The seemingly templatised response of the government to the deaths of national servicemen – the fourth training fatality of the Singapore Armed Forces in the past 18 months, including actor Aloysius Pang as the latest casualty – through its communications strategy, the work of the Committees of Inquiry, as well as the promised changes or punishments which follow, is similarly matched by a templatised chorus of outrage, even before the facts have been established: Calling for “accountability” through punitive measures against perpetrators and the immediate resignation of generals and ministers, for organisational improvements and guarantees of no more peacetime deaths, and even for a reassessment of Singapore’s need for National Service (NS).
Missing in this back-and-forth, however, is a more holistic and rigorous understanding of the NS and reservist experience for the average serviceman. Put otherwise: What does the average soldier go through upon conscription, and does he think are the areas for improvement? Continue reading
That the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the abuse of soldiers is encouraging. In addition to the development of a comprehensive safety management system over the years (ST, Jul, 11), however, the availability of safe communication channels to report transgressions – for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) in non-commanding positions, in particular – is important. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen mentioned in parliament that new recruits are briefed on how they can make reports through unit supervisors or feedback units, yet two questions follow: First, how many reports are actually made, and how have the figures changed with time; second, the extent to which such reports have translated into disciplinary action or policy changes. Continue reading
The success of the upcoming national conversations depends if “naysayers” and less-privileged Singaporeans participate in these discussions, as well as the extent to which they can set the agenda and to extend their participation beyond these one-off endeavours.
And having participated in the Our Singapore Conversation series in 2012 and 2013 and the sessions by the education and defence ministries, and having benefited from the interactions with different Singaporeans, the risks of running over the same old ground and of selective engagement must be noted. Continue reading