VIDEO: Burmese Say NO To Constitution Outside Burmese Embassy In Singapore Monday, Apr 28 2008 

Related posts:

PHOTOS: Burmese Nationals Protest Constitution In Singapore

No voting NO: Burmese embassy staff contrive to disenfranchise voters

Affluent Singapore Feels Pinch Of Inflation At 26-year Highs Sunday, Apr 27 2008 

by Martin Abbugao, AFP, 27 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – From taking fewer taxi rides to eating out less and shortening shower time, residents of affluent Singapore are trying to cope with inflation, which has soared to 26-year highs.

Rising costs of housing, food, and transport have eaten into family budgets of Singaporeans as well as the large number of expatriates working in the city-state, consumers and analysts said.

Except for the ultra-rich, the impact of the sharp price increases has cut across social classes in one of Asia’s wealthiest nations, they said.

Government figures show Singapore’s annual inflation was at 6.7 percent in March, the highest since 1982, boosted by higher costs of food, transport, communications and housing.

The figure is more than double the inflation rate in Malaysia and higher than that of the Philippines, Hong Kong and Australia. Unlike bigger countries in the region, Singapore imports most of its needs.

“When the inflation rate is high, it affects everybody,” said Serena, a businesswoman who lives near the prime Orchard Road shopping and would only give her first name.

Serena said even affluent families like hers have had to adjust to the rising costs by eyeing grocery prices more closely, using the car less and eating in fancy restaurants only on special occasions.

“You have to differentiate between needs and wants, what is necessary and what is not necessary. If you can get something cheaper, you don’t have to go for branded (luxury) items,” she told AFP.

While soaring inflation in developing countries, amid a global food crisis, has left many struggling to feed their families, Singaporeans are dealing with the impact of price hikes in their own ways.

For Janice Tan, 35, who works at a travel agency, the soaring prices have forced members of her family to shower only once a day to cut their water bill. Water used to rinse vegetables is recycled to flush the toilet.

To reduce the electric bill, Tan said she told her maid to iron only office clothes — and just the parts that are visible.

“It’s a big deal for Singapore in that we have never had inflation higher than three percent,” said Euston Quah, head of the economics division at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“It hits the poor badly because the poor spend maybe 40, 50 percent of their income on food,” he said.

Quah sees inflation eventually easing to around 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year, while the government has forecast 2008 economic growth forecast of 4.0 to 6.0 percent.

Amin Sorr, 65, who works with a shipping firm, said life has become harder, especially for those earning less.

With a monthly salary of 3,000 Singapore dollars (2,200 US), Sorr said he can cope, but friends pulling in 2,000 dollars or less are struggling.

“I know a lot of friends who have problems with their water bills… and even personal credit lines.”

Local charities say rising food prices are also driving more Singaporeans, especially poor senior citizens, to join queues for free meals.

Salamah Salim, 40, who runs a food stall on the fringes of the business district, said: “Our expenses on food and rice have more than doubled over the past year. Rice and oil have risen tremendously.”

Even expatriate professionals, particularly those with less generous housing allowances and other benefits, have been hit.

As apartment rents surged, some moved their families from condominiums that come with swimming pools, gyms and barbecue pits to cheaper government-built flats without such resort-style amenities.

“They raised our rent by 150 percent after our contract expired late last year,” said a Filipino computer engineer, who transferred from a gated condominium to a government-built high-rise in the suburbs.

“I know several friends who have also made similar moves or are planning to move out once their leases expire,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Dee Pritchard, who works at the Australian International School, said that except for being more careful with the grocery shopping and giving the children fewer treats, nothing much has changed in her lifestyle.

“I’m lucky I’m not in the lower income (group) which would be suffering a lot more than I do really. But at the end of the week, the cash is less. There is less savings.”

PHOTOS: Burmese Nationals Protest Constitution In Singapore Sunday, Apr 27 2008 

Myanmar nationals protest constitution in Singapore, 27 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Myanmar nationals, many wearing red or t-shirts with the word “No”, gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Singapore on Sunday to protest against the country’s proposed new constitution.

