Govt will conduct review of Covid-19 response, COI not an appropriate format: Teo Chee Hean

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said the After Action Review should be open and forthcoming. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - There will be a wide-ranging review of the Government's Covid-19 response after the situation has stabilised, to allow Singapore to learn valuable lessons and improve its response for future pandemics.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean announced plans for an After Action Review (AAR) on Monday (July 5) in response to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, who had asked if the Government will commit to setting up a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to review its response to Covid-19.

Mr Teo, who is the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said the AAR should be open and forthcoming. It should also acknowledge shortcomings on where the Government could and should have done better, even as it analyses successes.

"We certainly want to learn all the lessons that we (can)... including those which can be submitted by members of the public who have views, and informed views particularly," he added.

But as Singapore is still in the thick of the battle against Covid-19, this AAR will have to wait till the country is out of the woods, he said.

He added that while the Government has not yet determined the precise form such a review will take, a COI, which is a quasi-judicial investigative tribunal that will include a current or former High Court judge, is not the most appropriate way to achieve this objective.

Mr Singh, the Workers' Party (WP) chief, acknowledged Mr Teo's points about the COI, but added such inquiries have also covered matters of public policy and multi-agency issues of grave public concern.

To this, Mr Teo said that in his experience, the COI is "probably best suited to look into a singular event that has occurred in a specific moment or instant in time", such as building collapses or major accidents.

"I don't think the pandemic fits well into such a situation. It is an ongoing and evolving event. It's not over yet, and in fact many lessons have already been learnt along the way... not necessarily through formal AARs or a COI, but because of actual ground experience, in which the agencies have adapted and adjusted their response," he said.

These adjustments were made not just to improve effectiveness, but also in response to the evolving virus and other evolving situations, he added.

Singapore has changed and adapted its testing and safe management procedures along the way, including those for incoming travellers, he noted.

Mr Singh subsequently pointed to Section Three of the Inquiries Act, which states that a commission may be appointed by the President for "any matter in which an inquiry would, in the opinion of the President, be for the public welfare or in the public interest".

In response, Mr Teo said the AAR is more broad-ranging than the COI, which is usually defined in a very specific way. "The Government intends to do a very broad-ranging AAR on all aspects, because there are many aspects to this particular pandemic from which we can learn good lessons for the future."

In May last year, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said the Government would comprehensively review the Covid-19 pandemic and its overall response to it - not just in terms of the outbreak in the dormitories, but also the entire crisis from start to finish.

This will help it learn and improve, he had told then Nominated MPs Walter Theseira and Anthea Ong, who asked if the Government would appoint a Committe of Inquiry to investigate the causes of the Covid-19 outbreak among foreign workers in dormitories.

A Committee of Inquiry is appointed by a minister, unlike a Commission of Inquiry which is appointed by the President. Commissions of Inquiry set up in the past had investigated issues such as
the Hotel New World collapse in 1986 and the Sentosa cable car accident in 1983.

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