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Is the Prime Minister’s job to hold his ministers to account or to be their echo chamber?

After a long silence of over three weeks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong weighed in on the death of actor Aloysius Pang, the latest in a spate of training fatalities,

In a Facebook post, PM Lee said the Singapore Armed Force leadership takes safety with “utmost seriousness” and would continue to strive for zero training fatalities although it is “extremely hard to achieve.” He remained confident that the SAF will do what is right to retain public confidence and support.

If all this sounds familiar, it is because the Prime Minister is echoing what  Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said.

It is not the first time that the Prime Minister explains and rationalises on behalf of ministers and institutions, following lapses and incidents. And it certainly won’t be the last.

Following the SingHealth cyber attack, which involved hacked medical data of PM Lee, he said: “Government systems come under attack thousands of times a day. Our goal has to be to prevent every single one of these attacks from succeeding. If we discover a breach, we must promptly put it right, improve our systems, and inform the people affected.”

Sounds familiar?

Zero training fatalities. Zero cyber attacks. It’s just a target. If breached, just carry on on, try and put it right.

The Prime Minister is supposed to oversee and appraise the ministers and the ministries and public institutions under their watch. He has a duty and responsibility to hold them to account and lay down the markers as to what is unacceptable, what improvements he demands, and the price for failures and lapses.

Can you recall an instance of the Prime Minister doing that? He may say he prefers to do it in private, but we are talking about men and women in public service, and Singaporeans need to have confidence that their leader is not abdicating his duty and responsibility.

The last thing we need is a Prime Minister who stoutly defends and shields the ministers and institutions under their watch every time there is a lapse.

When he becomes their echo chamber, he is no longer putting Singaporeans and the country first.