27 Apr 2008 - 1

Myanmar nationals queue to vote, outside the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore April 27, 2008. Hundreds of Myanmar nationals gathered outside the embassy in Singapore on Sunday as they waited for their turn to vote in the country’s constitutional referendum. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and a public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.

According to Myanmar nationals outside the embassy, citizens living in Singapore can this week vote on whether to accept or reject a constitution written by the country’s military leaders.

But they said most of them were turned away because they lacked documentation such as a form certifying that they had paid their taxes.

“We are here to cast our votes. We will wait until we can vote,” said one of the waiting crowd, who said he was a student called James.

A female companion with him, who declined to be named, said the organizers provided the red t-shirts as well as drinks and snacks to people waiting outside the embassy.

The group, which at one point raised their Myanmar passports in the air to demonstrate their nationality, was well-organized, and largely peaceful, following instructions from the Singapore police to make way for passing traffic and clearing rubbish from the ground.

27 Apr 2008 - 3

Police officers stand outside the gates of the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

27 Apr 2008 - 2

27 Apr 2008 - 4

27 Apr 2008 - 5

Myanmar nationals hold up their passports outside the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Some monks were seen walking through the crowd.

An official from the Myanmar embassy declined comment when contacted, while Singapore police on the ground declined to speak to Reuters.

“We have the impression they don’t want us to vote,” said an organizer of the event who identified himself as William Thein. “People are very sure the junta will cheat. We can only wear these caps and t-shirts to show that the people are overwhelmingly against this unfair referendum.”

Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy has called for a rejection of the constitution, drafted over the last 14 years by an army-picked committee.

Other underground opposition groups are also pushing for the former Burma’s 53 million people to reject the charter. At least 60 people have been arrested in Myanmar for wearing t-shirts urging people to vote “No” in the May 10 constitutional referendum.

Toa Payoh tak boleh tahan lah!! Friday, Apr 25 2008 

Sign the Tak Boleh Tahan! petition on May Day in WKS’s constituency, Singapore Democrats, 24 Apr 2008

map-tbt at toa payoh

As announced, the SDP will be in Toa Payoh to commemorate International Workers’ Day on 1 May 08. The May Day event is part of the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign against rising costs in Singapore.

We will be asking residents of Toa Payoh to sign a petition calling on the Government to do something about the unbearable cost of living and to stop the exploitation of Singaporean workers.

Singapore Democrats and friends will be at Toa Payoh Central (next to the Toa Payoh Community Library) from 11 am to 6 pm next Thursday.

We will encourage Singaporeans to support the campaign by signing the petition (see below). The SDP will also visit the kopitiams and talk with residents about their difficulties in coping with the horrendous increase in prices.

We will also be distributing flyers showing how the ministers, all multi-millionaires, continue to make use of cheap foreign labour to suppress the wages of locals so that they can squeeze yet greater profit and revenue to feed their opulent lifestyles.

We will also be selling Tak Boleh Tahan! t-shirts and buttons. The aim is to turn the campaign into a national effort to stop the PAP from continuing its rapacious policies. Dr Chee Soon Juan’s books will also be on sale.

All in all, the occasion will be a meaningful one where we hope to raise the voice of Singaporeans so that the PAP will sit up and listen.

There is also the added factor that Toa Payoh is the constituency of Mr Wong Kan Seng. It is opportune to let the Government know that the Home Affairs Minister must be held accountable for his failures.

Whatever your reason, come down to Toa Payoh Central on 1 May to support the campaign and tell the Government: “Tak boleh tahan!”

The Tak Boleh Tahan! Petition

To: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

We, the undersigned, call on the Government to help the ordinary citizen cope with the crushing cost of living which is making life unbearable. The slew of price hikes over the past several months and the increase of the GST has caused inflation to sore to record levels.

Coupled with decreasing wages, many of our workers can’t even afford three square meals a day. Some can’t afford to pay for water and electricity. Many are homeless.

Given the dire circumstances, we call on you to:

1. Show that you understand our plight by not increasing your salary to such an exorbitant amount of $3.8 million a year. This works out to be more than $10,000 a day! Many of us will take a year just to make what you earn in a single day. Such an attitude is making the rich like you richer and the poor like us poorer.

