Responsibility and Accountability (Mt. Kinabalu)

[Above Image from Yahoo]

Several students and a teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School were killed in the recent Sabah quake.

I was quite shocked to read an overly defensive comment which compared climbing Mt. Kinabalu to “walking up Bukit Timah Hill.”

For starters, a “hill” is defined as “a naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain.” Mt. Kinabalu is 4,095 m while Bukit Timah Hill is 164m. A comparison of maps between the mountain and hill also show the difference in terms of scale and associated terrain.

A seismology expert, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, 54, said the threat of an earthquake in Malaysia cannot be ignored, including “Sabah and Sarawak [which] are located close to the earthquake zone of South Philippines and North Sulawesi.”

Earthquakes have erupted at Mount Kinabalu every year for at least the past 10 years, and the route has been described as a very rough trek.


[Image from Redwire Times]

Some comments from people who have been on the mountain before:

1) “I climbed the mountain before. I must say I was shocked for a school to embark on such an expedition trip for primary students.” — Randy Chong

2) “I was there on 5-6 may this year. I personally think this is a bit challenging for young children of such ages. Deepest condolences to victims’ families. — David Chia

3) “My 39 yr old daughter went there two weeks before the quake. She said she would not approve if any of her kids would want to take the expedition. What information was given to parents that made them approved their kids for this expedition?” — Mr. A

I have read quite a few comments which say that the authorities cannot be blamed for a natural disaster.

It is true that people cannot be blamed for the actual occurrence of the earthquake. The question is why young children are being approved to be sent to this mountain for “school excursions” when this area is a known danger zone.

Take for example, texting and driving. Just because a person drives and texts once and doesn’t get into trouble, doesn’t mean they’ll always have luck on their side. A tragic end sometimes comes sooner rather than later, and it is especially tragic when the situation is avoidable. Why would any parent want to put their child in a risky situation in the first place?

Some quotes by parents which reflect this view:

1) “People are saying no one could have predicted the quake and that it could well have struck Disneyland Tokyo. So we shouldn’t criticize the school or ask for a ban on such overseas excursions. I beg to differ as a parent. . .No incident doesn’t mean there will never be one. Try telling those grieving parents, ‘Accidents bound to happen, lah!’ And why in the world are primary school kids climbing mountains overseas?”
Andrew Tan

2) “PM Lee, I urge your good self and MOE to review allowing our primary school children to embark on such perilous trips. In our days, excursions were none other than Pulau Ubin or St John Island. Even though this is a natural disaster, the burden of failing their parents are simply too great on the teachers and schools.” — Lance Foo

3) “Please instruct MOE to seriously review school excursions for primary school kids. They are too young to go for such high risk adventures. It is tough for parents to say no to enthusiastic young children who don’t understand the risk involved. There are many other ways for leadership development. There’s an appropriate age and time for different types of school trips.” — Kareen Leow

4) “I sincerely urge MOE to commission a thorough review on the countries and necessity of such trips for “whatever valid reasons.” I am 100% sure if PM commission MOE for a COI, there will be 101 ways to improve on it.” — Freddy Choo

The MOE’s website states that there are several measures in place to enhance road safety around Singapore schools, as well as safety in the conduct of school sports, safety during hazy days, tree safety, and fire safety. This page on guidelines and procedures on school excursions (adapted from MOE Guidelines) states that “the authority to approve such excursions [and/or field trips] is delegated to principals.”

This was not an excursion organised by parents as an out-of-school overseas trip. If it were, then the responsibility for the safety of the children would fall on the parents and not other authorities who approved the excursion.

The website of The Department of Education and Training (Victoria, Australia) clearly states a policy to “ensure [school] excursions are planned and approved appropriately.” It goes on to say that the excursion planning and approval process should take into account “the suitability of the environment and/or venue for the excursion,” and the “assessment of excursion risks” in terms of safety, emergency and risk management.

A quick glance at the Dutch ministries states that The Ministry of Security and Justice is responsible for justice and public safety in the Netherlands.

Minister for Education Mr Heng Swee Keat’s and PM Lee Hsien Loong’s public statements on the matter — despite their emotional appeal — leave much to be desired.

A government’s job is to govern (i.e. to make and administer the public policy and affairs of a state). Singapore’s ministers are among the best paid in the world.

Surely they can thus be expected to be responsible and be held accountable when it comes to governance.

One thought on “Responsibility and Accountability (Mt. Kinabalu)

  1. Here is a classic from a Minister in Malaysia after the destruction of MH 17 over battle-ground Eastern Ukraine,
    ” No one told us not to fly there.” My father did not tell me not to drive if I have no driving licence ! My favourite American President Harry S Truman had a paper weight on his desk inscribed, ” The buck stops here.”


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