May 16, 2007

The Dead Don't Need Memorials. The Living Need Insurance.

Back in September 2006, I proposed several ideas for improving our NS system. I understand that a certain political party in Singapore in fact conveyed my suggestions to Minister Teo Chee Hean via the Government Feedback Unit. One of my suggestions was the need to implement an insurance system to protect SAF servicemen. This is what I wrote:
Insurance Benefits. I have heard stories about how the SAF compensates the family with a few thousand dollars, when an NSF dies in a training accident. That's like an insult. I cannot substantiate these stories - they are more hearsay and rumour than anything else. But I think few of us would really be surprised to learn that the SAF pays little, if an NSF suffers death or serious injury as a result of military training.

Singapore forces its young men into military service, which in turn necessarily entails some degree of risk of death or injury. It is bizarre to me that the SAF has no standard insurance plan in place for NSFs. I think that it is only reasonable that the SAF buys life, disability and personal accident insurance for NSFs (at least for those in combat vocations, and for something significantly more than a few thousand dollars). In fact, the coverage should extend to active NSmen as well. As a fringe benefit, NSmen should have the option of continuing with the coverage (and paying for it themselves), when their NS liability is completed.

These measures would show that the SAF has the welfare of NSmen and NSFs at heart (I have to make that assumption, of course) and also serves the very real purpose of protecting the individual financially. The other significant side benefit is that the SAF will have an added incentive to maintain high safety standards (otherwise the occurrence of training accidents will drive insurance premiums upwards over time - costing MINDEF more money). Personally, I have a poor impression of the SAF's safety record.
Four days ago, I reiterated this suggestion, when I heard about the Lawrence Leow case - an ex-serviceman now permanently paralysed. He receives a paltry $500 per month from the government.

It's also rather timely to reiterate the suggestion, in view of the very recent incident where some SAF servicemen were badly injured, and some SAF servicement were killed, while training in Taiwan.

(Incidentally, as a result of this incident, one of Singapore's worst-kept military secrets is now openly reported in the international media. Notice, for example, Reuters using a certain codename in its reports. And recall that officially, the SAF has no relationship with Taiwan whatsoever).

Today, we look at a letter in the ST Forum. Someone has proposed the same insurance idea as I did. I wonder if he read my blog. I'm glad that this idea has made it to the mainstream media.
ST May 16, 2007
Memorial to NSmen who die while on duty
THE sudden, horrific deaths of and serious injuries to our national servicemen in Taiwan came as a great shock. Young men in their prime about to embark on a promising career were stopped suddenly through no fault of their own. Their parents must have felt devastated to lose their sons in such circumstances.

All Singapore parents with sons in NS, or who are about to enlist, must have felt a strong sense of sadness and empathy for the parents of the dead and injured NSmen. However, we can comfort them only with words of condolence and support. Soon, the incident will be forgotten except by the affected parents and family members.

NS is now 40 years old and there are many families with members from three generations who have served the country. NS has become a rite of passage for all Singapore men and is well entrenched in all families. Unfortunately, as a conscripted force, NS is still viewed by parents as a high-risk activity and most feel anxious and concerned for NSmen's personal safety, notwithstanding training precautions taken.

The effort and sacrifices of NSmen are given recognition in various ways, for example, tax rebates, bonuses and club facilities. However, there appears to be a lack of recognition of unfortunate ones who fall while on duty in the defence of Singapore. They may have fallen but they should not be forgotten.

I suggest that, as part of the 40th anniversary of NS, the Government go one step further in recognising the sacrifices of our young men and at the same time, alleviate the emotional devastation and hardship of parents who may lose their sons in the defence of the country.

I propose that the Government provide insurance coverage for all NSmen during their full-time service and allow them to carry on the policies at their own expense after their operationally ready date (ORD). I believe the premium for group insurance is within the budget of the Government. This is in addition to any payment currently made to families of affected NSmen.

Another proposal is to build a memorial to NSmen who lose their lives while on duty. This could be in a prominent location where the public could visit at any time. Their names could be inscribed on the memorial. On National Day, a simple ceremony could be held there to remember them.

Lim Chong Leong
I hope something concrete happens out of this. If it does, it won't happen that soon (these sorts of things take time to put together). But better late than never.

