Thursday, 24 April 2008

Mas Selamat and Government Responsibility

I was away the past few days on a business trip, and so missed the sittings this week. Much has been written and said in response, and I will highlight three pieces that I came across which I thought were particularly well-written and well-reasoned (disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with everything they say though):
I like the TOC piece because it rightly pointed out some flaws in the process. And remember, when it comes to transparency and accountability, process is at least as important as outcome. Having said that, its tone is perhaps a tad strong, but that is probably an indicator of just how angry the ground (and I believe not just the blogosphere) really is on this matter, notwithstanding ST's piece today downplaying the anger.

I like Alex Au's piece because it places into context the possible lapses further up the management chain (plus, he took the trouble to watch the videos, which is a truly admirable effort). To pin the blame squarely and solely on the folks at WRDC is inappropriate. So the WRDC supervisor did not carry out audits -- did his manager ask about audits? Did Director ISD ask about audits across the department's facility?

Finally, I like Chua Mui Hoong's column because it comes very, very closest to my own thoughts on government responsibility and accountability. I never believed, and I still do not believe, that the DPM should automatically be fired or asked to resign because of what had happened.

What I do find unsatisfactory has been the apparent reluctance to simply say, "People in the Ministry of Home Affairs made errors, I lead the Ministry, and so I take responsibility for it and I am sorry." Step up, say it, accept it. Only then is it right to move on.

Chua Mui Hoong rightly pointed out that the actual words said -- "This should never have happened. I am sorry that it has." -- fall short of actually accepting responsibillity. In her words:
"["This should never have happened. I am sorry that it has."] expresses regret at an incident happening ... ["We made a mistake and I'm sorry for the mistake"] accepts institutional and personal responsibility."

She calls it a "small detail". I would go further than her. When viewed together with the comments about who is responsible and who will have action taken against them, and how those comments have been articulated, it does seem that there has been no clear and unequivocal acceptance of institutional responsibility for Mas Selamat's escape.

Ministers and top civil servants will never be the ones actually executing and implementing policies on the ground. Does this mean that they will only be held accountable for the policies and high-level decisions that they take? If that is the case, then unless policies are presented to them in excruciating minutiae, it will be well-nigh impossible for them to ever be held responsible for mistakes. Because the mistakes can almost always be pinned down to an error or omission by someone down the line.

Leadership is not management. If you view a minister purely as a manager, then he (and here I consciously chose not write he/she) is responsible for the performance of his direct reports, and his direct reports are responsible for the performance of their direct reports, and so on.

Leadership is different. The leader of an organisation is responsible for the entire organisation. Leadership requires one to take ownership of the group that one leads. Just as one takes credit for the achievements of the group, one must also take responsibility for the failings of the group, including those of individual group members. To be honest, the next time that the Government tries to claim credit for our security situation and attributes it to its policies, how credible would those claims be to Singaporeans?

What has been said about government responsibility, seems to frame the entire discussion around ministers being managers. But ministers are leaders as well. They are our leaders. And they have to demonstrate leadership, to retain the moral authority that leaders need to have.

Conceptually, accepting responsibility is different from the consequences of the occurrence of the failing. Accepting responsibility does not necessarily require the person to also resign or offer to resign. They are separate issues. That is why I, like Chua Mui Hoong, do not believe that it is necessary for the DPM to resign or offer to resign. And if the DPM clearly, explicitly, unambiguously says that he takes responsibility for what had happened, I believe that that would go a long way towards addressing the discontent of most Singaporeans.

The continued absence of a clear, explicit acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility and apology will make it difficult for Singaporeans to accept what has been said and to move on. And that is a huge pity. It was a chance to set an example of true accountability and transparency to the world, and I think we let that chance slip.


Anonymous Craven (AC) said...

I think that most Singaporeans are unhappy in two areas:

Firstly, Wong's apology simply cannot pass the mark - it accepts no responsibility and comes across as weak and half-hearted.

