Some questions have arisen over the death of Private Dominque Sarron Lee, the striking out of the family’s law suit against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the family of the late Private being made liable for the legal fees of the SAF.
I must make clear at this juncture that I am not fully apprised of the facts of the matter. All that I have had recourse to are the reports that have been published. Based on what I have read however, it would seem that the SAF and Platoon Commander Najib Hanuk have indeed contravened safety regulations by detonating six smoke grenades instead of the prescribed two.
I don’t doubt that the Government Proceedings Act can be read to confer immunity against wrongful death negligence suits while in service and the judge is entirely legally correct in holding as such. The bigger question is whether or not such immunity should be granted on a blanket basis and whether a change in law is necessary? What is the justification for having such a wide immunity?
Recent occurrences have indicated that there is a lack of clarity in relation to the limit of powers by various arms of the government. In the Benjamin Lim incident, the school was unsure of the extent of its required cooperation with the police. Added to that, the police appeared not to be aware of the limits of its powers either. Together, this may have resulted in the untimely death of a minor whose alleged crime would not have warranted more than a warning.
After Benjamin Lim’s death went public, things took on a life of their own. The online media sites reported every development on the case, Lim’s parents issued open letters and the public had many questions and comments. In the latest twist of the saga, Minister Shanmugam has also criticised The Online Citizen for allegedly reporting falsehoods.
If one were to pull apart all the drama that seems to be distracting the public, the common thread in both the cases of Private Lee and Lim is the vital need for transparency and accountability on the processes in government that affect us all.
What exactly forms part of the health and safety regulations when our sons are in National Service? What are the remit of the commanders’ powers and what exactly would the SAF be liable for should things go wrong? Given that NS forms part and parcel of Singaporean life, we should all be clear about the regulations that govern the well being of our sons while they are under the care of the SAF.
Not only should the state be aware of the extent of its powers but we the public should also be aware of the extent of our rights.
Given the age of the two young persons and the circumstances of their death, it would be normal for the public to view them as deaths that happened under the government’s care or in close proximity to government processes. Why wouldn’t we expect an outcry and vehement call for transparency, accountability and redress?
It is important that these issues not get diluted by the emotional response that has ensued.
(Article was first published in The Independent Singapore)