Friday, 18 May 2018

Ministerial Statement on National Service Training Deaths by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on 17 May 2018

Tighter discipline and safety rules following NSF deaths
Trust placed in Govt to keep enlistees safe during NS won't be taken lightly: Ministers
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

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 investigate 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.



















Safety rules to be tightened for armoured vehicle commanders
Move follows death of NSF in accident last Sept during military exercise in Australia
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will tighten training safety regulations for armoured vehicle commanders following the death of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) last September.

The tightened rules will limit the exposure of the vehicle commander's body to waist level when he is executing certain operational tasks in a vehicle, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

Last September, Third Sergeant Gavin Chan, 21, died during an annual military drill in Queensland, Australia, when the vehicle he was commanding landed on its side.

A Queensland coroner's report said it was unfortunate that he had positioned himself with a significant part of his body exposed outside the vehicle.

The Australian police did not find the vehicle defective, the coroner said, adding it was likely that the incident occurred due to 3SG Chan's decision to reverse on a slightly different path down the hill. As a result, he was ejected from the vehicle and suffered significant injuries when it landed on its side, said the coroner.



In his ministerial statement, Dr Ng said the SAF has followed up on the incident and implemented additional training for armoured vehicle commanders over uneven terrain. He said the findings from the Australian authorities are corroborated by those of a Committee of Inquiry convened to look into the incident.

But the committee also found that the night vision device on 3SG Chan's vehicle was not working.

According to training safety regulations, vehicle commanders should immediately stop the vehicle and stop participating in the exercise if the device is faulty.

The committee proposed that the SAF review training safety rules on the position of the armoured vehicle commander. It also recommended stronger compliance and checks on night vision devices, and penalising those who do not wear seat belts when a vehicle is moving.

In response, the SAF has implemented a drill to formalise the operational procedure for day-to-night and night-to-day transitions. This includes a check on night vision devices and other night-fighting equipment, said Dr Ng, adding that there will be checks on seat belts.

"Disciplinary actions will be taken against those found in breach of safety," he said.




 











Full investigations on but no need for witch-hunt, says Ng Eng Hen
By Tan Tam Mei and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

Facts will be established after investigations into training deaths are completed, and there is no need for a witch-hunt in the meantime, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

Speaking on measures taken by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) after two training deaths over the past year, Dr Ng said in his ministerial statement in Parliament that offenders will be punished when they are found to have breached safety rules or when they have placed others in danger.


"We want to assure the parents of any unfortunate national serviceman who has died that facts will be established," he said, emphasising that a full investigation will be conducted, with no cover-ups.


"Neither should we go on a witch-hunt if there are honest mistakes because the commanders are someone else's son too. Most of our SAF commanders are national servicemen...


"You want to strike a balance, you want to make sure that we in this House send the appropriate signal: Safety first, do your job. If you abuse your position, you will be punished. But if you do your job dutifully, all the facts will come out and you need not fear but continue to do your job."


Dr Ng was responding to Mr Murali Pillai's (Bukit Batok) question on investigation processes into the training deaths.


On April 30, Corporal First Class Dave Lee, 19, died in hospital after he displayed heat injuries during training. In September last year, Third Sergeant Gavin Chan, 21, died in an overseas military exercise when the vehicle he was guiding landed on its side.




Dr Ng addressed both deaths in his statement yesterday, and he said he was aware of accusations being made against CFC Lee's commanders. A Committee of Inquiry (COI) has been convened to look into CFC Lee's death. "We should let the independent COI and police fully investigate the circumstances to arrive at fact-based conclusions," he said.

A total of 13 MPs responded to Dr Ng's statement. They asked about investigation processes, suggested improvements to training safety and wanted to know about the suitability of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to be commanders in a question-and-answer session that lasted for about 25 minutes.


Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh asked if the Ministry of Defence would consider releasing COI reports as a form of closure to the public, with sensitive and operational details redacted. Dr Ng said that the ministry is prepared to do so, barring sensitive or security reasons.



Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) asked about the existence of a "tekan" culture during national service, referring to a phenomenon where NSFs might be given an extra hard time by their commanders or peers, such as more physical training and weekend duties. She asked if such a culture was allowed, whether there were channels for reporting and the range of punishments that would be meted out.

Dr Ng said that while the SAF wants its soldiers to be well-trained, it is not an excuse for commanders to abuse their positions.

"If it is not safe for whatever reason, it is wrong," said Dr Ng, noting that intentions are irrelevant when it comes to safety.

Commanders do not deserve to be leaders if they do not know how to protect their men, which the regulations are supposed to do, he added.

"You don't deserve to be a commander and you will be punished accordingly," Dr Ng said.

WP Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked if more training would be given to junior commanders. Dr Ng said that commanders have to go through safety training in cadet schools. He said MINDEF can consider Mr Tan's suggestion, but there is limited time to train every commander again.