2. Be more judicious in allowing foreign workers into Singapore. Our society and economy cannot sustain the indiscriminate influx of the so-called foreign talent. We cannot live on the kind of wages that foreigners can because, unlike them, we have to raise our families here.

3. Remember that many of our male Singaporeans have to serve National Service and thereafter return for reservist training for many years. Yet the foreign nationals, who do not have to make such sacrifices are getting all the jobs.

4. Release our hard-earned CPF savings. We are the biggest savers in the world and yet, we have the lowest retirement incomes compared to other countries. This is because you keep the HDB prices unaccountably high and then use all sorts of schemes to retain the little that is left in our savings. Compulsory annuity plan is the latest scheme.

5. Make public the information of the billions of our dollars that you conduct your businesses with through the GIC and Temasek. While you invest for the “long-term” many of us cannot afford to live decent lives and afford the soaring healthcare costs.

In veiw of these, we urge you to govern democratically and return to us our economic and political rights. Your policies are not benefiting us, the people. We say to you: “Tak boleh tahan!” and call on you to make things right.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Should Singaporean Youths be Allowed to Vote at 18?, Workers’ Party Youth Wing, 21 Apr 2008

The Workers’ Party Youth Wing is pleased to invite you to participate in the first of our YouthQuake Forums and partake in a discussion on how youths in Singapore can be encouraged to adopt and carry forward a refreshing new agenda on voting age.

This forum session seeks to educate, empower, and unite young people to bring youth-centric issues into the forefront of public discourse. It aims to provide an opportunity for youths to share their insights and opinions on promoting a vote @ 18 agenda in Singapore.

In order to assist us in the organisation of this forum, kindly confirm your attendance by emailing the Workers’ Party Youth Wing @ youthwing@wp.sg by 1st May 2008 (Thursday).

Date: 3 May 2008 (Sat)

Time: 1400 hrs – 1600 hrs. Please be seated by 1345 hrs

Venue: 216-G Syed Alwi Road #02-03

WP HQ{216-G Syed Alwi Road is near Farrer Park MRT (NE8). At the MRT station go to Exit G, walk 550 metres along Kitchener Road (turn right) and walk another 100 metres along Townshend Road. It is also relatively nearer to Lavender MRT (EW11). From the MRT station, exit opposite SIR building. Walk 450 metres diagonally across towards Jellicoe Road, French Road, King George Ave, Maude Road, Townshend Road. For those who drive, carpark lots are plentiful which consist of URA lots and a nearby HDB multi storey carpark. – I copied these directions from the old WP website: Pseudo}

The speakers for this event are:

1. Choo Zheng Xi: Zheng Xi will be speaking on the pros and cons of a vote @ 18 agenda.

2. Bernadette Tan: “A vote @18 agenda is more than a political issue. It’s a core social issue.”

3. Khairulanwar Zaini: Khairulanwar will be touching on the double standards adopted in Singapore of doing national service @ 18 while voting @ 21.

Speaker profiles:

Choo Zheng Xi is a second year student at the NUS Law Faculty. He was the youngest speaker to make his case at the Speaker’s Corner, taking to the soapbox in 2000 at the age of 14. His activism has since refined but he is no less passionate about youth involvement in the public sphere. Zheng Xi organized Myanmar Peace Awareness Day on all local campuses on August 2007. This involved public forums, red ribbon and armband distribution, and public petition signing. He is also the owner and Editor of TOC, a local online news and social commentary website with an established readership. He is currently involved in a blogger’s project to craft a position paper on deregulation to be submitted to the government. He looks forward to a day when youth involvement in public discourse will be the norm rather than the exception.

Bernadette Tan is 17 this year. Formerly from Methodist Girls’ School (MGS), she is currently in her first year at Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC). In MGS she represented the school in a variety of debating competitions. Now in ACJC she has continued her career as an orator, having already represented the school in the National Forensics League, an American oratory competition. She is the eldest daughter of Eric Tan, the WP East Coast candidate in the 2006 General Elections.

