SINGAPORE: Informal punishment in the form of additional physical training is allowed in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), provided they follow stipulated guidelines, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Tuesday (Jul 10).
The punishment meted out should also be commensurate with commanders' seniority.
Dr Ng was responding to a question from Workers’ Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Dennis Tan, who had asked if any form of ragging was allowed in the SAF.
“Additional physical training as a form of informal punishment can only be meted out in accordance with stipulated guidelines and based on commanders’ seniority as prescribed in the SAF Joint Manpower Directive (4-4) on the Informal Punishment System,” Dr Ng said.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the directive outlines the informal disciplinary power of commanders and the rules governing its implementation.
Commanders can use these powers, commensurate with their seniority, to deal with minor mistakes and offences committed by servicemen under their command.
For example, a section commander can dish out a maximum of up to 20 push-ups, a platoon sergeant up to 30 push-ups, and an officer commanding up to 50 push-ups.
“For all activities, the safety of individual soldiers is paramount and commanders must take corrective measures to mitigate risks to their soldiers, where necessary," Dr Ng added.
While military training aims to build up the physical and psychological resilience of soldiers, Dr Ng said, their safety need not be compromised. “Acts of humiliation are specifically prohibited.”
To that end, he said training activities need to be authorised and clearly outlined with safety measures and limits.
The requirement for each activity is an approved safety management plan with a Supervising Officer, Conducting Officer and Safety Officer present throughout.
Similarly, Dr Ng said, unit orientation activities can only be conducted if authorised and do not endanger the well-being of servicemen.
Dr Ng reiterated that SAF personnel who conduct unauthorised activities, engage in bullying or have wilfully or negligently not complied with training safety regulations “have been and will continue to be severely dealt with”.
This includes prosecution either by Summary Trials or the General Court Martial within the SAF, or criminal prosecution in the State Courts, he said.
For example, Dr Ng pointed to a 2016 case involving four NSFs who were prosecuted in the Military Court for bullying a fellow NSF. All were sentenced to between two and four weeks in the SAF Detention Barracks.
Earlier in 2012, a Conducting Officer who appointed a serviceman to drive a military vehicle even though he knew the serviceman did not have a driving licence was convicted in the criminal courts and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.
The serviceman had died after the SAF vehicle he was in overturned during an exercise. The officer was found to have committed a rash act and attempted to pervert the course of justice.
“SAF soldiers are encouraged to report any unauthorised activity or punishment,” Dr Ng said, highlighting that they can do it through their unit superiors, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Feedback Unit or the respective services’ safety hotlines.
“New recruits are specifically briefed on how they can do so.”
Dr Ng added that every complaint is investigated fully and those caught doing wrong will be prosecuted. “MINDEF and the SAF take a zero tolerance approach towards any form of abuse of soldiers or personnel, either by their commanders or peers.”