Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who should challenge PM's Verdict? Voters.

The recent parliamentary debate has thrown up more questions than what the COI intended to answer. If one reads the COI carefully, instead of "fact finding", it becomes a report of "what the committee believes" in how Mas Selamat (MSK) has escaped. There are already lots of well written comments on the net questioning that incredible story on how could MSK escape in such a manner. I shall therefore not amuse my readers further on this issue.

The more important issue here is about ACCOUNTABILITY and the defence of our CORE VALUES of Meritocracy. Meritocracy is about putting the best person for the right jobs. It inevitably requires one to remove those who are unsuitable or incompetent for the job. In this case, we will have to prove that the minister in charge is really indeed responsible for the problem at all.

But first, we must also establish the fact that this escape of MSK is no ordinary small mistake. The escape of MSK puts the whole country at risk of possible eminent terrorist attack. Thus, the seriousness and severity of this escape warrant political accountability at the highest level. While we can brush aside small mistakes made by the organization on and off, but for mistakes of such magnitude, we must examine fully the impact and implications, thus the accountability of the highest leadership.

Mistakes made by the low ranking officers are just "peanuts" compared to the systematic problems caused by poor management and leadership. If the low ranking officers have not made the mistakes of "following orders and the book closely", we would not know there is a toilet window without grill. We would not know that the perimeter fencing has weaknesses. We would not know that complacency has been allowed to breed within the organization. All these are systematic time bombs waiting to be exploited.

Who should be directly responsible for such organization flaws? Who should be directly responsible for the organization culture of complacency? In management theory, obviously it is the LEADERS at the top who mold the corporate or organization culture over time. Minister Wong has been at the helm of Ministry of Home Affairs for more than a decade and he should not be view as innocent for his ineffective leadership that leads to complacency within the whole ISD organization.

Prime Minister Lee has used Dr. Goh Keng Swee words in defence of Wong KS. I shall use Dr. Goh's own personal leadership qualities to demonstrate that the present minister is not up to par. When Dr. Goh was the Defence minister, he used to do unannounced spot checks on the various army camps, to test the readiness of the units. Some may think that this will be too stressful for the ground commanders but in fact, I think it is a good practice if it is carried out once a while so to keep the units on their toes and prevent them from slacking down. Did any PAP ministers practice such leadership skills? I am afraid not. Definitely not for the Minister of MHA, else he would have noticed the toilet window without grills. Complacency would not creep into the whole organization; not merely ISD, but the custom and immigration department which has seen wanted persons walking pass the causeway or custom with a breeze.

Thus to me, it is already a foregone conclusion that Minister Wong must take full responsibility for the complacency shown on the ground. However, it is also a foregone conclusion that the PAP government will not ask him to resign, after PM Lee has made his verdict known. But are we totally helpless as a citizen or an opposition politicians when our political leaders refuse to be accountable for such obvious slack in the organizations under their charge?

Obviously not. No matter how the establishment wants to side track into other issues like Low TK's disbelief of the rumor (of MSK being dead in custody) or his no reply when asked by PM Lee whether he thinks Minister Wong should resign, the responsibility of the whole fiasco still lies with Minister Wong.

Talking about the spin on Low's responses towards the two questions, I would like to add that it does not matter whether Low believes in the rumor or not. It is the responsibility of the Minister of Home Affairs to dispel such rumor as he is in the position with full information. It does not matter whether Low believes Wong KS should resign or not, because it is PM Lee, not Low, who is the big boss of Wong KS! So what if Low believes Wong KS should resign or not? PM Lee himself is supposed to decide on that, not Low!

Having said that, it DOES NOT mean that PM Lee's verdict is FINAL. He in turn, is answerable to the voters for whatever decisions he made.

The voters at large could still challenge PM Lee's verdict through the ballot box. In fact, in my view, it is time for Singaporeans to extract accountability from this most highly paid cabinet in the world. And it is time to tell PAP that nobody should discard our CORE VALUES of MERITOCRACY for their own convenience sake. It is time to tell the PAP government that High Pay must be accompanied by performance, accountability and responsibility.

My only wish is to see a credible team of opposition members to contest in Bishan Toa Payoh in the next General Elections, so that voters could decide DIRECTLY on whether Wong KS should take FULL responsibility and leave the cabinet altogether. If Wong KS is voted out, this will send a clear signal to PM Lee that his verdict has been declared void by the people. In fact, if Wong KS could only manage a marginal win of less than 60%, the signal would already be very clear that he has lesser mandate to stay on as the Minister of Home Affairs. I really wish that day will come when the Voters, could for once, exercise their Ultimate Voting Power to dislodge a Minister who must take full responsibility of his ministry when a mistake of great magnitude has been made and in turn, uphold our Core Values of Meritocracy by extracting Accountability from the present political administration.

Goh Meng Seng