22 April 2008

The great hunt: more management failures than guards' lapses

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng gave a detailed and well-prepared account to Parliament of Mas Selamat Kastari's escape from detention... until the questions came. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Does anyone honestly believe Mas Selamat can escape successfully?

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but i think he had been deported somewhere or he could have been dead before the family visit.

Notice the CCTV? the family haven't seen him? and now he is escaped without trousers and no one noticed? Even a spider-man would get badly scratched climbing that double fence.

Something smells here.

HanSolo said...

I've had it with conspiracy theories..

"and now he is escaped without trousers and no one noticed? Even a spider-man would get badly scratched climbing that double fence."

He left one pair over the door, but was wearing another pair.

And he didn't climb the fence. Instead, he scaled the wall onto the roof and jumped over the fence.

YB, could you edit your photo to avoid confusing some readers?

Now the main point I wanted to make: Error recovery is much more crucial than error prevention.

No matter how perfect a system, mistakes will always occur. The key is to bounce back quickly.

Obviously this will involve a different mindset from the top management down to the ground operatives.


Anonymous said...

Dear HanSolo,

Something credible from someone with a blog named "Download Edison Chen Sex Scandal Photos Here".

Have you seen the footage surrounding the compound? Can anyone escaped without being seen in broad daylight? Can you or someone show me how the scaling from the walk way roof to over the fence? Aren't there supposed to be 2 fences?

"No matter how perfect a system, mistakes will always occur."

That is oxymoron, perfect but has mistake?

The reason Singaporeans are unforgiving because we are dealing with potential mass murderer here, most of us do not have gurkhas guarding our front door or escorting us to work.

With high salary & power comes with big responsibilities. DPM needs to be a gentleman and take the bullet for the snafu.

Pls read what the world is reading.


Mr Darren said...

The guard heard the sound of running water, but did not react to that either.

Where is the source of the running water? Inside the urinal cubicle presumably, but why is there a tap in there and how long was the tap running? Where did the water go if there was no wash basin in the cubicle? If the urinal kept flushing shouldn't the guard have been suspicious?

If the tap was not running, why didn't the guard standing next to the cubicle hear the noise MS made when he climbed out of the window?

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Hansolo -

According to the report, it is not actually known how he left the compound and got past the fence. Climbing up to the roof of the walkway was only said to be the likeliest possibility.

Mr Darren -

There was a tap located between the 2 urinals. Muslims need it to wash their penis after urinating.

yuen said...

the root problem is the culture of doing what you are told by the boss or by the rulebook, and not exercising thought of your own; a case of reaping what you sow

Anonymous said...


Thank you for another insightful perspectives to what the authorities tell us. U have raised a Very Important point regarding failure of management and the failure of WKS response to address the management failures. In this case, the easy way was chosen , that is blame it on the obvious.

BTW, just by looking at the picture , its highly possible to scale up the low fence onto the walkway roof and from there jump over the section where the 2 fence meet at the farend. However, why was the fence so low and not even laced with proper razor wire (can be overcome with clothing or blanket over it) or the new type of razor spikes? The issue is management failure. Man on the gground can only suggest but the ultimate decesion maker is still management.

Thank you YB, keep up the great writing, OH! love your analysis of the election with bell curves (I just started learning the SPSS package, wish u were my lecturer). Errr...i still don't quite understand it, give me some time to understand the significance of the technical terms used.

Anonymous said...


Guantanamo makes our WRDC looks and feels like a holiday chalet in some tropical island paradise. No CCTV, No Grills, No Guard Dogs, No constant monitoring, almost nothing except some half hearted attempt at incarceration.

All these soft approach and so called "rehabilitation" bull don't really work. In the end, it caused a "silly" and "incredible" embarrassment to the government and our reputation is not only dented, it crumbled.

Not only is Al Qaeda laughing, the US is also probably embarrassed to have such an incompetent ally in a violent, terrorists infested part of the world. We need to send our "complacent" key personnel to learn from Uncle Sam starting with a rudimentary lesson in dealing with dangerous minds. I hate to say this but even Indonesia does a better job.

Two thumbs down for the WRDC, probably the world's softest, most luxurious political detention centre.

Two thumbs up for Mr. Mas Selamet's "technical brilliance" in executing Singapore's great escape. Admittedly, even a duffer could have done it!

An enterprising film maker may want to make a film out of it. That's the easy part. The hard part is deciding whether to classify it under the "thriller" or "comedy" genre.

Anonymous said...

Without CCTV, what we are fed with is just pure speculation. Simple as that!

Robert L said...

The Commission of Inquiry would have done a successful job if it's intention were to confuse the public.

