All of the incidents that have gone viral from the Little India riots to the smattering of corruption scandals within the government all stem from one thing – the desire on the part of Singaporeans for accountability from the government. This quest for transparency is very understandable. The government is elected by Singaporeans and the various arms of government administration from where these scandals emit are funded by the public purse. Singaporeans therefore have every right to insist on openness.
It is therefore disappointing that in the wake of the Little India saga, we have yet another situation of smokes and mirrors with MINDEF. The controversy erupted when a whistle blowing soldier released a video clip which depicted animal abuse at an army camp (link).
Instead of punishing the abuser, it would appear that the soldier who leaked the video has been punished for violating the rules against unauthorised photography inside an army camp and the disclosure of information to persons outside the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Instead of clarifying what actually happened on that fateful day, the SAF simply insisted that no animal cruelty took place.
Why the cloak and dagger approach? Have the powers be not finally realised that opacity in information especially in the face of evidence to the contrary will simply ignite the rumour mill?
SAF is a public institution – now that the video has gone into public circulation, it owes Singaporeans more than high handed blanket assertions that raise more questions than answers.
While the SAF have been unforthcoming, it would appear that others have been more candid. In the absence of a clearer account from SAF, I can only come to the conclusion that the handling of this incident has been dishonest, unprofessional and unbecoming of a public institution.
The Hitting of a Stray Dog as an Example
It would appear that the Lieutenant Colonel had brutally hit a dog in the presence of some of his men to “show them how it was done”. I am appalled by this occurrence. Is this what the army and national service is about? Isn’t the army all about courage and honour? What dignity is there in hitting a defenceless dog? What kind of example is the leadership setting for its soldiers? (Mindef insist camp dogs were unpredicatable and dangerous)
Granted, there may be stray dogs that may cause danger. But shouldn’t the right approach be to contact the AVA or the SPCA? Is the Lieutenant Colonel in question teaching his charges that the right approach to a problem is violence as opposed to proper administrative channels?
It is alleged that in the past, stray dogs had bitten staff members – this in turn begs the question, why were the relevant government departments not contacted sooner?
I can understand reacting to a sudden attack with violence as an act of defence. This however does not appear to be the case in this situation. The Lieutenant Colonel’s reaction is therefore unwarranted and unnecessary.
Dishonesty in the investigation procedures
It would appear that the Animals Lovers League (ALL) was persuaded into giving up the identity of the whistle blower by promises that it was all for the sake of investigating the alleged cruelty and that no one would be punished.
Clearly the SAF has gone back on its word – the Lieutenant Colonel was not punished, the whistle blower was and we are still none the wiser on whether or not animal abuse has occurred. Animal abuse is a crime in Singapore (Read penalty increase for animal abuse). Lieutenant Colonel or not, he should be investigated fully with all findings made public before the SAF categorically releases a statement of no abuse not backed up by any evidence or any information as to how this investigation was carried out.
If the SAF could blatantly lie when trying to illicit information from ALL, they can certainly be economical with the truth when it comes to what really happened in camp.
The SAF is a public body. It owes a duty of unambiguity to Singaporeans. It needs to send a message to Singapore loud and clear that it is an institution that embodies dignity and honour – honesty should fall within that bucket of values.
Too literal interpretation of the rules?
The unnamed soldier who leaked the video was punished for violating the rules against unauthorised photography inside an army camp and the disclosure of information to persons outside the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Surely these rules exist to prevent leaks that could threaten national security and should not be applied rigidly when the sole purpose was for a crime (animal abuse) to come to light?
The SAF cannot and should not hide behind the cloak of bureaucratic statements that provide no clarity and breed ill will.
National Service is compulsory in Singapore and in order to inspire the loyalty of its young men and the respect of a nation, it needs to be forthright in how it handles crises. National Service is supposed to be when our boys become men – the SAF needs to live up to the badge of honour it is bestowed with.
Our various arms of government should also be working together for the benefit of Singapore. The correct approach would have been for the SAF to contact and work with the AVA to solve the problem of stray dogs and not for random dogs to be hit as a deterrent.
There is no pride in hitting a defenceless dog, no honour in lying to get information, no dignity in punishing a soldier whose only crime lies in compassion. Most of all, there is no dignity in issuing blanket statements that creates more questions than answers.