The death of actor Aloysius Pang (Pang) while serving his National Service duties caused me sadness and anger. Sadness over the loss of a young life full of unfulfilled potential and anger because of a seeming lack of accountability on the part of the government over these deaths. While inquiries are held when incidences such as these occur, they occur within the confines of the military. The results of the inquiry are not publicly available in full and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are able to control what is released to the public and what is not. Is that level of transparency sufficient in the face of a state sanctioned obligation on our young men?
Our young men are not given a choice on this matter. National service and continuing obligations of NS are mandatory for able bodied men. In other words, they are put in a position where they are forced into serving. If the government is imposing these obligations on our sons and brothers, doesn’t it owe us a duty of complete openness when deaths occur? Shouldn’t it also be mandatory for the SAF to disclose all? And if the SAF do not want to disclose all, shouldn’t the families who have had the burden of loss imposed on them by the state have the right to sue the SAF?
The current position is that Section 14 of the Government Proceeding Acts grants immunity to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) for injuries or death from lapses or complications such as defective equipment or any of the SAF commanders or officers who may be involved with any deaths or injuries of NSmen of NSFs against any civil suits.
This was exactly what Dominique Lee’s mother faced when she wanted to sue the two officers involved in the incident which resulted in the death of her son and to obtain information as to what exactly happened as documented in the Commission of Inquiry. MINDEF simply fought the case by citing S14 of GPA, protecting the two officers involved and refused to release any further information to the mother.
This means that even though the state has imposed national service on us, we cannot impose responsibility on the state. How is this one sided status quo fair?
I know that individuals within the ranks will probably be found guilty of negligence or the like under the criminal system. However, will the jailing of one or two individuals really change things? At the end of the day, is this a systemic issue or the fault of individuals? Given the seeming recurrence of incidences, it would seem like this is systemic. Systemic change will only occur if there is public pressure and a case in open court will be the perfect forum for systemic change once and for all. Sadly, this is not an avenue open to the public.
In other words, the current system allows for the state to impose a duty on us without also according us the right to hold them accountable. Is this acceptable?