Monday, 21 July 2008

Speech on "Security Lapses and Public Confidence": 21 July 2008

Parliament sat today, and I spoke on an adjournment motion filed by Dr Teo Ho Pin on "Security Lapses and Public Confidence".

An adjournment motion is a motion filed by an MP, which can be anything under the sun so long as it relates to a matter within the control of the Government. Technically speaking, it is a motion that is made when the Leader of the House (Mr Mah Bow Tan) moves to adjourn the day's sitting, and has to be wrapped up within 30 minutes unless the House resolves to extend the time limit. The time limit is why my speech was as short as it was -- I was given only 2 minutes by the Speaker.

The video of my speech on Youtube is embedded below, while the prepared text of the speech is further below. After my speech, I have reproduced the text of an OPQ I had filed, and the response of the Second Minister for Home Affairs.

I wrestled with this speech a little. Firstly, I was not sure what would have been covered during Question Time, which would then obviously affect my speech on the adjournment motion. As will be evident, that was not a problem.

Secondly, I was not sure what to say. Ultimately, the subject-matter of the motion lent itself to the content of my speech. Public confidence is shaken, and what would restore public confidence? Full and frank acknowledgment of fault and facing up to the facts.

After the sitting, a Straits Times reporter called for my reaction to the speech, given that it was the Minister's maiden speech as a Cabinet minister. I could only tell him that I was disappointed, given that Mr Shanmugam neither touched on the subject of an apology (and I am somewhat sceptical of the MSM covering that part of my speech) nor answered parts of my OPQ (for instance, on the question of security audits conducted after Mas Selamat escaped) in his reply (which I trust will be covered extensively by the MSM tomorrow) as he had said he would.

Speech on "Security Lapses and Public Confidence"

1. Mr Speaker Sir, we have been repeatedly told that the three security lapses this year were due to human error, and that no system can completely eliminate human error. That may be so. But this seems to imply that human error is unavoidable and hence inevitable. This is difficult to reconcile with the Government’s previous calls to Singaporeans to be ever-vigilant, because we have to win against the terrorists every time, but they only have to win once.

2. The inescapable fact remains that we have had three lapses across three different departments within the short span of four months or so. One would have expected the Home Team to be extra-vigilant after the escape of Mas Selamat, and that there would at least have been no more human errors in the period immediately following his escape. As we all know, that was not the case. I daresay Singaporeans’ confidence in the Home Team has taken a serious knock.

3. So I think there is a very legitimate question as to whether three lapses in three different agencies in four months is enough evidence of a wider problem in MHA. MHA has consistently focused on individual officers’ omissions and how even the best-designed systems are susceptible to human error, but has not acknowledged any fault as an organisation. If there are human lapses in different agencies within the Ministry, then there is a valid question as to whether the Ministry itself has done enough to inculcate a culture of zero-tolerance for human errors across the entire Home Team as a whole.

4. Furthermore, in the month or so since the Changi Airport slip-up, there has to date been no apology from MHA to Singaporeans for these lapses. The public would be forgiven for thinking that MHA is in denial, at least publicly.

5. I think an apology is the least that the Ministry could do. And I believe that a clear, unreserved, unqualified apology is a necessary first step towards the restoration of public confidence in the Home Team, because it demonstrates that MHA is squarely confronting the issue. The failure to apologise suggests that it is downplaying the seriousness of these incidents, and denying responsibility. Unless and until this happens, it will be difficult to expect public confidence in the Home Team to be restored.


(Preventive measures to address)

Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) why have there been repeated serious security lapses across the Ministry over the past few months; (b) what measures have been taken to prevent a culture of complacency in the Ministry; (c) what measures will the Ministry take to assure the public that there is no such culture of complacency; and (d) whether the security audits of detention facilities carried out after Mas Selamat's escape had addressed the risk of human error.

The Second Minister for Home Affairs (Mr K Shanmugam): Sir, I will be responding to Dr Teo Ho Pin's Motion of Adjournment on security lapses and public confidence, and the Question raised by Mr Siew will be answered then.


Kaffein said...

Looks like they may not want you the next term. You could be proving to be a pain just like the opposition.

No disrespect to you, Mr Siew. You've done an utterly fantastic job in highlighting so many concerns we have raised.

But I don't think you or we are going to get the answers in the often one-sided parliamentary debates. If it was a debate at all.


Packrat said...

Thank you for giving us a voice in parliament.

Kaffein said...

Hi Mr Siew,
Could you bring this up? This is a fantastic no-holds bar straight to the point understanding of the Constitution law.

I see it so clearly.

Yet I don't know why the elusive and evasive actions, hoo-ha and misinterpretations of the law can be spoken by the various MPs.

Hmm seems to me like PAP is interpreting how the Constitution law should be. I would hope not. The Constitution has the final authority.


Kaffein said...

Hi Mr Siew,
Can you tell me what's happening according to the report below?

Can you ask parliament what's happening with our SWF and investments? Er, ask them don't give me the long-term investment farce because I definitely won't even come close to that term. To me it's a farce when billions are concerned. Paper losses?! You make your guesses.

Also I'm surprised ST is not publishing such reports since it concerns our SWF?

Whomever said the Western countries 'want to do us in', is he all serious because I think GIC just did us in. Big time.


Siew Kum Hong said...

To packrat: Thank you :)

To Kaffein: Re the GIC investment in UBS -- I had actually filed a WPQ specifically on this last week. Will post that shortly. In any case, the MSM has been publishing these articles.

Re the requirement for a by-election in Bukit Batok -- thanks for directing me to that posting. I am not currently inclined to raise this issue, but will certainly bear it in mind for August.

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