Khairulanwar Zaini is willingly defending the nation although he would be glad to be deprived of the honour for the next remaining ten months. He remains a silent sideline observer of the socio-political landscape in Singapore, sporadically becoming outraged at certain political developments and even more sporadically writes about opposition development at http://burningrepublicstate.wordpress.com. A liberal at heart, he awaits the day a Singaporean politician will campaign on themes of hope and love.

For Singapore To Maintain Mas Selamat Is Still In The Country Only Adds To The Embarrassment: Terrorism Expert Wednesday, Apr 23 2008 

Singapore’s most-wanted still at large two months after escape, AFP, 23 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Two months after an alleged Islamic militant leader escaped from custody, Singapore is the object of ridicule and admits the country’s reputation has been damaged by its failure to capture him.

Despite a massive manhunt, Southeast Asia’s most technologically advanced nation has been unable to track down Mas Selamat bin Kastari since he escaped by climbing out of a toilet window on February 27.

Observers say the incident has embarrassed the country that prides itself on rigorous anti-terrorist measures. Coordinating minister for national security S. Jayakumar has called the escape “a dent in Singapore’s reputation.”

The government accuses Kastari of plotting to hijack a plane in order to crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2001. He was never charged, but was being held under a law that allows for detention without trial.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told parliament on Monday that security agencies believe Kastari is still in Singapore, the smallest country in Southeast Asia with a population of 4.6 million.

But terrorism expert Clive Williams thinks otherwise, suspecting Kastari is somewhere in the vast archipelago of Indonesia, whose nearest islands are clearly visible from Singapore.

Williams, from the Australian Defence Force Academy, said that for Singapore to maintain Kastari is still in the country only adds to the embarrassment.

“It’s been a long time now and I would think that they would’ve searched every place that he’d likely be in Singapore,” Williams told AFP.

“It’s not a good reflection on the internal security system, is it?”

He called for an independent review of Singapore’s entire terrorism-related security structure.

The government has drafted in counter-terrorism units, the military and paramilitary Nepalese Gurkhas to search for Singapore’s most wanted man, whose face stares out from wanted posters on public buses, the walls of buildings, petrol stations and the subway system.

“Here we are seeking one man everywhere, and we can’t still find him,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, of the new opposition Reform Party, said with a smile.

Internet commentators responded with mocking humour to a government statement this week that the alleged Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader fled through an unsecured toilet window as guards stood outside the door.

Authorities blame JI for a string of regional attacks including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed 202 people.

Wong described Kastari as “a key figure in the terrorist network” and warned that if he could link up with other JI leaders they could plan an attack on the city-state.

Singaporeans do not seem so worried, but say his escape has shaken their faith in the country’s security system.

Tan Soo Eng, 32, a research associate, said the security lapse “shows that we are not really as safe as we think we are.”

Tan Hui Ching, an account executive, thinks Kastari has fled Singapore but adds: “Maybe Singapore is not that safe after all.”

The Straits Times reported that opposition member of parliament Low Thia Khiang asked Wong about “speculation that Mas Selamat died” inside the Whitley Road Detention Centre where he was held.

Wong replied that he saw no point in giving credence to such speculation, the newspaper said.

A committee of inquiry found that Kastari, who walks with a limp, escaped through the window of a bathroom where he was taken before a regular visit by his family.

Surveillance cameras that were not working, and a slow reaction from guards, contributed to Kastari’s flight, Wong said.

The report prompted much derision on the Internet, where popular Singapore blogger Mr. Brown posted pictures of toilets perched on a tricycle and motorised carts, saying he had thought Kastari might have escaped on something similar.

“But I was wrong. It was nothing THAT sophisticated,” he wrote.

The home affairs ministry has said Kastari fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against JI. He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 before being handed back to Singapore.

“Just as we found him the last time… so we will eventually again track him down, arrest him and detain him,” Wong vowed.

SDP Calls For Wong Kan Seng’s Resignation Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

Media Release: Mr Wong Kan Seng, resign, Singapore Democrats, 22 Apr 2008

The SDP has hitherto refrained from calling for Mr Wong Kan Seng’s resignation in the wake of the Mas Selamat fiasco even though a strong case could be made for it. We were waiting to see if Mr Wong showed any contrition for the debacle.

