Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just do it

Who are to blame? Well, now the whole of Singapore, and probably the world, knows how it was possible that Mas Selamat Kastari was able to escape from the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC). I agree with Minister Wong - mistakes do happen from time to time. In this case, the consequence of the mistake was severe - it let loose a dangerous man, resulting in immediate economic losses at the Singapore-Johor Causeway without him raising a finger. From what was revealed in Parliament, I learnt that there are two things you shouldn't do:

First, never put up a CCTV camera unless you put it into immediate operation. This was a problem in WRDC and much earlier, in MRT stations. People think that they are being watched when they aren't, but the organisation that puts these in place are not too concerned that their CCTVs do not work. Some even install them as dummies to scare people - somewhat like a modern day scarecrow. Minister Wong said that those CCTVs in the WRDC were just being put in place and were not operational when MSK made his escape. In this case, nobody could be faulted, unless it is possible to put CCTVs into operation in one day. I don't know, I am not a technician. I don't sell CCTVs much less install one. But someone was caught with his pants down, and that's not MSK's.   

Second, the guards' runaround in alerting another guard who alerted a women who alert yet another man to check the toilet is so typical of government. The Committee of Inquiry (COI) and Minister Wong can't really blame these chaps, really. A colleague of mine who had just moved from the private sector to the public sector said that the difference between working in the private sector is you just do it and inform your superiors later about having done it. In the civil service, you have to go through several layers of reporting, deliberation, discussion, etc. to get approval before you can take action - exactly what happened in the WRDC that gave Mas Selamat a 11-minute lead time to make good his escape. Can you blame the guards' reaction? Can you blame the women Special Duty Operative, a junior ISD officer, for not knocking down the toilet door when the Gurkha Guards don't even think they should do so? No, this has to be referred to a superior for further consideration...Clearly it is the civil service's standard operating procedure which is at fault.

So should we axe Minister Wong? On this, I agree with the PM. While Minister Wong is ultimately responsible as the boss, he had no direct involvement in the whole incident. From what I read in the local papers, this seems to be the majority opinion of readers. So let's be glad that the government pulled no wool over the whole thing, but I may differ in my opinion on who really is at fault... 

Image source: Author: Pedrani David Cristian

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