Upholding public's trust in Home Team

It takes determined leaders to subject vital state agencies to independent scrutiny even after a full-scale internal investigation of any wrongdoings that surface.

But so paramount is the safeguarding of public trust in the Home Team that the Government is to ensure it has the benefit of a detached assessment of how robust, fair and thorough the system is when internal probes are conducted.

It is not as though there is any reason to think that such self-examination is less than objective but there is a clear need to avoid all doubt following a series of events. High-profile senior officers were charged with misconduct in 2012, the Immigration and Checkpoints

Authority was rebuked by the minister for recent checkpoint breaches, and police commanders were grilled by the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry over operational responses to a serious situation.

Organisations with a high standing would not begrudge the allocation of resources for more onerous oversight processes, as professional pride would demand nothing less than zero tolerance of any misconduct.

Singapore came in second out of 99 countries surveyed for the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index this year. Overall crime is at its lowest in 30 years and over 90 per cent of Singaporeans feel safe in their neighbourhood, according to a 2012 survey.

Further, the number of corruption or cheating cases implicating public officers has remained low between 2008 and 2012. This reputational asset has been built painstakingly over many years and should be protected at all costs.

In contributing to this effort, the efficacy of an independent review panel will hinge on its frame of reference. The focus is on allegations of serious wrongdoing or misconduct by officers acting in their official capacity.

A review would be done for "cases which have resulted in death or serious injury, cases which obstruct, prevent, pervert or defeat the course of justice, or where it is in the public interest to do so", as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament.

It is possible certain acts in the spotlight might point to dysfunctionalities or systemic weaknesses linked to a unit or to inter-agency dealings.

To flag these to the minister, outside reviewers should have sufficient scope to select an appropriate strategy, explore relevant avenues and seek further information.

For credibility's sake, they should go beyond providing what auditors call a "negative assurance" - accepting the findings presented to them as no contrary evidence has been found within. Diligent reviewers, of course, should base their conclusions on a full examination of all the facts.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.