Monday, December 21, 2009

NS deaths: Confidential Operational Matter or Issue of Public Interest

NS deaths: Confidential Operational Matter or Issue of Public Interest

(Unpublished - Dec 13, 2009)

I refer to the report on Alex Tan's ban from the Young PAP Network Facebook group (Dec 13).

I am shocked at the part of the report which stated he was put into detention barracks for five days for blogging about the number of National Service related deaths over the years.

He was reported to have been detained because this is an operational matter, which suggests that what he did was a compromise of operations.

Since the number of training-related deaths is a statistic for public interest, I cannot understand the extent to which knowing the number of deaths is a compromise of operations.

Furthermore, should the government not be more accountable for something that annually receives a lot of public funds and taxpayer money?

Most training and operational matters deserve their confidentiality, but I hope the rules are not abused just to silence people who are deemed to be potential threat to the establishment. We are today definitely beyond such political strategies, because such strategies remove the agents of debate and lead to the avoidance of debate itself.

Having served five cycles of reservist training and being fortunate enough not to suffer any severe injury, I feel as a member of the public, that I deserve to know training-related deaths and injuries. I want to know how our training safety track record and serviceman welfare have improved.

It is sometimes relatively apparent that the blanket ruling of confidentiality and secrecy is more of a public relations management strategy than an actual safeguard of training confidentiality itself. The related defence organisations see public embarrassment and lack of public faith and trust as great a threat as actual confidentiality compromises.

I hope Alex Tan's detention will not create a chilling effect on servicemen, preventing them from providing feedback, contributing to public opinion, and demanding accountability.

Ho Chi Sam

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