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'Unreasonable' to fault ISD director for escape
Li Xueying
Tue, May 27, 2008
The Straits Times
THE director of the Internal Security Department (ISD) holds broad responsibility for the entire organisation.

To blame him for the Mas Selamat Kastari escape would be to place an 'unreasonable and overly onerous burden' on him, said Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng.

He said this in Parliament yesterday, in response to a question from Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) on whether the ISD director should also be held accountable.

The director was not identified by name either by Mr Wong or Mr Fong.

Nine others, from the Gurkha guards up to the supervising officer in the ISD - the senior officer to whom the Whitley Road Detention Centre's superintendent and administration reported - had either been sacked, relieved of their appointments or disciplined in some other way.

All nine were also not named in Parliament.

To Mr Fong's specific point on whether the directorshould be held accountable, Mr Wong said that this was an assessment which he, as Home Affairs Minister, had to make.

'I considered the matter and found no basis to justify this,' he told the House.

'Indeed, as head of the department, the director of the ISD has broad responsibility over the actions and performance of the whole organisation. But to ascribe to him culpability over the lapse with such broad responsibility is, in my view, an unreasonable and overly onerous burden.'

He explained why.

The Committee of Inquiry had found that the lapses leading to Mas Selamat's escape were not due to department-wide systemic mistakes or policy failures.

In fact, it found that the systems and protocol in the Whitley Road Detention Centre had been 'generally sound'.

'But specific individuals had failed to abide by them in this case and there was a degree of lack of supervisory vigilance as well,' he said.

'It was not shown that the director of ISD was aware of any of these lapses but took no action to rectify them. Neither was it shown that he ought to reasonably have known of these lapses.'

This was the conclusion that had been drawn after what Mr Wong called 'objective tests to establish fault'.

First, did an officer fail in his duties, causing Mas Selamat to escape?

Second, was there a lapse in judgment or negligence? Was there a deviation from approved systems and processes, or were they faulty to begin with?

Third, if another officer of similar experience had been put in the same position, would he have also failed in his duty?

These questions were asked not just of the officers directly implicated, but also of their supervisors and all the way up the management ladder, said Mr Wong.

While a subordinate's failure could mean that he had not been adequately supervised, it did not also mean that the supervisor was at fault.

'The supervisor must show that he has reasonably discharged his supervisory duties,' said Mr Wong.

He reminded MPs that, when he disclosed the details of the escape in Parliament on April 21, he had said that the ISD director had told him that he accepted responsibility for what had happened.

But Mr Wong said that he had told the director 'that I had full confidence in him and that he must carry on. I also told the Members that I had informed the Prime Minister, who agreed with this view'.

Right now, the ISD director's immediate task was to follow through with the inquiry committee's recommendations and to 'prevent another slackening of vigilance'.

'He will ensure that the recommendations are satisfactorily implemented and report, to me, the progress,' Mr Wong said.

He concluded by noting that even as those responsible were taken to task, 'we must always be mindful to be both fair and just to all concerned'.

'Punishment must be based on dispassionate reflection on what is reasonable and fair to those liable or culpable,' he said.

'Otherwise, it will lead to grave injustice. This will serve only to undermine the morale and commitment of all other officers and, eventually, the strength and effectiveness of the organisation itself. I believe that that is not the outcome sought by members of this House.'

xueying@sph.com.sg

 

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