Many Ministers have said “Sorry” but how many have said “I accept responsibility” for the lapse?

The answer is ZERO.

It’s a travesty that the buck never stops with the world’s highest paid politicians. Year after year, lapse after lapse, and no Minister has ever accepted responsibility and accountability.

Even with the disgraceful escape of Mas Selamat, the Home Affairs Minister never owned up to responsibility. Instead, nine guards and security officers were disciplined and removed.

In recent years, we have had lapse after lapse in the healthcare and transport sectors. Yet the Health Minister and Transport Minister have never once stepped up to shoulder responsibility. Only those much lower down the line have been held accountable and penalised.

Yesterday in Parliament, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he was “deeply sorry” for the training deaths of four NSmen over the past 17 months.

Most significantly, he stressed that MINDEF and SAF “hold ourselves accountable for every single NS man.”

Dr Ng is someone who chooses his words carefully. Notice that he does not say that he, as Defence Minister, holds himself accountable. Nor does he hold the Chief of Defence Force or Chief of Army accountable.

Instead, it is collective, institutional accountability. He knows, and you and I know, that institutional accountability is a far cry from personal, human accountability. For one thing, the institution, unlike a person, cannot be removed.

Dr Ng is only the latest in a long line of Ministers to have never uttered the words “I accept responsibility.”

While in office, it must be qualified.

Mah Bow Tan did say that he accepted responsibility for the housing woes, but only after having stepped down as National Development Minister following the 2011 general elections.

The fact remains that while in office, no Minister has ever owned up to responsibility for anything gone wrong.

Lee Kuan Yew once said: “Everything works . . . if it doesn’t work, I want to know why, and if I am not satisfied, and I often was not, the chief goes, and I have to find another chief. Firing the chief is very simple.”

Here, we are talking about lives lost, not whether something works. Yet all we hear is “Sorry.” The human being at the top does not have the decency to say, “The buck stops with me, I accept responsibility.”