Punishment is not the bigger issue, but Mindef taking up ownership of accident

By Ghui

The Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) has issued a reply to a Lianhe Zaobao commentary stating “the military would have punished two of its officers who were involved in the incident beyond the level of their offence.” (Read more)

To me, this is totally besides the point and skirting the crux of the issue altogether. National Service (NS) is a state imposed duty that no healthy Singaporean male can evade. It is par of the course that parents and national servicemen look to MINDEF to look after their welfare while in service.

In taking a suit against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the individuals that were negligent, Dominique Sarron Lee’s family are seeking accountability for their son. They are not necessarily after the punishment of the individuals involved but are instead looking for the SAF to take some sort of collective responsibility. After all, isn’t it common practice for a leader to resign when something material goes wrong in his or her organisation?

In instances such as these, while it is common to sue everyone involved, it is really the entity with the deepest pockets and the power that the plaintiffs are targeting. While I am in no position to speak for the Lee family, I would imagine that it isn’t so much about seeing individuals punished as opposed to the institution taking public responsibility for what happened to their son.

It is under the SAF’s watch that these exercises took place. It is also under the SAF’s auspices that the negligence took place. Personal fault aside, the institution in question has the duty to take collective responsibility.

The public wants to see the institution that affects the lives of the young men (and some women) of Singapore publicly account for this mistake. To focus on whether the individuals involved were punished excessively is not really the point. The much bigger issue is SAF taking ownership over what has happened under their watch.

MINDEF’s reply is not only insensitive but displays a staggering lack of understanding for the deeper issues that concern the public.