But the Minister has ducked, parried and done everything except assume responsibility for what happened. With the release of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) report and his utterances in Parliament, calling for Mr Wong’s resignation is now imperative.

We present the SDP’s case against the Minister and his top officers:

With the partial revelation of the security arrangements at the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC), it is clear that there was systemic failure within the operational structure of the facility. It was not just missteps on the part of lower-ranking police officers but rather wholesale negligence at the most senior levels.

If the COI report is to be believed, the junior officers should not be the only ones to bear responsibility of Mr Mas Selamat’s alleged escape.

For example, security fixtures such as the installation of window grilles is the responsibility of administrative planners, not Gurhka officers or Special Duty Operatives.

Likewise, the effective and fail-safe operation of the CCTV system is beyond the control of officers charged with the day-to-day guarding of the detainees.

Similarly, the guards cannot be responsible for the “cement ledge” that enabled Mr Selamat to climb out of the toilet or for the positioning of the so-called “weak perimeter fence.”

Such physical structures can only be put in place by planners and administrators of the Centre. Who in the Singapore Police Force is responsible for the installation, design or construction of the WRDC’s features?

The Director of the Internal Security Department and his superior the Commissioner of Police, of course. They, and not just those handling Mr Selamat, must be held accountable. There is no wriggle room here: Commissioner Koh Boon Hui and his ISD chief are culpable of the security meltdown. Their resignation is a must.

What about their political boss, Minister Wong Kan Seng? It may be argued that Mr Wong cannot be in charge of the minutiae of the running of the WRDC. It must be pointed out, however, that the “security lapses”, to use Mr Wong’s words, were not fleeting moments of distraction. The structural weaknesses within the ISD Centre were yawning holes waiting to be exploited.

For instance, how can the Minister-in-charge of prison security not tell his subordinates what must be the ABCs of prison security: Secure all windows and doors so that prisoners cannot run, walk, or crawl out through them to escape.

And didn’t he give a directive that surveillance cameras had to be working 24/7? He wouldn’t allow the CCTV cameras outside his own residence to be left unmonitored or the security personnel not guarding his home for any period of time, would he?

But this is not the end of Mr Wong’s culpability. His personal handling of the saga right from the get-go had incompetence written all over.

It took 49 seconds for Mr Selamat to escape, 11 minutes for the prison staff to realise this, but a whole four hours for Mr Wong to sound the alert to the public.

It took another week before his Ministry told people what the escapee was wearing. Then Mr Selamat was walking with a “distinct limp”, then that the limp was obvious only when he ran. Again this came only days after the escape during which time the prisoner could have already made his way to the North Pole.

One would have thought that within minutes after he was alerted of the escape, Mr Wong would have gathered his top security officials, collate data of the situation giving priority to the description of Mr Selamat and his possible whereabouts, and disseminate them to the public. This could all have been done within the first hour of the breakout.

But instead of acknowledging his own misjudgments and making a genuine effort to get to the bottom of the mess, the Minister cocks a snook at the public by appointing, or at least agreeing to the appointment of, his subordinate Deputy Secretary Dr Choong May Ling and former subordinate and police commissioner Mr Tee Tua Bah to sit on the three-member COI.

Has the Minister no self-respect to at least insist that the COI be not only independent of his influence but also seen to be so?

As a result the COI report, or the little that has been revealed, has been lampooned and ripped to shreds for its contradictory, incomplete and poorly explained findings. It raises more questions than answers.

The last straw for the Singapore Democrats is Mr Wong casting blame on the junior officers while not-so-subtlely exonerating himself. Mr Wong announced that junior officers “all the way up” to the supervisory and management levels of the WRDC will be disciplined and penalised.

He unabashedly avoids mentioning his own role in the episode. This is the hallmark of a man without honour and pride in his work and his responsibilities. When things go wrong leaders – true leaders – step up and take responsibility.

They don’t make fall guys of their subordinates to save their own skins.

In truth Mr Wong’s reputation is in tatters. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that he is unfit to continue with his job.

