- TOC Editorial: Government’s lack of accountability bad for the PAP, worse for Singapore on theonlinecitizen.com
- The great hunt: more management failures than guards' lapses on Yawning Bread
- Beyond witch-hunts to sanction for lapses by Chua Mui Hoong (yes, on The Straits Times -- read it first before snorting in disbelief. I must admit I was surprised.)
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.