Following the death of operationally ready reservist Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius Pang, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) announced that they had lowered the training tempo – referring to the duration, frequency and intensity of training activities – in order to allow units more time to comprehensively review their training programmes with the aim of reducing training risk for all servicemen. A safety time-out has also been put in place following the incident and will be lifted progressively as the Army reviews its safety processes.
As an added measure to ensure that safety is consistently applied across all services and units, The Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong announced an Inspector-General’s Office (IGO).
This was announced at a meeting of all 750 active and operationally ready National Service (NS) commanders on 31 January. The IGO will report directly to the Chief of Defence and have full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety processes and practices at all levels of the SAF.
No details were provided about when the IGO will be set up, it’s composition, size, or who will head it.
The Lieutenant-General added that he and the Service Chiefs, together with commanders at all levels, will also personally conduct more visits to the ground to ensure that training in SAF units is safe.
At the moment, the army, navy and air force all have their own safety inspectorates headed by full colonels that report to their respective service chiefs. It appears that the IGO will function as an additional level of audits and checks and work to promote safety education within all branches of the SAF.
But it appears that there is already a similar system in place, the Safety and Systems Review Directorate (SSRD) which was formed in 2013 to oversee the conduct of safety and systems reviews for MINDEF and the SAF. The SSRD reports directly to the Permanent Secretary of Defence and the Chief of Defence Force.
According to MINDEF’s website, the SSRD’s main role is to “conduct system reviews for MINDEF and the SAF with the primary focus being on the SAF’s safety management system”. The SSSRD would also “convene external review panels, where appropriate, in order to tap on external expertise and impartiality.”
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament in 2013 that the SSRD will set up an external review panel composed on experts and professionals outside the SAF to validate safety practices in SAF units and determine if they match up with best practices of industries and other militaries.
He added, “We decided to do this because rather than ad-hoc committees formed after incidents occur, this standing panel will provide oversight and direction for the longer term.”
The first panel, headed by Mr Alan Chan, then-Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Press Holdings, completed it’s three-year review in 2016. Apparently, the panel found that the SAF’s safety management systems were “sound” and “aligned with the recognised standards such as OHSAS 18001 and industry best practices.”
A second external review panel was inaugurated in July 2017 for another three-year review.
It appears that the scope of the existing SSRD and the new IGO are pretty much the same – to oversee safety procedures and protocols within the SAF. So what need is there for the IGO in the first place? And is the SSRD limited in its scope? If so, why is it still in operation? If not, will SSRD be replaced by IGO or would there be duplication in duties?