External review panel evaluated SAF safety practices
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

The External Review Panel on SAF Safety (ERPSS) was set up in 2013 to assess various safety aspects of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) over a three-year tenure.


Its work included making visits to army, navy and air force units to evaluate safety practices and recommend improvements.


The first panel was chaired by Mr Alan Chan Heng Loon, former chief executive of Singapore Press Holdings. Its members included senior medical consultants, law firm partners and high-level civil servants.


During their tenure, panel members visited 14 SAF formations, units and exercises to observe their safety practices and recommend improvements.


After a three-year review, the inaugural panel found that SAF commanders strongly emphasised safety in their training.


Members also said that the SAF has invested substantially in safety, and its management systems are sound and aligned with external industry standards.




The SAF also provides good medical support and healthcare for its soldiers, members said.

Still, there were areas that could be improved.

For example, the military could further promote the open reporting of accidents through the range of channels that are in place.

Members also suggested that it might be useful to share best practices across SAF units, so that they can learn from one another.

According to a MINDEF statement in March last year, the SAF had accepted the panel's findings and it was in the process of implementing the recommendations.

The second ERPSS was formed in July last year.

Currently, it is being headed by Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, who was the chairman of the Workplace Safety and Health Council between April 2016 and March this year.

He was also a member of the inaugural panel.















Criminal proceedings almost certain in death of SCDF NSF, says Shanmugam
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

There will almost certainly be criminal proceedings taken over the death of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin.


Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said: "There will almost certainly be criminal proceedings. The Attorney-General's Chambers has told me that, after reviewing the facts at this stage.


"Based on the facts that I have seen, I think so too. There should be criminal charges."




The SCDF and Home Team agencies are relooking the rules and coming up with a new set of measures against ragging or unauthorised conduct, he said.


They will see what went wrong, and learn the lessons, looking into what more can be done to stop this behaviour, he added.


Referring to Corporal Kok's case, Mr Shanmugam said: "What I can say is that the conduct was unacceptable. It was a clear and serious violation of the rules, and there can be no excuse for the conduct."


Cpl Kok, 22, died after going through ragging activities that involved him getting into a fire station pump well. The Singapore permanent resident had been celebrating his impending operationally ready date (ORD) with station mates on Sunday, and was later found unconscious in the pump well.


The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said that among the officers involved in the ongoing police investigations, two SCDF regulars had been arrested and another four had their upcoming promotions withheld.




Speaking after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's statement about the recent NSF deaths in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam said there will almost certainly be criminal proceedings in Cpl Kok's case. MHA has released all the details it can at this stage.

Mr Shanmugam said there is also a fair bit of evidence about what had happened, including witnesses and other "objective evidence", but it would be inappropriate to go into details of the facts at this point.



A Board of Inquiry, which will look into Cpl Kok's death and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents, will be chaired by a senior director from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.


"Majority of the members will be from outside the government," said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the facts will be made public through court proceedings. "Everything that is relevant will be out."

Highlighting SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap's letter to SCDF officers earlier on Wednesday evening, Mr Shanmugam stressed that it was the command's responsibility to ensure that unauthorised activities, such as ragging, are not repeated.

"Parents send their children to NS, they trust us. We have to maintain their trust," he said.
















SCDF NSF's death: Promotions of four officers withheld: MHA
Police probe into pump-well death widens after earlier arrests
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

Police investigations into the death of a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) full-time national serviceman have widened to include more officers, with four having their promotions withheld.


Two regular SCDF officers, who were arrested on Monday in relation to the death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, will also be suspended from service on half-pay pending the outcome of investigations.


The duo - a First Warrant Officer and a Staff Sergeant - were Cpl Kok's colleagues who worked on the same shift duty at the fire station.


The four whose promotions are being withheld were supposed to move up the ranks on June 1, according to a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday that provided updates on Cpl Kok's case.


Cpl Kok, 22, died after he was found unconscious inside a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station on Sunday night.


The Singapore permanent resident had been celebrating his impending operationally ready date with his squad mates, which involved his getting into the pump well as part of ragging activities. He would have completed his service yesterday.




The MHA added that a Board of Inquiry (BOI) convened to look into his death and to make recommendations to prevent similar incidents will be chaired by a senior director from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.


The BOI will include members who are not from MHA or SCDF, and it will submit its report to the Minister for Home Affairs. Separately, the state coroner may call for an inquiry into the death. The Attorney-General's Chambers is also reviewing the case with a view to criminal proceedings.


The police arrested the two regular SCDF officers based on preliminary investigations into what happened, including how Cpl Kok fell into the pump well and whether anyone is criminally responsible.




SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap, in a letter yesterday to all officers, said unit commanders would be accountable and responsible for any unauthorised initiation or ragging activities by any personnel under their charge.


