Has the time come to lift the immunity for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) commanders arising out of training lapses?
It largely depends on what the context and situation of where the lapse was, or if the commanders in question had complied with all the regulations to the letter of the safety doctrine found in the SAF?
Just as to where the liability of commanders begin and ends was the tenor of an exchange between The Independent and Dennis Tan, a Worker’s Party (WP) member and shipping lawyer. According to Tan, immunity for commanders should be lifted only when lapses are committed during training exercises and not when military operations are underway and in motion.
“[All] I was asking for was an exemption in S14 of the Government Proceedings Act for civil liability in tort of negligence to be lifted where a death or personal injury arose due to breach of safety protocols during training only”, he told, because he does not believe such caveats affect operational readiness.
He added, that though there are countries that allow legal redress arising from actual operations but, Singapore’s largely conscript force makes her ‘unique’. He did not explain what was meant as unique though it has been widely known that every able-bodied man aged 18 and above is required to perform mandatory national service, called otherwise as a rite of passage. It differs widely with what is seen in Thailand where young men undergo a period of time in their lives assuming the life of a monk.
The SAF does periodically run Board of Inquiries into accidents occurring within its premises but rarely publishes its findings for public consumption. These accidents can be anything from suicides to accidents during training to yet of other mishaps warranting an investigation as how the case maybe, when the SAF troops head overseas for training. Investigations are also held if and when are the cases of mass desertion in a military camp.
It is public knowledge that suicides do occur in the armed forces either within the premises of its military installations or without, as how newspapers have reported in the past. The SAF does have a counseling center and trained counselors either at specifically located bases or within its headquarters to counsel distressed and distraught soldiers.
In 1980, the SAF introduced the Orientation Officer (OO) scheme to help soldiers adjust to the harshness of military life in barracks.