Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament that national servicemen can report safety incidents and near-misses through a 24-hour safety hotline, and that unit commanders who do not meet safety standards will see these reflected in their performance reviews (Unit commanders will be penalised for safety lapses, Feb 12).
During my recent in-camp training, however, a speaker appealed to servicemen to "keep it within base", as calling the hotline would "cause trouble for the unit commander".
Dr Ng said that soldiers can highlight risky behaviour and safety breaches to their superiors without fear of reprisal, but this is difficult for servicemen to believe as it is in their immediate superiors' interests to discourage subordinates from reporting incidents to the higher-ups.
Reprisals can come in many forms after all, and it would be difficult to prove that, for example, the whistle-blower was intentionally assigned guard duty while the rest of his unit was able to book out.
Reporting safety incidents puts servicemen at risk of being targeted in this way.
I have even heard of commanders who claim that calling the safety hotline constitutes a chargeable offence due to a failure to follow the chain of command.
Can the Ministry of Defence clarify how safety whistle-blowers will be protected from reprisals?