Exhibit 1 - Toilet rolls
The COI mentioned that the bag of 7 toilet rolls could have been used to cushion the fall from the toilet window. We are left wondering how did Mas S get a bag of 7 toilet rolls inside a urinal stall of the toilet? And did they conduct a test to see if the sound of water can cover up the noise of the toilet rolls thrown down? Or were the rolls laid there by an accomplice?

Exhibit 2 - Weakness in fencing
The COI identified the likely route of escape as the point where the walkway roof merges with perimeter fencing. However, elsewhere, we learn that Mas S is blindfolded whenever he is taken out from his cell block. So we are left wondering how he could have planned his escape route and got to know the location where there is a point of weakness. Was he briefed by an accomplice?

Exhibit 3 - The eleven minutes delay
Look at the photo again - the urinal door does not meet the ceiling. There is an empty space above the door looking like half meter before you reach the ceiling. What would a normal person do if he knocks on the door and Mas S does not respond? It is reasonable to expect that they already looked inside and saw the stall was empty even before they broke down the door. So what's going on?

Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly sympathetic to the guards or ISD officials who will be disciplined. The Whitley Road Detention Centre has apparently been mentioned in many Amnesty International reports as the site of many torture/beatings of detainees in the 70's and 80's and as the laws have not changed since then, we have no reason to believe that that still doesn't happen there. Those people working for them should be ashamed of themselves, working as police in a police state. Once Singapore is a democracy, perhaps these secretive detention centres can be dismantled and opened to international and NGO scrutiny. Anyway, I don't think we have any basis to compare this facility to Guantanamo. Conditions could very well be just as bad, or worse, since Guantanamo is ultimately subject to judicial oversight in the US. Does this facility or detainees there have any judicial oversight/review?

hugewhaleshark said...

This one really took the cake for me:

"Ms Lim later asked Mr Lee why the Government had not set up a Presidential Inquiry to investigate Mas Selamat's escape, in place of the Commission of Inquiry(COI) under Mr Wong, whose department was being investigated.

Mr Lee said the COI commissioned by the minister was adequate, as only one person had escaped."

What kind of an answer is that?

I also don't appreciate the bashing of opposition MPs who are asking reasonable questions. Mr Chiam does not have to be a dog expert to ask for clarification on why tracker dogs were used. Neither does Mr Low's silence on whether Mr Wong needs to resign mean that he doesn't (or does).

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Could you or anyone comment on PM's behavior the day before in the Parliament?

He seemed to have lost his cool and no one reported what he said.

Anonymous said...

On two previous occasions I complained about our police officers - one who lied outright to me about the follow-up on a complaint, and the second when a summons to smokers could not be issued because officers on the scene took down the US addresses of 5 American teenagers. In both instances, I was told by the superior officers at the Queenstown police station that they were satisfied the officers had followed SOP. SOP? To be unable to vet the information provided, and ensure that action is possible? By the way, the students were caught in the act, and were all students at the Singapore American School. They must all be laughing at us Singaporeans.

Perhaps if those in senior positions took these small lapses seriously, and acted to squash them sooner, Mas Selamat would still be in custody. As it stands, given the quality of our police's information gathering skills, I am not surprised he is still at large.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,
I find it ridiculous that the government in their effort to explain why Ministers should be paid such high salaries say that they should be compared to CEOs in the private sector BUT unlike the private sector that "removes" ineffective CEOs, the Government absolves the Minister of all blame in the Mas Selamat case and starts putting the blame on those below him. What's wrong with this picture??

yuen said...

one curious point: if he planned his escape carefully before hand, then he would have asked his family to contact some follower and arrange a vehicle to pick him up; so the ST report of a woman siting him in the street wandering around must be incorrect? the alternative explanation is that the pickup plan fell through and after getting out of the detention centre, he found himself alone in the streets not knowing what to do

Yawning Bread Sampler said...


The so-called sighting by a woman driver of Mas Selamat along Thomson Road is not credible at all. She described a "scruffy", "dishevelled" man with brownish clothes, looking disoriented about an hour or so after the time of the escape.

She told reporters, "There was a side profile picture in the papers, and it looked like him. He wasn't clean shaven, had a beard, and looked scruffy."

See here

From the COI report, mas Selamat had shaved, freshened up and certainly discarded his long pants by 4 pm.

Robert L said...

There may be various lapses that Wong Kan Seng can claim no direct involvement, but the one thing he is directly involved in is his presentation of the COI's findings to Parliament.

And look at the numerous flaws that he presented. Not the flaws in securing Mas S, but the flaws in thinking and logic in investigating the escape.

