Tighter discipline and safety rules following NSF deaths

Safety systems must be designed and enforced in a way that eliminates training deaths within the Singapore Armed Forces, said Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen.

Trust placed in Govt to keep enlistees safe during NS won't be taken lightly: Ministers

The trust that Singaporeans place in the Government to keep their children safe during national service will not be taken lightly, and commanders at all levels are responsible for ensuring safety.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made this pledge in Parliament yesterday as they revealed moves to tighten safety rules and discipline after deaths of two full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

One was a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier who died during training, and another a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who drowned after taking part in a prohibited ragging ritual.

Referring to the SAF case, Dr Ng said: "We must constantly improve the rigour of our safety systems. If we don't, it will mean another precious soldier lost to a family."

He said the External Review Panel on SAF Safety - an existing group comprising senior medical consultants and academics that scrutinises the military's safety management - will have a member appointed to Committees of Inquiry (COIs) to address potential lapses.

COIs are to submit reports to the panel, which will make the findings public after it reviews them.

Separately, Mr Shanmugam said new measures will be taken against unauthorised activities such as ragging, adding that more information will be released next week.

He stressed that it is the command's responsibility to ensure that unauthorised activities are not repeated. "Parents send their children to NS, they trust us. We have to maintain their trust."

The pledges come after the deaths of two NSFs within a fortnight.

On Sunday, SCDF Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, died after a ragging ritual went awry at Tuas View Fire Station. Criminal charges are "almost certain", Mr Shanmugam said. Two SCDF regulars have been arrested, with more being probed.

On April 30, Corporal First Class (CFC) Dave Lee Han Xuan, a 19-year-old Guardsman, died in hospital, close to two weeks after he displayed heat injuries during training.

A COI has been convened to in-vestigate his death. A coroner's inquiry may be held, pending the outcome of police investigations.

An external medical panel would also be set up to recommend how measures and policies in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on heat injuries can be improved.

Rumours had circulated online after news broke of CFC Lee's death that he and his fellow trainees were punished the night before an 8km fast march the following morning.

At his funeral, the NSF's mother called for an immediate halt to "tekan", or punishment, sessions.

Noting that there are accusations against CFC Lee's commanders, Dr Ng said the COI and police will fully investigate the circumstances to establish the facts.

"We will deal with any wrongdoing thoroughly. Those that deserve to be punished will be punished."

However, Dr Ng also urged caution against discouraging or unfairly punishing commanders who are executing their responsibilities dutifully.

"Because many commanders are national servicemen too, who take seriously this mission we in society have imposed on them - to train capable fighting units able to defend Singapore against all threats."

Yesterday, Dr Ng also shared findings from a coroner's inquiry conducted by the Australian authorities and a COI by the SAF into the death of Third Sergeant Gavin Chan, 21.

The vehicle commander died during an exercise in Queensland last September when the vehicle he was guiding landed on its side.

Dr Ng said the SAF has tightened training safety regulations accordingly, and introduced more training for armoured vehicle commanders over uneven terrain, among other things.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2018, with the headline 'Tighter discipline and safety rules following NSF deaths'. Print Edition | Subscribe