Mr Wong Kan Seng, the SDP calls on you to stop passing the blame. Enough is enough. It is not the officers, it is not the window, it is not the toilet. It is you. Now do the right and decent thing: Resign.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

COI Report Raises More Questions Than It Gives Answers Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

A Tour de Farce, Singapore Democrats, 21 Apr 2008

First, the Government appoints former civil servants and even a subordinate of Mr Wong Kan Seng to conduct an inquiry into the escape of suspected terrorist Mr Mas Selamat.

The Committee of Inquiry, or COI, then takes more than a month to conduct its work in secrecy.

It then writes a report that Mr Wong, who is responsible for Mr Mas Selamt’s escape in the first place, “agrees with and accepts.”

The farce continues…

The COI finds that the limping detainee is able to climb through a toilet window in a maximum security facility, climb down a water pipe, run 20 metres, scale another building and jump over a perimeter fence – all in 49 seconds.

For good measure, it just so happens that no one was monitoring the – not one but two – surveillance cameras during the time of the escape.

In addition, no one was watching the detainee change out of his prison garb into his own clothes. In a regular prison, prisoners are made to change under the watchful eyes of the guards. In addition, every time a prisoner leaves the cell for yard, he needs to strip bare for inspection. Yet, all this was not done at the ISD Centre.

That’s not all. A packet of seven toilet rolls were found. (Why would Mr Mas Selamat or his fellow JI detainees, being Malay Muslims, need toilet paper?)

Also, a close examination of the Straits Times photograph shows two urinals with no space for a latrine. Why would there be toilet paper in a cubicle without a latrine? And if there are only urinals, why would Mr Mas Selamat have to remove his trousers instead of just pulling it down like all males do when they urinate?

There doesn’t even seem that there is a tap in the cubicle. How did the detainee turn on a non-existent tap and leave it running?

The toilet paper, the COI tells us, could have been used by the prisoner to break his fall as he jumped out of the window. The SDP is surprised that the COI didn’t also report finding a ladder in the cubicle.

Let’s put things together:

1. The guard neglects to watch the prisoner as he changes out of his prison clothes.

2. Toilet rolls were left in the toilet which has no latrine and the prisoners don’t use them.

3. The guard sees the detainee “flipping” his trousers over the top of the door and doesn’t find it strange, and hears tap water running when there doesn’t seem to be a tap in the cubicle.

4. The prisoner knows exactly where to run to, scale a fence, climb a walkway and jump to freedom in less than one minute when he doesn’t have a clue as to the surroundings.

5. Two cameras are either not working or no one paid any attention to them during the escape.

What are the odds of the above all coming together at the same imperfect moment to facilitate Mr Mas Selamat’s escape? This Government must think that Singaporeans all just graduated from nursery school.

Let’s get real. Even if it is to be believed that two of the surveillance cameras were not being monitored, surely there must have been the tapes. What did they show? Did the COI not look at these?

Even if these two cameras were not monitored, or working, at the time of escape, there are other cameras within the detention centre which will capture the movement of the security officers immediately after the alert went out. What did these show?

Did the COI question doctors and medical professionals who attended to Mr Mas Selamat? If no, why not? If yes, what were their reports of the prisoner just prior to his escape? When did they last observe the detainee? What was his physical condition then? Can the COI confirm that reports show that Mr Selamat was still alive on or before 27 Feb 08?

It is even more bizarre that through all this, there is not any press report about what the detainee’s family think and feel. One would imagine that Mr Selamat’s parents, siblings or spouse who have something to say especially now that he has disappeared under the most mysterious of circumstances. And yet, there is only silence. What about the foreign press? Have they been prevented to interview the family?

This COI report raises more questions than it gives answers. There is just so much farce that people can take. Now tell us the truth.

Militant Escaped Without Trousers, Remains In Singapore Monday, Apr 21 2008 

By Melanie Lee and Daryl Loo, Reuters, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A suspected Islamic militant fled without his trousers from an unlocked toilet window at a Singapore detention centre, but is thought to be still in the city-state two months after his escape, the government said on Monday.

The infamous toilet

Urinal cubicle with ventilation window opened: Photos for Ministerial Statement from MHA. Click here for executive summary section of COI report. Click here for comments by Director of CID.

Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Wong Kan Seng, told parliament Mas Selamat bin Kastari could strike the city-state if he managed to hook up with the Jemaah Islamiah network, blamed for the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people.

