SINGAPORE — There were 11 reported cases of ragging within the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) between 2010 and 2017, said a high-ranking SCDF officer in court on Tuesday (18 June).
Colonel Anthony Toh Eng Kiat, the commander of the SCDF’s 4th Division, noted that one of these incidents involved SCDF officers taking part in a “kolam” ritual that involved putting fellow officers into a fire station’s pump well.
He added that in at least two of the cases, the officers involved were punished with stints in the SCDF’s detention barracks.
Toh was testifying on the seventh day of the trial against Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 41.
Chong and Nazhan had in charge of the officers on rotation at the Tuas View Fire Station on the night of 13 May last year. It was during their shift that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin was carried by a group of officers to the station’s pump well during a celebration.
The 22-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) drowned after one of the officers pushed him into the 12m-deep well. Chong and Nazhan now face one charge each of causing grievous hurt to Kok by failing to prevent their men from putting the NSF into the well.
While Toh was not present on the night of the incident, he indicated in court that he was aware of the “kolam” (Malay for “pool”) practice and said he would have immediately put a stop to the officers’ actions had he heard the word mentioned on the night Kok died.
“The commander on the ground must do the right thing, and right thing to do here would be to put a stop (to it),” he said.
Past ragging cases
Toh testified that since he joined the SCDF in 2005, he had not witnessed any form of ragging that involved a fire station’s pump well.
Asked why being made to enter the pump well was considered a form of ragging, Toh said that the well, which was used to test fire engine pumps during suction drills, was not designed to have people in it.
He noted that the wells were often “not maintained” and presented a “risk to safety”. “(The) water of the well is rainwater or fire hydrant water, which is not in a condition fit for personnel to be submerged within,” he added.
Toh told the court of a ragging case involving a pump well that took place on 19 May 2010 at the Sengkang Fire Station. That night, a regular officer jumped into the station’s pump well after other officers convinced him that it was a routine initiation practice for newly posted officers.
Two NSFs also joined the officer in the well, while another four NSFs threw pieces of bread and fish food into it. A mop was also used to hit the victims on their heads during the incident.
While the regular officer was not charged, the six NSFs involved were each sentenced 15 to 23 days of detention. A sergeant who had been aware of the officers’ activities but failed to stop them was also given a warning letter.
The incident came to light after it was reported by the father of one of the victims.
In a separate incident in January 2015, three officers subjected another to an initiation ritual by splashing him with a water hose in the toilet. The officer’s father reported the incident to the SCDF and the officers were each given between 30 and 40 days’ detention.
Asked why such initiation rituals were considered ragging, Toh replied, “The culture in SCDF is one of pride and care. The actions shown in this case show there is no sense of pride for subjecting a fellow officer to be splashed by water, and no sense of care.”
‘Accident waiting to happen’
On the night of Kok’s death, the NSF had been repeatedly teased about having to enter the “kolam” as part of the celebration to mark his impending Operationally Ready Date.
When asked what he would have done if he had been in charge that night, Toh maintained that he would have nipped the teasing in the bud.
He added that he would have considered any mention of the word “kolam” outside of a training context as reflecting an intention to put someone into the pump well.
“I would prevent them from mentioning the words and going even near the kolam,” said Toh.
Asked why he would have stopped the men, Chong said, “We can have all the frameworks and regulations in place to stop ragging but if the commander on the ground does not enforce rules, and does not take safety seriously, then it is an accident waiting to happen.”
Commanders’ actions scrutinised
According to CCTV footage and the testimonies of earlier witnesses, Nazhan had allegedly accompanied the officers who carried Kok to the pump well. He left for his office before Kok was pushed in.
Asked if Nazhan’s actions had been appropriate, Toh said, “You must stop people from gathering around pump well when there is no reason to be there.
“As the most senior ranking officer on the ground, having seen this and not put a stop to it, like I said earlier, it is an accident waiting to happen.”
Meanwhile, Chong had allegedly stayed in the station’s control room as the men carried Kok to the well and merely told the officers from afar no to take videos of their actions.
“The words ‘not to film’ mean indirectly allowing personnel to gather around the well, which is not authorised and not the right thing to do,” said Toh in assessing Chong’s actions.
The trial continues on Tuesday.