National Service Deaths: Too little too late?

Despite waning interest in the recent National Service (NS) deaths, Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked in Parliament today if any form of ragging was allowed in the SAF and whether such activity was part of the recognised duties of any SAF officer.

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Apart from rolling his eyes on the resurgence of the issue, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen highlighted the following points in his reply:

 

1) Additional physical training as a form of informal punishment can only be meted out in accordance with stipulated guidelines and based on commanders’ seniority as prescribed in the SAF Joint Manpower Directive (4-4) on the Informal Punishment System.

So what exactly is this “SAF Joint Manpower Directive (4-4) on the Informal Punishment System”? Has anyone seen this set of guidelines before in NS? To make his reply more convincing, Minister Ng should have reproduced this set of guidelines for the public, so the ordinary you and me can understand what in the world he he talking about right?

In addition, we think the Basic Military Training (BMT) commanders should also conduct briefings to parents and new recruits on the punishment guidelines, as well as what they can and cannot do as punishment. This will create greater awareness on the amount/type of punishments that can be given by commanders. Hopefully, this will encourage recruits, with balls of steels, to actively question their commanders on the punishments meted out.

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2) For all activities, the safety of individual soldiers is paramount and commanders must take corrective measures to mitigate risks to their soldiers, where necessary.

 All commanders have to fully recognise and understand the importance of their role in ensuring the safety of the trainees under their charge. To prevent a repeat of the recent incidents,maybe MINDEF should take this opportunity to re-look at their training safety standards as well as improving the training of their commanders.

 How about having more security cameras installed at training areas to monitor the safety of trainings and catch commanders who abuse their power in action? These footages can also be used for training debrief purposes. CCTVs are already installed everywhere, surely Mindef with its deep pockets can develop some secured CCTV system that will be able to suit their high security needs?

 

3) Acts of humiliation are specifically prohibited.

Yes, “tekkan” or hazing sessions can be humiliating. However, nothing is more humiliating than having your photo circulating on the internet. Anyone remembers the meme of the sibei sian recruit which went viral? Or the numerous STOMP images of NSMen who occupy seats in public transport?

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What about the following image used by Channel News Asia of recruits training topless? What if the recruit pai seh leh? We doubt Mindef asked the boys for permission before the CNA photographer took the pictures lor!

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4) SAF soldiers are encouraged to report any unauthorised activity or punishment through their unit superiors, MINDEF Feedback Unit or the respective services’ safety hotlines.

You say only. Those who have attended NS will know that there are definitely cases of commanders who abuse their power, either through unauthorised activities or punishments. These cases often go unreported for fear further punishments by commanders. In some cases, the commanders might even conduct a “witch hunt” to find out the identity of the Bao Toh Kia (tale-teller) that reported the case. This might even result in the person getting ostracised by his peers.

 Lastly, tough training is definitely necessary in the SAF. However, MINDEF needs to do more to ensure that there are adequate safety training measures and guidelines in place.

Talk is cheap. Just stating all these is not enough. We hope Minister Ng and Mindef can walk the talk. Thankfully, with the prevalence of social media, the government/ authorities now feel pressured to enforce safety guidelines which may not have been strictly enforced in the past. We can only wait and see if there will be any more abuse/training-related deaths in the near future.

*Choy choy choy!*