The Gurkha not looking into the stall through the huge gap above the door; the mysterious toilet rolls; the escape route at the one and only weak point of the fencing when Mas S had been blindfolded when he leaves his cellblock.

More on the escape route. If Mas S had indeed used the top of the walkway roof and jumped over the fence, I cannot believe that they cannot find any traces or forensic evidence. The roof of a walkway is a place that nobody goes. If one person walks there, it is inevitable that he leaves some marks on the undisturbed surface. And at the only point that allows him to jump, there must be signs on the ground where he lands. At least bring the sniffer dogs to this patch of ground.

If they can establish that there is no other points of weakness of the fencing, then what remains is the main gate. How can any fool not see that? And he insisted that there was no accomplice.

Of course, that assumes that Mas S did really escape. And that brings Wong Kan Seng directly to another big blunder. He had the best opportunity, in front of nationwide TV, to answer if Mas S was really already dead. He failed to do so, and we can never, never forgive him for this miserable lapse.

Does Wong Kan Seng think he is playing games? If so, it would be better if he plays marbles in the playground with other children, not make a fool of himself in Parliament. Does he not realise that, regardless of who put up that question, he is not answering the questioner alone, he would have been answering all the bloggers and half the population of Singapore. What a small mind he has, if he thought he is answering Mr Low TK.

Yes, Wong Kan Seng can try and distance himself from alleged mistakes made by others, but he cannot hide from the dismal mistakes made by him whenever he gets into the picture.

Anonymous said...

Who is to blame? My take is that the guards are only partially responsible. Management should shoulder the majority of the blame.

My reasoning is as such:

The guards let Mas Selamat out of their sight. Apparently this is not an abnormality but a standard practice in WRDC. Others have also left the fugitive out of their sight, but without similar consequences because they were lucky. Thus why penalize the guards? The likely reason why they were so lax is because management did not make it a point to do proper training, discipline, etc.

The window has no grills on them. This was pointed out to management but the appropriate action was not taken. Why is this so? One possible reason is due to cost concern. Is there directive from higher authority regarding cost control? If yes, somebody obviously got their priority wrong.

It seems that there are inherent weaknesses in the entire design of WRDC. Fences that are too near physical structure is just one example. What is the rationale for choosing Whitley Road as the place for keeping such important prisoners? Shouldn’t they be bundled into some remote island instead or at least somewhere with high walls? Again a management oversight.

No regular security audit was done to that place. The camp commandant did not deem it necessary to conduct one. However, shouldn’t the ministry insist as some sort of policy guideline? Do they ever evaluate the security of the various detention centre and prisons? It also led me to wonder how senior ISD officers are evaluated. Were they promoted because they did a good job saving cost or were they promoted because they have the foresight to suggest and implement changes that enhances the security and other aspects of operation. Whatever the case, who promoted these people? Well, if you give them the responsibility, you shoulder part of the blame.

At the end of the day, no one single mistake allows Mas Selamt to escape. Instead it is a confluence of errors from guards letting the prisoner out of their sight, no immediate action taken to check on the prisoner, no grills in the toilet window, no security camera, fence that is too low and near physical structure, the rampant trampling of the grounds such that guard dogs are ineffective, wrong information given to the public, etc. So many errors and you call it an honest mistake? Seems more like incompetence and lack of proper training and coordination. Is there even an SOP for prisoner escape, I wonder? Somebody rightly pointed out that there were several rolls of toilet paper on the ground, supposedly to break the fall. I don’t know about you but so far maximum I have only seen max 2 rolls of toilet paper in all my years visiting the toilet. Either Mr. Selamat has been accumulating toilet rolls every time he has a family visits or somebody is providing him with some supply.

WKS has been the minister for Home Affairs for a number of years (since 1994). If he has just taken over the portfolio, we need to give him some time to sort out the various issues. Since he has been in charge for such a long time, it seems to me that he is part of the problem.

All these problems and WKS blame the guards? Whether he should resign due to this fiasco is not for me to say or suggest. However, I think he will definitely learn from this mistake.

Anonymous said...

can anyone tell us the background and history of WKS?

Anonymous said...

It wasn't a convincing explanation by Mr.W K S in parliament.Even school children cannot accept the facts he gathered in explaning all the shortfalls.Instead,he blamed the WRDC set-up and the junior staffs involved.
Verdit: He should be sacked and not ask to resign instead.

( ST shd do a survey on publics' opinions )

Anonymous said...

IMHO, the one who made the real Great Escape was not Mas Selamat, but Wong Kan Seng. Escape from taking ultimate responsibility for his Ministry's management failures and for the human errors of his subordinates in this case.