He added that he had personally briefed all commanders on Tuesday and underlined the importance of command responsibility.

"As an organisation, and as individuals, I am sure every one of us is grieved and horrified by this unfortunate incident. Each day, we put our lives at risk to protect and save lives and property. We pride ourselves on being the life-saving force," he said.




"But among us, there may be some who flout the rules, or turn a blind eye to unauthorised initiation or ragging activities being carried out by officers who clearly do not embrace our core values.


"Let me be clear about this - those of us who are aware of, or have seen such acts being carried out but yet do not stop or report these acts, also bear responsibility. We cannot condone or allow any wrongdoing."


 


Stressing that commanders are entrusted with the responsibility to look after the men and women who risk their lives every day, the commissioner said: "There must be zero tolerance for any officer who contravenes the rules, and we must take all necessary measures to eradicate such activities."

He pointed out that Cpl Kok would have completed his full-time national service yesterday and left the SCDF with a strong testimonial reflecting his good performance and outstanding conduct.


"Even as we mourn the loss of one of our own, we owe it to Cpl Kok to ensure that this must never happen again," he added.






















* SCDF to install metal grating over fire station pump wells and more CCTVs following NSF death
It also takes other measures to weed out ragging culture following death of NSF
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 24 May 2018

Metal grating will be installed across the openings of fire station pump wells and will be locked to prevent unauthorised access - one of several measures introduced by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to weed out a ragging culture that led to the death of a full-time national serviceman (NSF).

Other measures revealed yesterday in a statement by the SCDF include the expansion of closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera coverage at its premises to deter and detect unauthorised activities.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had said in Parliament last week that the SCDF and Home Team agencies would be reviewing and enhancing their measures following the death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, an NSF.

The Malaysian national and Singapore permanent resident, 22, died after going through ragging activities that involved him getting into a fire station pump well. He had been celebrating his impending operationally ready date with station mates on May 13, and was later found unconscious in the pump well.

A Board of Inquiry (BOI) has been convened to look into the incident.



Other measures include stiffer penalties for officers if they are found guilty of participating in any ragging or unauthorised initiation activities. Currently, NSFs or operationally ready national servicemen are liable to a detention sentence of up to 40 days, in addition to a demotion in rank.

SCDF regulars will also be disciplined under the Public Service Commission's disciplinary framework and are liable to be fined, demoted or dismissed from service.

These penalties will be extended to officers who are found to have been aware of such activities but did nothing to stop or report them.

As part of enhancements to command responsibility within the force, SCDF also said all unit commanders have been told they will be held personally accountable for ragging and unauthorised initiation activities that take place in their units.

Division commanders will also hold one-on-one sessions with commanders under them to ensure they are fully aware of their responsibilities. In addition, newly appointed commanders will have to undergo a training programme that will convey the expectations of command and advise them on detecting and preventing such activities.



A 24/7 hotline will also be set up to add to the existing whistle-blowing framework for officers to raise grievances and instances of misconduct within the organisation.

The force will also enhance feedback and monitoring channels by conducting one-to-one interviews fortnightly between NSFs and senior SCDF officers who are not based at the same station.

These will take place in the last three months of the NSF's service. Any case of unauthorised activities reported during these interviews will be raised to SCDF senior management for follow-up action.

Now, similar fortnightly interviews are held between NSFs and their supervisors during their first three months in a new unit. The sessions take place on a quarterly basis thereafter.

Existing initiatives against ragging and unauthorised initiation activities also include periodic briefings on anti-ragging awareness, and videos and posters to increase awareness of SCDF's zero-tolerance policy against ragging, it said in the release. The SCDF added it will also carefully consider any further recommendations from the BOI.





Enhanced measures to be taken
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 24 May 2018

Improved infrastructure

Metal grating will be installed across the opening of fire station pump wells, which will be locked to prevent unauthorised access.

Also, closed-circuit television coverage within SCDF premises will be expanded to deter and detect unauthorised activities.

Stiffer penalties

Penalties for engaging in ragging or unauthorised initiation activities will be extended to SCDF officers who are found to be aware of such activities but did not attempt to stop or report them.





New whistle-blowing hotline

A new 24/7 staff feedback helpline will enhance the existing whistle-blowing framework for officers to raise grievances or to flag misconduct.

More dialogue channels

The SCDF will conduct fortnightly interviews between full-time national servicemen and senior SCDF officers who are not based in the same station, for impartiality. The one-on-one interviews will be held during the last three months of the NSFs' service, where they can bring up issues of concern. Training for new commanders All newly appointed commanders will have to undergo a training programme.

They will learn about the expectations of command, be advised on how to detect and prevent ragging and unauthorised activities, and also how to identify vulnerable individuals.





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