The “full discovery of facts” behind the death of full-time national serviceman Dave Lee Han Xuan must come to light independently and “without interference” from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Addressing the media on Friday (29 June) ahead of SAF Day on Sunday, Dr Ng said, “I don’t think we want to pre-judge. Neither should we… push those who we ask to determine the facts in any particular direction. It doesn’t serve us.”
Lee, a 19-year-old from the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, succumbed to heat injuries on 30 April. The younger of two children had sustained the injuries while taking part in an 8km fast march in Bedok Camp 12 days earlier.
He was later posthumously promoted from Private to Corporal First Class and accorded a military funeral.
In a Facebook post after his death, Lee’s aunt Cecilia Yeo shared the contents of a Facebook post on May 1 from a “fellow soldier”. He claimed that while “Dave struggled to complete his fast march” and showed signs of extreme physical exhaustion, he was forced by senior commanders to finish it.
The anonymous Facebook user also accused the senior commanders of not following the proper protocols for a soldier in heat exhaustion. Several sergeants surrounded the young NSF while “talking cock and laughing and cracking jokes around him, obviously thinking the soldier is trying to keng”, added the user.
Dr Ng said that SAF commanders have reported their findings to him after “plugging the gaps” and looking into allegations on the ground.
“I am satisfied that they can do what is needed now, but in addition to that, there are parallel processes (that) are ongoing and independent,” Dr Ng said.
In May, a Committee of Inquiry was convened by the Armed Forces Council to investigate the circumstances leading to Lee’s death. It is chaired by a Cluster Superintendent from the Ministry of Education, with a medical specialist from the public healthcare sector as one of its members.
In addition, the death will be independently investigated by the police. Depending on the police findings, a Coroner’s Inquiry may be held.
” I think Singaporeans will understand that that’s the best system – (an) open, transparent system (with) independent processes when something (like this) happens,” said Dr Ng. “As much as I want them (the independent processes) to be hurried as well, they are outside of the SAF. We have to be patient.”
Dr Ng also stressed that zero fatalities during NS training should not be “a target goal” but rather “a norm to be achieved”, and that the SAF will continue to “enhance safety systems” to obtain it.
In his Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 17 May, Dr Ng noted that there had been an average of one NS training-related death a year over the past two decades.
He told the House that there were no training-related deaths from 2013 to 2016 and that zero fatalities can be achieved “with effort”.