Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Gone but not going away

Mas SelamatThe saga of escaped detainee Mas Selamat continues. The Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng announced to parliament the disciplinary response to his escape.

From the ST article, 9 staff will be affected:

Who: Two Gurkha guards. They escorted Mas Selamat for his weekly family visit on Feb 27 and let him out of their line of sight.
Penalty: Demoted.

Who: Special duty operative. A junior officer who handled his family visit. She did not take immediate action when alerted by the guards. She also did not observe procedures such as noting how many sets of clothes he had, which is why he had more than one set on him when he escaped.
Penalty: Dismissed.

Who: Special duty operative's supervisor. Failed to assess security regarding detainees' use of the Family Visitation Block toilet.
Penalty: Letter of reprimand. Relieved of all supervisory duties.

Who: Technical officer responsible for CCTV upgrading at the Whitley Road centre. Did not ensure that the system was recording at the time of the incident
Penalty: Letter of warning.

Who: Chief warder. She approached the superintendent to allow detainees to use the toilet at the Family Visitation Block
Penalty: Letter of warning.

Who: Whitley centre's deputy superintendent. Lack of supervision over subordinates implicated in the case.
Penalty: Demoted with pay cut.

Who: Whitley centre's superintendent. Lack of supervision over subordinates implicated. Also failed to take appropriate action upon discovering the unsecured toilet ventilation window.
Penalty: Dismissed.

Who: ISD Command Director and officer-in-charge of Whitley centre.
Penalty: Relieved of his responsibilities to oversee the centre.

All in all, a fair and weighted response although some have already claimed the ultimate boss, the minister, should resign (Japanese style) to take responsibility for the whole fiasco, I think this approach is better because it distinguishes between Management and Policy.

A Minister sets Policy and directs operational matters as a delegated function. If a minister fails to respond to an issue raised to her, then sure, she becomes part of the operational chain of command. In this case, guards didn't guard, a window was left unsecured (they sawed off the handle to prevent it being opened when they should have fitted bars), CCTV wasn't properly working, and so on. These are Operational matters, not policy.

When it comes to politics, cynicism knows no bounds and one of the reasons I am keeping an eye on this story is that it clearly is an embarrassment to the Government that puts great store in competence. The view floating around the blogoshpere was that the story would be allowed to run for a while, the Government would take its beating, then a line would be firmly drawn under the affair and that would be that.

So I was waiting for this line to appear, and so far, it has not. The out-going border checkpoints are still clogged with vehicles being laboriously inspected (the local residents have complained about the frustrated car and truck horns at all times of the day and night). The fugitive's picture is still all over the place, in stations, bus shelters, shopping malls. Even the Straits Times website (free pages) have the image permanently showing and if a Government-directed line was being drawn, you can bet it would be seen there first. It looks like this story has a way to run. Unless they catch him of course which would spoil it for socio-political commentators.