'Broad-ranging' review of COVID-19 response more appropriate than Commission of Inquiry: Teo Chee Hean to Pritam Singh

'Broad-ranging' review of COVID-19 response more appropriate than Commission of Inquiry: Teo Chee Hean to Pritam Singh

Masked pedestrians at orchard road
Pedestrians donning face masks crossing a road. (File photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: A “broad-ranging” after-action review would be more appropriate than a Commission of Inquiry to look into the Government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said in Parliament on Monday (Jul 5).

Mr Teo was responding to a question from Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on whether the Government would commit to setting up a Commission of Inquiry to review its response to COVID-19 and, if so, when will this inquiry take place.

Mr Teo said that, in his experience, a Commission of Inquiry is best-suited to look into a “singular” event such as a building collapse or major accident.

“I don't think the pandemic fits well into such a situation. It’s an ongoing and evolving event, it’s not over yet,” he said.

However, he said that a “full” after-action review would have to wait until the situation has stabilised, and Singapore is “out of the woods”, adding that the purpose of the review is for the country to learn “valuable” lessons to improve its response to future pandemics.

Mr Teo said: “We must thoroughly analyse and learn from our experience - the entire crisis in all its aspects, from start to finish.”

“We will certainly undertake a comprehensive after-action review. However, right now, our agencies remain in the thick of battle, their resources are totally committed, they're stretched, dealing with a pandemic,” he said.

He noted that Singapore is “constantly evaluating learning, innovating and building new capabilities and capacities to stay ahead of this fast-moving virus”.

He said that “many lessons” have already been learnt along the way because of ground experience. The agencies have adapted and adjusted their response to be more effective and also in response to the evolving virus, he said.

He gave examples of how Singapore had changed and adapted the ways it tested and ring-fenced cases, as well as its safe management practices and procedures for incoming travellers.

“We want participants in the after-action review to be open and forthcoming, to be reflective and thoughtful and be candid, on their experiences and decisions, to acknowledge shortcomings and where we could and should have done better,” he said.

The structure of the after-action review must fit this purpose, he said.

“A Commission of Inquiry, which is a quasi-judicial investigative tribunal is not the most appropriate way to achieve this objective,” he said.

In response, Mr Singh cited countries like the United Kingdom and Australia which have already prepared reports on the Government’s handling of the pandemic. He asked Mr Teo what shape and form of review the Government is considering, and noted that matters of public policy and multi-agency issues of great public concern can be subject to a Commission of Inquiry.

Mr Teo said that the Government has not determined the “precise form” of the review, but that it would “certainly want to learn all the lessons that we have, including those which can be submitted by members of the public who have views and informed views particularly”.

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Source: CNA/ja(ac)

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