Law Society, Mas Selamat and the ISA

27 Apr

As this blog has argued previously, the more important question, which should have arosed out of the escape of Mas Selamat, is the debate on abolishing the Internal Security Act (ISA). After all, the aforementioned detainee was imprisoned under the said legislation without given a fair trial, which is a travesty against human rights.

That this silence has continued to perpetuate is befuddling given that the Singapore’s law society has recently publicly announced that it intends to propose integrating the United Nations Human Rights Declarations (UNHDR) into local law books. Article 9 of the UNHDR explicitly states, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or exile. That no Singaporean blogs have pointed out this huge glaring discrepancy is extremely worrying.

Instead, what we witness are nitty gritty debates on who should be held responsible. Yawning Bread fleshed out the possibilities of the Gurkhas or the Senior Officers while Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), Siew Kum Hong, asserted that the government should show ‘clear, explicit acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility and apology’ though he falls short of calling for the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister, Wong Kan Seng. The Home Ministry overlooks the Internal Security Department which is responsible for ISA detainees, and henceforth, Mas Selamat.

Whether Wong should resign or not has unfortunately become the fierce subject of contention. To detract a little from my argument, perhaps a study of recent similar cases might prove helpful.

In the US, Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales resigned over several controversial issues including lying to the Senate on a leaked memo to the press which authorised torture. Under his leadership, his department was also accused of influencing the resignation of US attorneys who were impartial. The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, was also pressurized to resign by his own party members for failed leadership after the 2006 Lebanon War.

While it can be argued that Wong’s case is dissimilar to Alberto Gonzales or Olmert, the logic to calls for their resignation applies to the former. Both governmental officers face pressure to resign because of perceived failed leadership. In addition, both were embroiled in scandals that are seriously detrimental to either their office or the perceived reputation of their country.

Henceforth, if the Singapore government and its citizens perceive the escape of Mas Selamat to be extremely damaging to its reputation (which it is given the outcry from the local newspapers and blogosophere), then the leadership of the Home Affairs, which in this case, is held by Wong, should resign. After all, he is ultimately responsible, and not just for himself, but also his subordinates.

This is where Siew’s argument that Wong should not resign, falls flat on its face. If, as Siew argues furtively, for the need to have exemplary leadership, it must also include leading by example. Therefore, Wong should resign, followed by more resignations from his subordinates.

This ironically parallels to this posting’s earlier proposition on the Law Society.

If its new President, Michael Hwang has mentioned publicly that one of its projects is to study the extent of incorporating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Singapore’s law books, then he must also be held to his promise. The Singapore blogosophere has the obligation to remind Hwang and his leadership to be accountable to his words. One of the Society’s recommendation has to be the repeal of ISA for it contravenes Article 9 of the UNHDR.

The Escape of Mas Selamat opens up another (if not second) window of opportunity for that to happen given the storm has yet to die down. Hopefully, the bloggers will not disappoint and miss the big picture this time.


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