In support of humanitarian missions

As the most developed country in Southeast Asia, with the most technologically advanced and best trained military, I see it as our responsibility to make these contributions to our neighbours in times of need.

I congratulate and honour the teams from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Mercy Relief and SingHealth institutions who undertook missions to West Sumatra to assist with relief work following the devastating earthquakes there.

There were 80 personnel from the SAF, 42 from the SCDF and seven from Mercy Relief and SingHealth sent in separate missions over the past few weeks.

I strongly support humanitarian missions undertaken by our military and civil defence forces. They not only provide essential logistics, medical and organisational assistance to the victims on the ground, but also serve to cultivate better relations with the Indonesian military, which could prove to be invaluable in future. In addition, they also provide our men and women in green with some much needed operational experience.

Given the fact that we live in a disaster-prone neighbourhood, I hope to see the SAF and SCDF continue to build up their capabilities and readiness to take on more such missions in future. As the most developed country in Southeast Asia, with the most technologically advanced and best trained military, I see it as our responsibility to make these contributions to our neighbours in times of need.

Malays deserve equal opportunities in the SAF

I was glad to learn that Colonel Ishak bin Ismail will be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General come 1st July. As Commander of the 6th Division since last August — division commanders in Singapore are usually BGs — his promotion was unsurprising.

What makes his achievement so significant is the fact that he became a BG despite having two “strikes” against him: He is Malay in the Singapore army, and he is not a government scholar. Although I have never served under him, I am confident that the SAF would not place a man in command of one of our three Combined Arms Divisions just for the sake of political tokenism.

Nevertheless, Singaporeans should not be lulled into thinking that full meritocracy has arrived in the SAF. There are still many “sensitive” units that have recently naturalised citizens but not a single Malay in their ranks.

Continue reading “Malays deserve equal opportunities in the SAF”

Chain of command might have led nowhere

In response to my article, PM’s son’s email saga a heartening development for Singapore, which I contributed to TheOnlineCitizen.com, a reader, Jon, asked some very pertinent questions:

1. If 2LT Li had followed the “proper channel”, what makes you think the 3rd senior officer up the chain of command will do anything?

2. Will Li Hongyi be charged if he merely sent his letters to everyone directly above him (ie, Defense Minister, CDF, CoA, Chief Signal Officer, etc)?

He recalled that there were two senior officers who were issued warning letters for not meting out the appropriate punishment when the offence was first reported to them by Li Hongyi.

These two officers were probably his OC and his unit CO (the same guy who told the whole unit the next day that they must follow the chain of command).

The “proper channels” that Mindef referred to probably would have required Hongyi to patiently go rung by rung up the ladder…CO, CSO, ACGS, COS, COA, CDF, Min. (I’m just guessing. I don’t know the hierarchy — there are probably more “crabs” and “stars” in between.)

If he waited just 3 weeks before before escalating to the next level, that’s 18 weeks before he can email the Minister. He was scheduled to disrupt very soon (he said it was his last email). So he would not have had the time to wait around.

Furthermore, 3 weeks may or may not be an appropriate length of time to wait for a response. If at any point he got impatient and decided to escalate up the issue too soon, he could have gotten charged for not following the chain of command.

So I think he would never have gotten the Lieutenant to face court martial had he not shot the email all the way up to the CDF and Minister.

Now, about the Cc list, which probably included all the enlisted men, drivers, clerks, etc in the whole unit — If he didn’t cc all of them, the letter would never have leaked, and no one would have blogged about it in the first place. In which case, there would be no public pressure on Mindef to act.

So my conclusion is that the outcome — LTA charged, OC and the other senior officer (probably the CO) warned — would not have happened if Hongyi didn’t shoot both up and down.

Perhaps this is what Hongyi himself calculated before he even sent out the email. If so, then maybe he wasn’t so brash after all.