Kastari, the suspected leader of the Singapore cell of al Qaeda-linked JI, flipped his trousers above the toilet cubicle door before escaping through a window, Wong said in a briefing to parliament on the investigation into the escape.

The infamous toilet window

“The guard had assumed that the urinal cubicle was a secure facility and that Mas Selamat could not escape from it. This assumption was wrong,” he said.

He said the two guards who escorted Kastari to the toilet had “failed in their duties” and the officers responsible would be “replaced”. The government has apologised for the security lapse but has not announced the dismissal of any senior officials.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” said Wong, who was grilled for more than two hours by parliamentarians.

Wong said Kastari had planned his escape “over time”.

Kastari had changed into a yellow baju kurung, or tunic-like Malay traditional dress, and trousers for a meeting with his family at the detention centre, but could have taken his detention clothes with him during the escape, Wong said.

The back of the infamous toilet

Rear of family visitation block

He said he was not sure how Kastari, who has a limp, managed to get over the double perimeter fence at the centre, but said he could have “exploited a weakness” in the fencing.

the fence

Increased Risk

Kastari was being held for allegedly plotting to crash a plane into Singapore’s airport, but had not been tried. Wong said he was still in Singapore and could attack the country.

“Throughout the search in the last seven weeks there were some findings or information that led to our security agencies believing that he is in Singapore,” Wong said.

Some experts have said that Kastari could try to return to Indonesia. If that happens, Wong said Singapore could face an increased risk of an attack.

“If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his JI friends, they could well launch some plans to attack Singapore.”

Kastari’s escape sparked a massive manhunt on the tiny city-state that saw Nepali Gurkhas combing forests and a global security alert from Interpol.

Wong said that the investigation into Kastari’s escape concluded that he received no help from the centre’s guards or staff and was not assisted by someone from the outside.

The escape was seen by some experts as highly embarrassing for Singapore, which prides itself on tight security. Wong said the authorities were considering building a new detention centre inside a prison.

Singapore, a strong U.S. ally and a major base for Western businesses, sees itself as a prime target in the region after it said it foiled JI plots in 2001 to attack its airport and other sites, including the U.S. embassy and the American Club.

*************

Singapore details terror suspect escape, Gillian Wong, AP, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AP) — An unsecured bathroom window and complacent guards allowed a top terror suspect to flee a high-security prison in February, Singapore’s deputy prime minister said Monday.

In announcing the results of a probe into the embarrassing escape, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said Mas Selamat Kastari, who allegedly once plotted to hijack an airplane and crash it into the city-state’s international airport, had planned his Feb. 27 escape over time.

Speaking in Parliament, Wong said Mas Selamat climbed out of a ventilation window of a toilet cubicle before a scheduled weekly visit with his family. The window did not have a grill on it, Wong said.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” Wong said.

Wong said there was no video recording of the escape since closed-circuit television coverage of the area was being upgraded to add motion detectors.

The escape triggered a monthlong nationwide manhunt in which police, special operations officers, elite Gurkha guards and soldiers combed the island nation’s forests. Border security was tightened.

Wong said the probe found no evidence suggesting that it was an inside job, but said the guards should have kept Mas Selamat in sight by preventing him from closing the cubicle door.

“Complacency, for whatever reason … had crept into the operating culture” at the detention center, Wong said.

Wong said the officers responsible for Mas Selamat’s escape would be disciplined, penalized and replaced.

Security breaches are rare in tightly controlled Singapore, an island nation of 4.5 million people that is a 45-minute boat ride from Indonesia where Mas Selamat is alleged to have links with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, blamed for a series of attacks that have killed more than 250 people since 2002.

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Wong said authorities believed Mas Selamat had not managed to flee the country, and that there is a risk the fugitive would launch a retaliative attack on the city-state.

“We consider him to be a key trigger in the terrorist network,” he said. “If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his (Jemaah Islamiyah) friends, they could well launch a revenge attack.”

Mas Selamat is said to be the former commander of the local arm of the Jemaah Islamiyah.

No LIVE Broadcast By CNA Of COI’s Findings On Mas Selamat’s Escape Monday, Apr 21 2008 

Parliament will be sitting in less then half an hour according to the Order Paper.

