SCDF ragging death: Commanders accountable for incidents on their watch, says division chief

The roles and responsibilities of high-ranking Singapore Civil Defence Force officers were set out during a testimony in court by Colonel Anthony Toh (above), commander of the 4th SCDF Division, on June 18, 2019. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Commanders are responsible for incidents that happen on their watch regardless of whether they are aware or not, and they must be held accountable.

The roles and responsibilities of high-ranking Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers were set out during a testimony in court on Tuesday (June 18) by Colonel Anthony Toh, commander of the 4th SCDF Division.

Taking the stand in the ongoing trial of two SCDF commanders linked to the drowning of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, a full-time national serviceman, Col Toh said: "The commander on duty must walk the ground, every corner of the station. If you walk the ground, the men would not have the opportunity to engage in horseplay because you could walk in on them anytime."

Responding to questions about the chain of command and responsibility in a fire station, he told the court that while those directly involved in an incident would be held accountable, the rota commanders would still bear overall responsibility for the actions of their men.

On May 13 last year, Cpl Kok, 22, drowned after he was pushed into the Tuas View Fire Station's pump well in a ragging incident that was part of activities to mark the completion of his national service.

The two on trial, Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40, a first senior warrant officer, were rota commander and deputy rota commander, respectively, on the night he died.

Chong and Nazhan were each charged with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission.

They were in charge of the fire station during the incident and had allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Cpl Kok enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.

In court, Col Toh, who has been with the force since 2005, also said there were 11 reported cases of ragging in the SCDF from 2010 to 2017.

One of the cases in 2010 involved the "kolam" ritual, where officers entered the fire station's pump well.

He said the SCDF defined ragging as "any form of action, be it physical or verbal, that would cause or is likely to cause bodily harm, injury or mental anguish" to a victim.

He was also shown video footage taken the night of Cpl Kok's death and asked to comment on what he would have done if he had witnessed such scenes.

In one video, a group of servicemen is seen carrying Cpl Kok across the fire station's yard towards the pump well.

"The right thing to do here is to stop such behaviour. If it is not stopped, it's an accident waiting to happen," said Col Toh, adding that he would have put a stop to it.

He also said this was a clear act of ragging because it could injure the one being carried.

The court had earlier heard that on the night of the incident, Chong had been in the nearby control room while officers carried Cpl Kok to the well.

At one point, he stuck his head out of the room's window to tell them not to record any video of the incident.

When shown another video where an individual identified as Nazhan is seen walking off after the group places Cpl Kok on the ground near the pump well, Col Toh said it was not an appropriate response for a commander at the scene.

During cross-examination, Nazhan's lawyer suggested that his client left the scene, as he thought nothing would happen because they had put Cpl Kok down.

In response, Col Toh said: "If the commander on the ground sees this and does not put a stop to it, he is not fit to be a commander."

He added: "Commanders on the ground are carefully chosen based on certain abilities. It is a huge and heavy responsibility. If you see something that is not authorised and don't put a stop to it, it's an accident waiting to happen, and in this case it did happen."

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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