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First time that Ng Eng Hen apologised for training deaths of servicemen

“I am deeply sorry for the loss of four precious NSmen (national servicemen) in the last 17 months,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a ministerial statement addressing the deaths. “MINDEF and the SAF will hold ourselves accountable for every single NSman entrusted to us.”

The most recent death of national serviceman Aloysius Pang sent shock waves across the island. But he was not the first. Since 2017, three other young servicemen have lost their lives during training exercises. Since 2012, there have been a total of 9 training related deaths.

After each incident, Dr Ng never failed to extend his condolences or the condolences of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to the loved ones of the victims.

In 2012, following the death of PTE Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron and 3SG Tan Mou Sheng, the minister said in Parliament, “The SAF and MINDEF are deeply sorry for the untimely and tragic loss of PTE Lee and 3SG Tan and the anguish and distress it has brought to their families.” Notice how he phrased it – the SAF and MINDEF are deeply sorry. The institution, not the man.

But since then and since Dr Ng took up the post as Defence Minister in 2011, it has only been condolences, either from him personally or from the institution. That is until this week when Dr Ng expressly apologised for the death of Corporal First Class Aloysius Pang. This is the first time that Dr Ng, since becoming Defence Minister, has personally apologised for the death of an NSman.

Back in 2012 following the death of Dominique Lee, TOC understands that his family had sought an apology from the Defence Minister over the tragic accident and reimbursement for his tomb as the condition to settle a pending lawsuit they had filed against the two SAF officers – who were found to be negligent in their duties – over the death of their child. The family had sought to find out more about the circumstances leading to Dominique Lee’s death through the trial because they were deprived of detailed reports of the Commission of Inquiry by MINDEF.

TOC email to MINDEF about Dominique Lee’s case, 2016

While MINDEF did offer them a large sum of money as compensation to the family, the officer in charge of the negotiations allegedly told them that there was no way to have the Defence Minister apologise for Dominique’s death. And so the family decided to leave the negotiations and continue with their lawsuit.

Eventually, as everyone knows by now, the Court threw out the case citing Section 14 of the Government Proceeding Act which states:

“Nothing done or omitted to be done by a member of the forces while on duty as such shall subject either him or the Government to liability in tort for causing the death of another person, or for causing personal injury to another person, in so far as the death or personal injury is due to anything suffered by that other person while he is a member of the forces if at the time when the thing is suffered by that other person, he is on duty as a member of the force.”

So while the families of the recently deceased servicemen might feel some closure with Dr Ng’s apology on Monday, others continue to wait for an apology that would likely never come.

In MINDEF’s response to TOC, it provided a link to a forum letter that it had written but no clear answers were given.