by Law Kim Hwee
I write this now at 0245 hours, 24 Jan 2019. It’s not possible to go back to sleep after I awoke to take a pee and happened on the Yahoo-reported news of death of Aloysius Pang based on an SAF news release dated 23 Jan 2019, 2329 hours i.e. less than 2 hours 45 mins when Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius died at Waikato Hospital, New Zealand.
Now, in a short space of a mere nine months,
- Pte Lee Han Xuan Dave on 30 Apr 2018
- Pte Lui Kai on 3 Nov 2018
- CFC Aloysius Pang on 23 Jan 2019
have all died.
And, of course, it is Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), that “The Ministry of Defence and the SAF extend their deepest condolences to the family of CFC (NS) Pang and will continue to render assistance and support in their time of loss.”
And, as is the norm in Singapore, when a precious, priceless, ir-revivable, ir-resurrectable life is lost, no less – I’d say, but no more – than “An independent Committee of Inquiry will be convened to investigate the circumstances leading to the incident.”
Singapore has what is touted as the best government and cabinet in the whole wide world, with million $$$ salaries to match. Salaries that are the absolute highest in the world – I’d say, in the history of mankind. But for lesser than S$53,000/- p.a. (NT$1,180,940) or 5% of a Singapore minister’s salary, the Taiwanese (and others) get a defence minister who took full responsibility and resigned from just one conscript death.
But no sir, Singapore ministers are untouchable, irreplaceable. With the PAP’s uninterrupted and absolute power for 60 years, a debased leadership concept of “collective government responsibility” i.e. “the responsibility of Government was a collective one, and no minister carried difficult problems like public transport alone”, under PM Lee Hsien Loong has become, I’d say, absolute currency.
So, will Mr Ng Eng Hen do the honourable thing to take responsibility for 3 deaths in 9 months and, horrors! resign? If our nation’s recent past is any indication, Mr Ng’s will be a long time coming, I’d say, if ever.
Why? Well, the record of deaths where a minister has no honour and never given a full, transparent accounting is eight deaths. I speak of the 2015 SGH Hep C infections that hit 25 patients of which 8 died, 7 of those deaths likely linked to the infection. Still, Mr Gan Kim Yong was re-elected in GE 2015 and reappointed Health Minister even as the deaths were reported. Apparently, Singaporeans are either forgiving or unconcerned with honour or leaders taking full responsibility as Gan’s Chua Chu Kang GRC won 76.69% votes.
Now, let’s look at the publicly available info of the Defence Minister’s activities to see how engaged or concerned he was since Aloysius Pang was injured on 19 Jan.
19 Jan: “Had good prata this morning at Clementi Road.” (Likely that he was not yet informed or Aloysius was still not injured.
20 Jan: Entire day spent at Bishan GRC’s community programme. (Total silence on Aloysius Pang.)
21 Jan: Found time to congratulate the Rep of Sgp Navy (RSN) Maritime Security Task Force on its 10th Anniversary. (But still total silence on Aloysius Pang.)
22 Jan: “I like these pieces of art for Singaporeans along Little India for ARTWALK Little India.” (Still, total silence on Aloysius Pang.)
23 Jan: (about 3 pm or only after 5 days! and about +5 hours before Aloysius Pang died)….Finally, some words about Aloysius Pang…and a very oft-repeated Americanized “our prayers go to CFC (NS) Pang to turn this difficult corner, as well as to his family members for strength.”
So, very, very sadly, all that Aloysius parents, siblings, relatives, friends, colleagues and Singaporeans would have heard from Mr Ng Eng Hen at the scheduled press conference – which he didn’t – after his only Facebook “our prayers go to CFC (NS) Pang to turn this difficult corner, as well as to his family members for strength”, will be the usual ‘our condolences…every death is unacceptable to me…an independent COI will be convened…(lower ranks?) will be punished if found at fault.’ FULL STOP.
On behalf of all Singaporeans, particularly those of us with sons, brothers, husbands and relatives currently serving National Service, allow me to remind Minister Ng that Mr Goh Keng Swee, our first Defence Minister, initiated and promulgated the SAF’s Code of Conduct. The First of the Six rules in the Code reads:
You have been Defence Minister since 21 May 2011. In that +8 years, there have been 11 deaths under your watch. This compares with 7 reported ones from 9 Mar 1997 to 2010, 14 years.
Unlike almost all the other cabinet ministers, I personally admire you as amongst only 2 or 3 ministers who quit their private sector million $ careers to serve the country. I doubt that you are serving (only) because of all the trappings of being always given first class treatment by the US Pentagon or NATO countries for the kind of taxpayers monies that you can authorise to spend on their hardware. Or that you can bring your wife to France for some couple quality time on 12 Jul 2018 (while being CEO, she deliberately chose to absent herself even as a “war room” had been initiated to look into SingHealth’s very serious cyber leak 2 days earlier, 10 Jul).
Where is thy honour, Mr Ng? If that you have not, according to Mr Goh Keng Swee’s Code for SAF, it is simply disgraceful.