In a Parliamentary statement on Monday (February 11) Defence, Minister Ng Eng Hen apologized for the recent National Service spate of (NS) training deaths and pledged to hold the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) accountable for every soldier entrusted to them.
“I am deeply sorry for the loss of four precious NSmen (national servicemen) in the last 17 months. MINDEF and the SAF will hold ourselves accountable for every single NSman entrusted to us.”
The most recent death was that of NSman and Mediacorp actor Aloysius Pang. CPL (NS) Pang died on January 23 after sustaining injuries while carrying out repair work on a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) in New Zealand.
In November 2018, full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai died after a Bionix vehicle reversed into the Land Rover he was driving. In April 2018, NSF Dave Lee died nearly two weeks after showing signs of heat injury following an 8km fast march.
In September 2017, NSF Gavin Chan, 21, died after he was ejected from a Bionix during another overseas exercise in Queensland, Australia.
“This imperative of NS and our national defence does not absolve or reduce the accountability of MINDEF and the SAF in any way, to ensure safe training. On the contrary, it compels MINDEF and the SAF to do all that is humanly possible to prevent training deaths for NSmen because precious sons have been entrusted to us by their families.
Dr. Ng’s statement comes after MINDEF’s announcement of the establishment of an Inspector-General’s Office (IGO) to ensure a command emphasis on safety across all SAF units.
UNIT COMMANDERS PUNISHED FOR SAFETY LAPSES
Minister Ng announced that SAF unit commanders found to have committed safety lapses will be penalized during their performance review. However, he stopped short of addressing whether command responsibility would extend to the highest levels of SAF or MINDEF leadership in the forms of dismissals or resignations.
“Commanders of units which do not meet standards and have committed lapses in safety procedures and processes will have this marked against them in their performance reviews,”
TAIWAN AND SOUTH KOREA’S CASE
In Taiwan, the death of conscript soldier Hung Chung-Chiu sparked the resignation of Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu, an apology from President Ma Ying-jeou, public protests, and major reforms to Taiwan’s legal system including the abolition of court-martial during peacetime.
In South Korea, the death of a 23-year-old conscript in 2014 from peer abuse sparked similar nationwide outrage. The soldier was struck in the chest by his colleagues while he was eating some snacks, the army said. This reportedly caused a piece of food to obstruct his airway and he died from asphyxiation.
Korea’s Defence Ministry was flooded with angry letters from members of the public. In its wake, Korea’s Army Chief of Staff General Kwon Oh-Seong resigned.