Singapore’s great escape by Jufrie Mahmood, Singapore Democrats, 27 Mar 2008

It is exactly one month today since Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Internal Security Department (ISD) Whitley Road Detention Centre. While we await the findings of the Government appointed “independent” Committee of Inquiry.

I have not stopped wondering how the escape could have taken place. It is next to impossible for any detainee at the centre to escape. And I am saying this from personal experience.

I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) sometime in 1979 for an offence I did not commit. I was then a translator attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Prior to my transfer to the CID I was serving in the same post in the ISD. I was unceremoniously transferred to the CID after being accused of having pro-opposition sentiments.

I had privately voiced out my disagreement towards certain government policies which I felt was discriminatory and against the spirit of multi-racialism. I was only being honest about my disgust for such policies. I was, of course, found not suitable for the ISD and thus transferred to the CID.

Not long after working in the CID, I was arrested and detained without trial. The authorities said that they had “found” some anti-government petition circulated to many organizations. The petition, I was told, was some sort of protest against the detention of a group of university students and had contained information about the ISD.

The Government’s immediate response was to arrest me. They thought I was responsible for drafting and circulating the petition. Actually the petition was drafted and circulated by a colleague, a fellow translator in the CID, who got so worked up over the detention of some of his friends, many of whom were university undergraduates.

Among those rounded up was Mr. Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex PAP MP who stepped down during the last GE. The ISD found out after I was already detained that the author of the petition was indeed my colleague, now deceased, and that I was not aware of its existence because it was drafted and circulated while I was on leave and absent from the office.

Nevertheless, I was charged under the Official Secrets Act for revealing ISD operational methods to the my colleague and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. After some two months in Whitley Road Detention Centre I was moved to Queenstown Remand Prison. I was released after six months for good conduct.

So as I had said, I am giving a first-hand account about the tight security at the detention centre. All movements in the centre are closely monitored. When a detainee needs to move from one station to another within the compound for further interrogation or for other purposes, he is physically escorted. The gurkha guards will hold the detainee’s hands tightly while moving from one station to another. When he goes for a toilet break the guards would stand guard outside the toilet entrance. And since toilets are not situated near or abutting the perimeter wall/fencing, escape is practically impossible.

That being the case I can think of three possible reasons that could have led to the escape – that is, assuming the escape really took place:

1. Some party or parties were in cahoots with, and assisted, Mas Selamat in staging his escape. If this is the case there seems to be a breakdown in the system of screening security personnel. This is indeed a very serious development.

2. For reasons only known to the powers that be Mas Selamat was deliberately let loose.

3. Mas Selamat has magical powers which he may have acquired through long hours of meditation during his solitary confinement.

In the meantime the Minister-in-Charge Mr Wong Kan Seng should take full responsibility for this embarrassing episode. I do not detect any signs of regret in his demeanour when making public statements concerning the case. He appears to be as cocky as ever.

Ministers who are quick to claim credit for Singapore’s achievements must also be as quick in taking the blame for any shortcoming. The economic costs resulting from the delays and traffic jams at the causeway will easily run into tens of millions of dollars.

Thus far the response by our security officials have been less than assuring and lacks professionalism. If the government is to be believed, Mas Selamat is a very dangerous individual. He is not a petty thief. But the immediate response to his escape smacks of a tidak apa (the devil may care) attitude.

If I remember correctly it took the authorities four hours before they decided to inform and engage the public, one whole week before telling the public what clothes Mas Selamat was wearing and another few days to release information that his limp would only be obvious when he runs.

I wonder at what point of time was the Home Affairs Minister informed of the “escape”, and having been informed, what his first reaction was and what directions he gave to his officers. This is very important because Singaporeans need to know the true quality of their leaders which is only evident in times of crises. After all, we citizens have been forced to accept the argument that our ministers are world class and should be paid handsomely.

I would like to suggest that the Minister for Home Affairs volunteers to have his pay cut by $1,000 for every day that Mas Selamat is not caught. And since the cabinet claims to take collective responsibility, other cabinet ministers can join him and have their pay cut as well.

The longer Mas Selamat remains free, the more money will be accumulated which can then be used to help the poor. This can also serve to mitigate PAP policies where the Poor Also Pay. Yes that has always been the PAP philosophy – the Poor Also Pay.

Coming back to Mas Selamat, if he is rearrested the Government should put him on trial. Let the world hear his side of the story. Let him defend himself in court. If after due process of law the evidence shows that indeed he is guilty, then let the law take its course.

In my opinion it is not that simple to seize a plane, pilot it over a distance and crash it into a building. According to information supplied by the authorities Mas Selamat is only a trained mechanic. Since when can a mechanic, acting alone, pilot a plane without first undergoing any formal or informal training. If the authorities have information on Mas Selamat’s flight training lessons, they have not told the public. We only keep hearing the mantra that “Mas Selamat tried to crash a plane into Changi Airport”. The people who crashed the planes into the world trade centre on 9/11 underwent months of training to learn to fly the planes.

Let Singaporeans hear the truth – on how he managed to do the impossible of escaping from the Whitley Detention Centre, the whole truth – including how he was going to fly a plane to crash into Changi Airport, and nothing but the truth – from the man himself and not some Committee of Inquiry.

Mr Jufrie was an opposition candidate in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 general elections.