PM’s son’s email saga a heartening development for Singapore

Army Second Lieutenant (2LT) Li Hongyi’s June 28 email complaint sent to all the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) head honchos has caused ripples on the Internet for the past two weeks. Much mud has been slung at 2LT Li for his brash act.

“Who does he think he is anyway? He thought he could go to Uncle Chee Hean and complain,” said one of my friends. (Teo Chee Hean is Singapore’s Minister for Defence.)

A “blatant abuse of family ties,” cried another blogger.

As it turns out, the son of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did end up getting formally charged and was administered a reprimand after a summary trial by the military for not adhering to the chain of command when making his complaint.

This incident has also made its way to the international news wires, with Reuters having reported it this morning. Despite all the brickbats that Li Hongyi, Mindef and the “Elite Establishment” are receiving over this incident, I feel that the way this saga has played out is actually quite heartening for Singapore.

White Horses not immune from punishment

Firstly, the fact that the son of the prime minister got charged for contravening a relatively minor military General Order shows that not even a “white horse” (the son of a VIP) is immune from punishment for wrongdoing. I say “relatively minor” because 2LT Li’s misdemeanour was his overzealousness in reporting an offence.

He was not derelict in his duties as a soldier, nor did he cause any injury to anyone. Furthermore, he sent his email only to fellow servicemen within the Mindef Intranet, and not to anyone outside Mindef.

Nevertheless, he was wrong to have emailed the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Defence Force, the Chief of Army and so many other servicemen (possibly hundreds, based on the distribution lists in his carbon copy list). There are many more senior officers in the chain of command above his Officer Commanding (OC) that he could have reported this incident to.

Public spiritedness

Secondly, after reading 2LT Li’s email, one can discern that it wasn’t just some immature rant against the army (like so many of us, myself included, like to write). It was a detailed account of what is wrong with the system of enforcing discipline in his army unit. It demonstrates that this young man was intent on setting things right before he disrupted his service for overseas studies.

Our views of government ministers’ children are probably coloured by Wee Shu Min (pictured left), the daughter of a PAP MP who wrote a very haughty blog last year. 2LT Li’s email is different. It shows a degree of public spiritedness that is sorely lacking in most of our young Singaporeans nowadays.

Complaint taken seriously by Mindef

Thirdly, Mindef took this complaint seriously. The lieutenant that 2LT Li complained about will be court martialled soon and will probably be sentenced to Detention Barracks (DB) for a couple of days. The lieutenant’s superiors were also issued warning letters for not meting out harsh enough punishment when the infraction was first reported to them.

Critics would say that Mindef took action only because the son of the PM made this complaint. If this was the case, why didn’t 2LT Li’s OC and Commanding Officer take appropriate action when he first reported it?

Mainstream media, New Media

Fourthly, 2LT Li’s wrongdoing was not exactly covered up because of his status as the son of the PM. Even before the mainstream media reports came out today, and the chatter on the Net took off a week earlier, the Commanding Officer of 2LT Li’s unit had given a speech to the entire unit the next day (presumably the day after he wrote the letter) about “following the chain of command”.

That in many ways amounted to a public, albeit informal rebuke. Today’s mainstream media’s reports about 2LT Li’s punishment (complete with pictures of the young officer) all signal a gradual relaxing of the Singapore media’s unofficial policy of self-censorship to avoid embarrassment to senior government officials.

It is unclear whether 2LT Li’s charge was issued before or after the news got leaked on the Net. It appears that his email only got circulated widely on the Net late on Thursday, 12 July.

But given that he committed his offence on June 28, and Mindef announced to the press less than two weeks later (on July 12) that he had already been charged at a summary trial, indicates that relative quick action was taken against this offender.

Lastly, there is no doubt that the new media helped to highlight this matter to the public. There would be no Straits
Times or Channel NewsAsia report, nor would Mindef have issued a statement, if not for the fact that this was already a widely discussed issue on the Net.

It is heartening to note that the new media is fast becoming an effective watchdog on the powers-that-be in Singapore.

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This article was first contributed to The Online Citizen