Written by Ng E-Jay
08 May 2009
It is all over the news wires by now. Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari was arrested in the outskirts of Johor Baru on April Fool’s Day this year. Although Mas Selamat was alleged to have headed Singapore’s JI cell from 1999 to 2002 and was believed to have attempted to mastermind a plot to hijack an airplane and crash it into Changi airport, Mas Selamat has never been charged in a Court of Law for his alleged terrorist activities.
On 27 Feb 2008, Mas Selamat Kastari limped out of the highest security detention centre on the island in 49 seconds or less in broad daylight. The Committee of Inquiry (COI) Report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in April last year placed the blame squarely on an unfortunate series of lapses on the part of individuals, but asserted there was no evidence of department-wide systemic failures or policy mistakes.
Although at least seven officers and staff were disciplined or replaced, the Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng and the Director of ISD were not made to shoulder any responsibility for what happened. In an article entitled “DPM Wong Kan Seng addressed all issues except his own culpability” posted on 27 March 2008, I wrote that: “complacency was clearly shown to be widespread, with the possibility of systemic failures and lapses, and these in turn imply that the entire chain of command including the Director of ISD up to the Minister himself must be held accountable“.
In the article “911, Bali 2002, London 2005 and Mumbai 2008: Making sure it does not happen here” dated 01 December 2008, I also wrote: “In view of his 14-year tenure as Minister for Home Affairs since 1994, DPM Wong must be held accountable for allowing a culture of complacency to creep into the entire system, ranging from the ISA detention facility to the ICA security checkpoints. To attribute this highly unfortunate chain of security lapses to mere human oversight on the part of subordinates is wrong and irresponsible. That does nothing to address the real underlying issue, which is poor leadership from the very top.”
This morning, I read with great interest mainstream media reports that Singaporeans were rejoicing over the re-capture of Mas Selamat Kastari. In my view, a more appropriate response should be to demand accountability from the Government and in particular, the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The fact that Mas Selamat Kastari was arrested in Malaysia gives little cause for celebration. He could well have plotted a terrorist attack on Singapore or a neighbouring country and caused a tragic loss of lives.
The fact that Mas Selamat managed to escape from Singapore also calls into question the effectiveness of our border security, which was supposed to have been beefed up following the escape.
According to the Government’s own press releases, the Ministry of Home Affairs took a full one hour to alert the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority that a detainee had escaped, and took a full four hours to notify the general public of the matter. Could Mas Selamat have escaped to Johor in the interim period while the authorities were taking the time to raise the alert?
According to DPM Wong Kan Seng at a press conference earlier today, Mas Selamat Kastari swam across the Straits of Johor using an “improvised flotation device”.
And if Mas Selamat had escaped from the island after the big manhunt had died down, it proves that the Ministry of Home Affairs is unable to maintain the level of vigilance required to prevent criminals and terrorist suspects from fleeing the country.
All of this points to one thing: the re-capture of JI terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari is not a cause for celebration, but a call for Singaporeans to hold the Government accountable and for the Home Affairs Minister to be held fully responsible for Singapore’s biggest and most embarrassing security lapse.