The highlight of today’s Parliament sitting are the ministerial statements: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, on the Committee of Inquiry (COI) Findings on Mas Selamat Kastari’s Escape AND Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Government Responsibility.

Channel News Asia (CNA), Singapore’s local pro-govt broadcaster, isn’t airing a LIVE broadcast of these two important statements in Parliament. Budget statements are broadcast LIVE every year. Even the statement on the controversial casino issue was broadcast LIVE.

Television reaches out, instantly, to many people. Therein lies the reason. Being Singaporeans, most of us know how CNA kisses-up to the PAP govt in its many reports. So its hardly surprising that CNA isn’t airing it LIVE so as not to embarrass our “great leaders” who can do no wrong. Our pro-govt local media is well-known in bending over backwards in order not to portray our “great leaders” in a negative light.

findings by mas selamat

Cartoon from my sketchbook

We deserve better but unfortunately we’re pretty much stuck with propagandists masquerading as journalists.

An update: Click here to read the Executive Summary. Its 6 pages and in PDF. Click here to read DPM Wong Kan Seng’s statement. Its 21 pages and in PDF.

Singapore Is Materially Rich, Spiritually Poor Saturday, Apr 19 2008 

by Luqman Suratman, AFP, 18 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore is materially rich but spiritually poor – and the government is partly to blame, one of the city-state’s most prominent authors says.

Catherine Lim, also a political commentator, is one of a very few to publicly criticise the government in Southeast Asia’s most economically advanced society.

Lim said that while Singapore is consistently ranked high in various surveys on material measures, such as business friendliness and economic achievement, the standings are reversed when other factors are considered.

“Press freedom, happiness and even love life and romance and so on, Singapore is ranked very low,” Lim said in an interview with AFP.

“Maybe it leads to some questions. Are we achieving all this material prosperity at the cost of something? Soul, spirit, heart, senses, whatever you want to call it?”

She said the government’s tight political control is partly to blame for a lack of happiness among the city-state’s 4.6 million people.

“If there were less of a climate of fear… we would be a happier society,” she said.

Singapore is one of the most politically stable countries in the region and has become the base for thousands of foreign firms.

The country’s leaders say its tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure such stability which has helped it achieve economic success.

It is illegal, for example, to hold a public gathering of five or more people in Singapore without a permit, meaning demonstrations seldom occur.

Singapore’s leaders maintain that Western-style liberal democracy is not suitable for the tiny, multi-racial nation which has been ruled by the People’s Action Party since 1959.

Lim said the government is doing much better than others in helping to deal with “material issues”, including rising global food prices.

“This is a very pro-active government… a very pragmatic, problem-solving leadership,” the Malaysian-born Lim, 66, said.

“The problem is in the other areas, political and social liberties that we don’t hear much of here in Singapore.”

Lim, who has lived in the city-state since 1967, spoke to AFP on the sidelines of a conference on The New Science of Happiness and Well-being, where she was invited to speak, and which ended Thursday.

Paris based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked the city-state at 146 out of 168 nations, lower than Zimbabwe at 140, on a global index of press freedom released last year.

Singapore has also placed at the lower end in global surveys of sex frequency and satisfaction.

A recent poll by advertising firm Grey Group found that nine in 10 people living in Singapore said they were stressed.

Singaporeans are not “unhappy in the real sense of the word as in poverty-stricken countries”, Lim said, but they seem to feel something is missing to complete their happiness.

“We need more time to relax. Singaporeans are always talking about pressure. We make money, but hey, we don’t have the leisure to spend our money.”

Lim has written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a book on poems. Her works have been published internationally.

Last year she also turned to the Internet, after the pro-government Straits Times refused to publish one of her commentaries, her website says.

The newspaper had, for 13 years, published her commentaries even though they were critical of the government, she wrote on the website.

But in September it rejected one on “the need for a political opening up”, the website says. The Today daily also refused to publish it, forcing her to go online, she says on the website.

Direct criticism of the government is rare in Singapore’s mainstream media, forcing dissatisfied Singaporeans to resort to the web to express their views.

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