie.”

One can only conclude that Shanmugam was being facetious in cleverly avoiding answering Viswa Sadasivan’s question.

Secondly, the Government had mobilized the police, the army and volunteers, and conducted what the media termed “an island-wide manhunt” for the suspected terrorist. And this manhunt took place over several days. Surely, the massive employment of manpower would be capable of monitoring Mas Selamat’s family - even if they “numbered more than a hundred” – if the authorities thought this should be a priority, which apparently they didn’t.

Were members of Mas Selamat’s family called in to the police station to be interviewed, or did investigators pay visits to their homes? How does one explain the fact that Mas Selamat, who hid in his brother’s HDB flat in Tampines, went undetected?

It would not be hard to find someone hiding in a flat. Or would it?

Alas, the minister chose not to divulge “operational security matters” because “it is not in the interest of our country for us to disclose these matters.”

So there.

That Mas Selamat was able to stay overnight in his brother’s home between 29 Feb and 1 Mar 2008 shows that someone was clearly sleeping on the job, and I am not referring to the alleged terrorist.

Clearly, if searches had been conducted at the homes of Mas Selamat’s immediate family members, the Minister of Home Affairs would have been informed. And he would have asked for details of how such searches were conducted. Indeed, he may even have instructed how these were to be carried out, leaving, as it were, no stone unturned.

And I would imagine that one of the first, and most important, questions he would have asked is whether these searches were conducted in person,  that officers went into the homes, looked into each room and possible hiding places.

While the Prime Minister tried to “tai-chi” away the blame and responsibility from Wong, it is quite clear that Wong had failed, and this failure contributed to Mas Selamat being able to get away.

Instead of admitting its shortcomings and failures, the Government instead seems to be laying the blame on the Malay-Muslim community as a whole, even as Shanmugam gave assurances that the community is not to be blamed.

But why should Shanmugam (and MPs) even mention the Malay-Muslim community, as if it is somehow complicit in Mas Selamat’s escape, or that there is a potential of it doing so, just by being of the same racial or religious affiliation as he?

Why is there a need for Deputy Mufti Fatris Bakaram to say that the act of harbouring a known fugitive from the authorities “is against Islamic principles”?

Would we have Christian or Buddhist or Taoist leaders having to do the same if one of their own committed a similar offence?

One of the most insensitive, besides being totally irrelevant, questions asked in Parliament was by the MP for Hong Kah GRC, Zaqy Mohamad. He had asked the minister:

"Given the fact that Mas Selamat did escape in a tudung, will the Ministry assure the Malay community that there won't be unnecessary scrutiny on Malay women wearing tudung in security areas and when they seek appointments for jobs.”

It is such a stupid question that it leaves me speechless.

One would urge the Government and MPs to be careful, and sensitive, when commenting on this matter.

And to realize and recognize and accept that the escape of Mas Selamat is not one of race or religion but simply one of incompetence by a Government minister.

To say otherwise is to cloud the issue.

As the Prime Minister said in 2008:

“'Based on the facts, we have to decide who fell short in performing his duties, and what is the appropriate disciplinary action for each officer involved…. This same principle of responsibility and accountability also applies to Ministers.”