Singapore—In Parliament on Monday, April 1, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen clarified the causes of death of two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen in 2018 as due to unnatural causes but “not related to service.”
Both men passed away while on SAF premises. In July, an off-duty regular serviceman was discovered hanging from a rope in his bunk at Nee Soon Camp. And in September, at Sembawang Air Base, a full-time national serviceman was also found hanging in his office.
Dr Ng said in Parliament, “Police investigations to ascertain the causes and circumstances connected with these two deaths have been completed and submitted to the State Coroner. The State Coroner found that there was no evidence of foul play and that the deaths were deliberate acts of suicide.”
He was answering a question from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Dennis Tan. Mr Tan had inquired about why the two men had died, and if the causes of death had anything to do with their service.
Mr Tan’s other question centered around whether the two men’s commanding officers or colleagues knew of problems or issues which may shed light as to why they died.
Dr Ng answered, “The State Coroner did not identify any contributory factors related to their commanders or colleagues, (National Service) or work that could have led to the incident.”
From September 2017 to January of this year, there have been four deaths related to SAF training, including that of popular actor and soldier Aloysius Pang, who sustained grievous injuries while cleaning the gun of a Howitzer in New Zealand on January 19. Despite several surgeries, Mr Pang died four days later.
Since Mr Pang’s death, SAF training safety has been in the spotlight as an issue of national importance.
The SAF has reviewed its training procedures in the light of these safety issues and has begun to implement changes. On January 31, in the wake of the death of Mr Pang, the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong announced that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would establish an Inspector-General’s Office (IGO) whose purpose is to make sure that “command emphasis on safety is consistently applied” for all units of the armed forces.
The new IGO will directly report to the Chief of Defence Force and has complete authority to examine and implement safety practices and processes for all levels of SAF.
General Ong said, “Safety is a command responsibility. Commanders answer for the training and safety of their men. To do so, commanders have to be fully committed and personally and intimately involved in their unit’s training, operations, and safety. The reduction in training tempo will allow us, commanders, to take stock, re-orientate, and give full attention to this.”
Ong added that he and the army, air force and navy chiefs and commanders at all levels will be visiting SAF units to make sure that safe training methods are observed.
A Committee of Inquiry was also set up after Mr Pang’s death in order to examine the circumstances that surrounded it.
The training related deaths may have caused people’s confidence in the SAF to falter. A new poll shows that a majority of Singaporeans—61 percent of the respondents—think that the country’s armed forces have not been sufficiently open when it comes to injuries and deaths that are related to National Service training.
The poll also shows that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training deaths have had an effect on the respondents’ confidence as to whether or not SAF can train national servicemen in a manner that will keep them safe.
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