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, 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.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

6 thoughts on “Chain of command might have led nowhere”

  1. Hi Gerald,
    Can anyone verify who was on the cc: list.
    I will be surpised if it included drivers, storemen etc.
    If it was to unit commanders and somehow the email got leaked out, then these units need to be investigated for leaking sensitive information.
    But I think all this are just peripheral to the main fact that he wanted something to be done about indiscipline and hyprocrisy of his SAF unit.


  2. hi Dr Huang,

    The censored out cc list reads:
    “Cc: zz All in ________, _____; zz ALL IN ____, _____; zz All in _____, _____; zz All in ______, ______”

    Each “zz All in…” is a distribution list which contains the emails of every person (or section) in a particular unit. Drivers and storemen may not have personal emails, but they have a shared email address for their store, MT section, etc.

    This Straits Times vodcast reported it was sent out to “hundreds of military personnel” (I think they would have verified that before reporting such an astounding number).

  3. “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.”

    I doubt it. He has like too much to lose and may I know how this information is considered “sensitive” when it is a complain? (Damages image of SAF thus sensitive?) And does SAF look more at the performance of recruits in schools (including their testimonials) than performance during BMT?

    Pardon me for my age (16) but I am interested to know more. You have very interesting posts :)

  4. Are there different types of chain of command? 2LT Li may be breaking the administrative chain of command. What 2LT Li did was trying to get around the red tape, partly created by the rigid hierarchy of the army. Red tape exists everywhere.

    I hope that when in a combat battlefield, the men will not break the chain of command when an officer passes down an order. Lives of many men are at stake when people do not follow the chain of command.

  5. it was not necessary to shoot the complaint to so many people( only relevant parties up the hierachy should know or the relevant ministries etc) and eventually have it leaked out. he must have known of this potential leak. for that, i would say it is rather mischievious considering his departure with lesser impunity. unfortunately, a miscalculation got back fired.

  6. ngxthree – Basically eveything that contains anything about the SAF, especially its units, which is not already considered public information is classified under the Official Secrets Act.

    As far as I know, the SAF selects its officers using a variety of criteria, including academic grades in school and performance in BMT. But more emphasis will be on the latter is my guess.

    ex-nsf – I think we are dealing here with following the chain of command for making complaints. It’s not an issue of officer’s pass down an order during battle and men don’t obey. That is a definite no no.

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