SINGAPORE: Members of Parliament have expressed their concern over the Committee of Inquiry's (COI) findings revealed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday.
Dr Ng told Parliament earlier Wednesday that the COIs convened after the deaths of two full-time National Servicemen in two separate incidents this year had uncovered clear breaches of training safety regulations.
Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC, Ellen Lee, asked the minister for statistics on training deaths in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and how it will ensure the "cycle of complacency" does not creep up again after periods of non-fatality.
Ms Lee is also the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Defence's deputy chairman.
The minister responded by saying that there has been an average of two training related deaths per year involving national servicemen over the last decade.
He stressed that while safety standards in Singapore are fairly high comparatively, this number does not mean the SAF is satisfied and that the SAF always strives towards zero deaths and injuries.
The minister also said that he did not want to give the impression that "realistic training needs to be dangerous training". It is the disregard for safety instructions that put soldiers at risk, not the activities, he said.
"Realistic training doesn't have to be unsafe training, in fact the opposite is true. If you make training conditions safe, soldiers will train in greater confidence," he said.
MP for Marine Parade Seah Kian Peng suggested that the SAF should also "encourage a system of reporting near misses".
Dr Ng responded by agreeing that an open reporting system is a hallmark of a good safety culture and that the army had established a hotline in November 2011 for soldiers to report safety problems, adding that the hotline has received nearly 100 calls since its inception.
MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Alex Yam on the other hand asked the SAF to consider making its COI findings public, saying that the SAF is "largely a citizen's army, not a professional army".
Mr Yam noted that there were no accidents or deaths reported in the SAF in 2010, while there were three in 2011 and five fatalities in 2012.
The minister assured Parliament that "cases where there are public interest and significance" will be shared.
MPs also asked if the incidents were isolated events or did they reveal a systemic problem.
Dr Ng said he was assured that the incidents were isolated problems.
Separately, GPC for Defence Chairman Dr Lim Wee Kiak told Channel NewsAsia: "The problem is with adhering to the system and the lapses are all man-made... There are many, many layers now in terms of safety surveillance. What we need to ensure now is to make sure that this safety culture is in the mind of every commander, as well as every man and woman in the SAF."
MP for Aljunied GRC Low Thia Khiang said that he welcomed the ministerial statement, calling it "a sign of the SAF being more transparent".
Dr Ng ended by saying that he wanted to assure Parliament that "the SAF will learn from this and put things right and after all is said and done... that will give confidence to the men.
"And we want to assure public that we give safety top priority, that their sons, husbands and brothers will return to them safely after NS training."