I am heartened that the Singapore Armed Forces has convened an inquiry into the avoidable death of NSF Dave Lee and that the inquiry has flagged two key areas for improvement. However, until the full extent of the report has been released to the public, I am unable to comment on what these are or whether or not these are sufficient. From the tone of the reports, however, it would seem that the panel of inquiry has focused on evaluating the heat injury management practices of the SAF. While that is an aspect for improvement, I wonder if that line 0f inquiry is too narrow?
Heat management is only a contributing factor to accidents, injuries and/or death. Surely, a bigger and more potent issue would be the mindset and pervading culture within the SAF? I would imagine that this should really have been looked into as well. If health and safety as a whole are not taken seriously by the officers in charge, other incidences will occur under a different guise even if heat management is improved.
Based on the experiences of many, their time in NS include many incidences of the senior officers "tekaning" the new recruits. The underlying mindset is that if I have gone through this rite of passage, so do you. While many have survived their baptism of fire and indeed talk about it in fond terms after romanticising the experience with the passage of time, we have to recognise that not everyone is mentally, emotionally or physically able to survive harsh and often unnecessary punishment meted out under the guise of "culture" or "normal practice." Did the panel of inquiry consider this aspect of national service? Are our officers trained to recognise those that may be more emotionally or physically fragile? Is there a practice of bullying those who are more fragile? To what extent is this bullying tolerated? Is there an institutional culture that needs to be changed?
Added to this, many of the officers are chosen in part because of their good A-level results. We have to remember that physical supremacy and good results alone do not translate to leadership and maturity - traits that are far more important than physical fitness and academic excellence. Do we need to re-look at our criteria for promotions? Mature leadership not only avoids incidences of callousness and carelessness often displayed by those less mature but also provides better crisis responses that can reduce the damage should an incident occur.
The problem with the SAF is that it tends to adopt a one size fits all approach under the guise of uniformity and discipline. While that is all well and good if national service is voluntary, it doesn't work when you are forcing all healthy males to undertake this rigour. If you are forcing people who may not have the desire or aptitude to go through this kind of training, then you need to make sure that your officers are able to handle different situations and people sensitively.
This is something that has to be addressed before specifics such as heat management.