Source: Channel NewsAsia

Is SAF playing Russian roulette with the lives of our young men?

It would appear that another death has occurred in training sessions during national service (NS). According to news reports, Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai, a full-time national serviceman died while participating in a field training exercise at Jalan Murai, near Lim Chu Kang, when a Bionix armoured vehicle reversed into the Land Rover he was in.

As most readers would remember, this death comes shortly after the deaths of Guards trainee Dave Lee (Lee), who passed away from a heatstroke amidst allegations of abuse and SCDF conscript Kok Yuen Chin (Kok) who tragically drowned on the day he was supposed to have ended his conscription term.

This is most concerning because it would appear that lessons from Kok and Lee’s untimely deaths have not been learnt despite Committees of Inquiry (COI) being convened. National Service is compulsory in Singapore. Is it right for us to be mandated to send our young men into an environment that seems to be careless about their well being?

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (Ng) has said that the Singapore Armed Forces saw about one NS training related death annually over the last 20 years with no training related NS deaths between 2013 and 2016. Looking at the number of mishaps in 2018 alone, this statement seems incongruous. Is 2018 an especially unfortunate year for the Singapore Armed Forces? If so, why?

It is important to note that Ng had declared in a ministerial statement in parliament that Singapore must strive for “zero training deaths”. This was just uttered in May. What has happened?

If 2018 is indeed worse than the past 20 years, what has changed? Given that NS is an issue that concerns all Singaporeans, shouldn’t there be greater accountability and transparency? One life is one life too many so let’s not even begin to talk about the deaths that have occurred just this year alone!

While the Ministry of Defence has declared an Army-wide safety timeout and an independent Committee of Inquiry will be convened to investigate the circumstances leading to this incident,  questions still remain. There were COIs convened for both the deaths of Lee and Kok but these seem to have come to naught because it has failed to prevent yet another death. To what extent do these COIs work? How is the independent committee convened? Who picks its members? How public are the results of its findings?

It doesn’t seem fair for the government to demand that our young men (who are each someone’s brother, son, husband, boyfriend, friend or father) serve their country when their basic safety cannot even be safeguarded. Without proper checks and balances, is the SAF playing Russian roulette with the lives of our young men?