Second, the complete lack of censure from the PM in the face of such a terrible lapse (both the escape and the breakdown in crisis management) was simply unacceptable to the men on the street.

To top it all off, the COI which is supposed to answer the questions of the people turned out to be a complete farce with rampant conflicts of interest. And we have Wong promising to retain Dir ISD even before the findings of the COI are out.

Can all this qualify as first world governance?

Anonymous said...

"Mr Lee made his stand clear: that the Government accepts responsibility for the mistake, as expressed in the DPM's apology to Parliament the day after.

Said PM Lee: 'I will ask the same questions of the minister: How is he involved in the matter? Has he been incompetent or negligent? Most serious of all, is there a question of integrity? If so, he has to go, even if the actual incident is minor."

It is totally lame and I am astonished at the level of dumbness and stupidness in his reasons. When one accept a mistake and responsibility for a grevious error that threaten the lifelihood and economy of Singapore, disciplinary action must be taken. To simply say that the minister does not involve because he is not directly engage in the action is simple childish and immature !

A leader has to take responsibility of those under him whether he like it or not, and that is why they are paid millions. There is no free lunch in the world as PM Lee once say. Evidently, the free lunch exists in the government !

If someone make a decision, and his surbordinate did not follow, discretion and responsibility still fall under him. That is what leader is all about. No responsible leader will ever say it is not my problem. Only in Singapore will one find expensive coffers saying that and it is joke of the world.

Ask yourself, why should CEO and high ranking official ever resign because of poor performance afterall they are not the one who perform badly, rather it is their surbinate or market that do so ? In PM's view then these CEO, WorldCom, Enron executive shouldn't even being in jail because they did not directly put money for themselves, someone did it for them.

Wong is the one who make the decision and oversee the operation, this alone is enough to make him responsible and accountable. Otherwise why we need minister and high senior official for where we ourselves are held liable ? Then we should ask the government to pay us million every month.

The gahmen is great insult to the intelligence not only of singapore but of the world.

Of course, we know PM Lee is one great joker who has never done anything right since becoming PM. He is the reason of dose of bad , corrupted government.

We people can see. No need for further investigation by coffers.

family man said...

unfortunately, the person spouting all this is our PM, who also happens to be a Brigadier General in the Army. Scary. If he leads, do you want to follow? If there is a mess up, he will protect his DPM, and his DPM will protect Dir of ISD - even before the COI is furnished. It just smells of a hasty cover up. I just had to hold my laughter when I heard that the pants was hung on the door, and Singaporeans were given a wild goose chase with the police release of the missing clothes - all this while the pants were on the door. If we pursue more - more doubts will arise, and I end up doubting the COI was factual, if the CCTV was actually working but claimed to be faulty etc etc. I just pity the kids and wife of Mas - they need closure and only ISD can give them that!

family man said...

I can understand why PM Lee says finally he is accountable to the people for the errors of the government, but will never never apologise. When Low Thia Kiang asked him, PM Lee took it as a personal affront from Low and avoided apologising. He forgot at that point the millions of Singaporeans represented by Low, the thousands of NS men and policemen who worked overtime, people jammed at causeway. millions misled by the DPM's management of information after the escape.
He did not realise that to apologise would have humbled himself as a servant master, and we would have backed off and (probably) loved him for it. But because at all the elections PM Lee and PAP has demonised opposition members, he felt that to apologise (a cambridge harvard graduate) would be below him and demonise himself in future. I actually feel sad for him.
He probably think he cannot do any wrong that warrants an apology.
(think Mee siam mai hum - fixing the opposition - $30 increase of Public assistance - Temasek losses in suchou)
And in the end, only the lowest of the low can be in the wrong and be punished. I love my country and yes, I believe we can all learn from this.
Hopefully PAP elections will stop this demonising assault method (Chauvinist Chinese / forgetful Gomez / - so many of them. (Oh by the way, read Lucky's latest post.)
It can only come back to haunt PAP.

Kaffein said...

Like I've mentioned before, we are not braying for blood or going on a witchhunt.

