Clarissa Oon
Tue, May 27, 2008
The Straits Times
Detention centre superintendent gets the sack

NINE individuals, including the commander of the Whitley Road Detention Centre and his superior who holds a rank equivalent to brigadier-general, have been penalised for lapses that allowed terrorist leader Mas Selamat Kastari to escape from the facility.

Two were dismissed from service. Another three were demoted, while the rest were relieved of duties or received reprimands and warnings.

The most senior officer to get the sack was the superintendent of the Whitley Road centre. Dismissal is the most serious form of punishment under Civil Service rules.

His deputy was demoted and received a corresponding pay cut. Both were held to account for a confluence of security lapses at the centre.

Apart from management failings, the superintendent also failed to act when it was known that a ventilation window at the visitors' block toilet was not secured.

He should have had grilles installed, but made the grave error of simply having the window's handle sawn off, thinking that this was sufficient safeguard.

Underscoring just how seriously the lapses were viewed, the boss of the centre's superintendent at the Internal Security Department (ISD)was also relieved of his responsibilities to oversee the centre.

These moves addressed the widely debated question of who should be held to account for Mas Selamat's escape on Feb 27.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng informed Parliament of the punishments yesterday, just over a month after detailing the security breaches and weaknesses at the centre.

Those breaches included the unsecured toilet window which the terrorist leader escaped through, and lapses by Gurkha guards, who let him out of their line of sight.

Mr Wong did not name any individual punished, but stressed that 'when things go wrong, those who are responsible for the incident must be held accountable'.

Two disciplinary inquiries were held, one led by the Commissioner of Police, and the other by the ISD Director.

The eight were allowed to defend themselves and had 30 days to appeal. The deadline is not up, but so far, no one has appealed, said Mr Wong.

The ninth person sanctioned - the senior ISD officer, with a rank equivalent to that of a brigadier-general - was not found to be at fault by any disciplinary body.

Still, DPM Wong decided to have the individual relieved of his responsibility for the Whitley centre on April 24.

He told MPs who queried him that the sanctions were the result of 'objective tests to establish fault'.

Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) wanted the public to be assured that the measures were not simply a 'political exercise'.

Replying, Mr Wong listed three considerations for the disciplinary inquiry:


  • Did the officer in question fail to discharge his duties?


  • What were reasons for the failure? Was there negligence or were the established systems and processes faulty to begin with?


  • Placed in the same position, would another officer of the same level have similarly failed in his duty?

These were applied not just to the officers directly implicated in the escape, but 'all the way up the management ladder'.

As for Mas Selamat, the fugitive is still on the loose, and the working assumption is that he is still in Singapore, Mr Wong said.




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