We just want someone who has been paid millions, who claims they are THE best and elite in Singapore to receive this salary, who pegged his pay to CEOs and the like to accept responsibility of the failings of his ministry. And in turn apologize to the citizens of Singapore.

I don't know what's so humbling about it. I mean your ministry screwed up BIG time, not only in Singapore, but internationally.

I've highlighted time and again, CEOs step down because their departments under them fail. It isn't because their vision for the companies were poor. But you know, it happens.

Perhaps WKS can temporary temporary relinquish his position until the COI is over. I don't know, be humble and be sincere that it really has happened. Not sorry it has happened which means: It's not my fault but it's unfortunate it happened.

Call it split hairs, call it too detailed. But time and again, the PAP has side-stepped and 'treated' the citizens as 'stupid' and have little understanding of how the government works. Just like government policies which LHL mentioned (that opened another can of worms).

So perhaps Singapore politics have reached a shift or change. In the past, our grandfathers were uneducated and read little. So they accept the policies of those who are educated. But now, people are more widely read and exposed overseas. People think vertically and laterally. Singaporeans ask questions now.

(read this

Unless the PAP gets their act in handling real issues and questions asked, it will be hard for them to get the confidence of the citizens these days. Each unanswered question will lead to more discontentment. If not, why is there such a high outflow of citizens?

Another good piece why people are unhappy: do to others what you want others to do unto you. PAP has called for James Gomez blood during an honest mistake in his application. Whether it is or not, he publicly apologised. Sincere? Who knows, but the message got across. Any more questions from PAP actually dipped it's popularity because it saw them as bullying so much that after a few days, people said, "Let's move on, why are you still harping on it!"

Same like Steve Chia, he publicly showed the people who he was, he didn't shrink from what he did. Or so we thought. Who knows the truth anyway? And the people decide that they'd rather have another.

But in this case, who decides? The people? Well, only time will tell.


scriqtfc said...

Leaving the escape aside, WKS is responsible for the recapture of MS. It has been more than 2 months already. If MS is not recapture, then WKS must take the full responsiblity. He keeps saying that MS is still in SG, I wonder what he will say if MS has already eacape from SG??

family man said...

I hope Tony Tan will stop Chua Lee Hoong from writing in the straits Times- She is making more citizens infuriated with Straits Times. Please read TOC article on ST coverage of this issue so far. It is no longer a disconnect between Govt and Citizens, but also Straits Times and the citizens. I understand she is en ex-ISA agent, (correct me if I am wrong) but this too too much. Took Ling How, Richard Yong - all these systemic problems arose during WKS watch. Thank you.

Xtrocious said...

"Shit Happens"

This is what I glean from the whole episode...

If so, maybe we should just have Forrest Gump as our leader...

I much prefer chocolates to the kind of shit that the COI put out...

InSpir3d said...

Mr Siew,

when will Wong Kan Seng be held accountable for failure to recapture Mas Selamat??

If Selamat is still in Singapore, then shame on our internal security forces who are incompetent enough to catch him on our tiny island.

If Selamat has escaped, then shame againt on our security forces who have allowed him to leave our shores!

Either way, someone has to hold the government accountable, I hope you will do it as an MP!

more on this issue

family man said...

Dear Mr Siew, your name was mentioned here in the comments section. What would it take to make the ISA similar to that of UK version?


Siew Kum Hong said...

To InSpir3d: Unfortunately, I missed the debates in April because I was travelling. I will wait for the next opportunity to speak on this. You should also definitely let your elected MP know how you feel.

To family man: The UK legislation and ISA are very different. Their origins are also very different.

It would take a fundamental shift in long-held views on security and civil liberties -- a shift that I do not expect to see in the near- or medium-term, if at all -- for things to change. ISA will, for the foreseeable future, remain an immutable part of our political landscape.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft Office
Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Office 2010 key
Office 2010 download
Office 2010 Professional
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010

Bukan_Hacker said...

Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all.