I can predict that Lim's second idea (about setting up a memorial in a public place) will not happen. Why would the SAF want to build a public monument to its own failures? Most accidents, whether they occur in the home or on the roads or at the workplace, are preventable.
And deaths in the SAF have a particular tendency to appear very unnecessary- see here and here, for example.

MINDEF surely wouldn't want to remind you of that. Don't expect to see a memorial.


Anonymous said...

i agree that erecting memorials is self-defeating to the government's stance on compulsory NS. the increasing death toll on the memorial stonework each year will raise deafening questions from the public which the government cannot answer.

the living need insurance. correct. but i dont think the government have intentions of doing so.

for 40 years, given the exceptional talents the ministers in our parliament have, they must have raised this matter before, only to be shot down by the government.

they think its not economically feasible then. and i am sure they still think so today.

like what mr wang said in sept 2006, the economic loss is there already.
but i believe given the shrewd nature of our business-minded government, they will want to "minimize loss".

a budget of S$10.6billion goes to the MINDEF already. i am sure at least one-third of that amount, or $3.5billion, are spent on NSFs.

loss of $3.5billion. do you think the government will want to increase the loss by at least $1billion more for the insurance?

its good news for NTUC though lol.

Anonymous said...

The issue is also with how SAF sees regulars and NSFs. While in NS service, I was "arrowed" to go for a feedback session. I later discovered it was meant for regulars.

It was hosted by a certain Inderjit Singh, though I cannot be sure if he is the same MP today.

He was belittling NS as compared to regulars. I posted a question on why regulars and NS who went through and pass the same training course graduate with 1 rank difference. He said because regulars are better than NSFs. I countered with the fact that NSFs in fact better educated, ready to go Poly or even Unis. He waved the question offer with a very rude backhand gesture.

The SAF takes NS too lightly and too much for granted. If you read the rules, the NS personel is responsible for not reporting for duty, EVEN if the Unit forgot to send you the notification, or ensure you receive it.
You are responsible to check if you have any NS duties left, you are responsible to ask them to put you to IPPT if they forgot.

Why are we paying so much for 20+ SAF generals then? What's worse, these "top talents" let NS policy stagnate for a whole DECADE of FT policy and change to IPT only when Mr Wang point out SG Males are discriminated against by employers due to the very real and possible 3 mths - 1/4 of the yr being ineffective or ineffient due to reservist + ippt.

It is time SAF takes a REAL interest in the BULK of it's soldiers. And stop thinking of more drumsticks for themselves.

Anonymous said...

a budget of S$10.6billion goes to the MINDEF already. i am sure at least one-third of that amount, or $3.5billion, are spent on NSFs.

With NSFs making up 70-80%? of the SAF, spending only a third of the SAF budget on NSFs does seem like a huge imbalance in financial and manpower planning.

Jimmy Mun said...

The law Workmen's Compensation Act is meant to cover compensation issues relating to workplace injuries or death. Two groups are prominently excluded though: soldiers and maids.

Which is why maid employers are not afraid of maids falling out of windows. Cost of maid dying is too little to worth too much worry. The government could use the maid levy to provide such insurance cover, but no, they just want to pocket the money.

The government care for NSFs and NSmen, dead or alive, healthy or wounded, are all shamefully inadequate. Had Lawrence been injured that badly anywhere else, he be compensated millions. If the government is so incompetent in finding funds to help our fallen comrades, why should we risk our lives and our healths to keep them in power?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"a budget of S$10.6billion goes to the MINDEF already. i am sure at least one-third of that amount, or $3.5billion, are spent on NSFs.

With NSFs making up 70-80%? of the SAF, spending only a third of the SAF budget on NSFs does seem like a huge imbalance in financial and manpower planning."

Yes I'm agree that a large amount of the budget allocated to Mindef is not being spent on NSFs but I'm sure the other 2/3 of the SAF budget might still be put to good use such as defence research, buying new equipment...etc

I think the government is reluctant to release more funds to increase aid to NSFs permanently disabled by accidents while training or to grant more compensation or aid to the families affected cause of their stand that our country is not a "socialist state" and their motto of "hand stop mouth stop". They believe say that providing too much aid to the people would make them lazy and dependent on the government and would also encourage some others to abuse the system.

But while I do not agree or disagree with the government, I believe that if they can afford to raise the cabinet pay by over 200+ million, they should be able to fork out a little bit more to help these poor folks.

They gave up 2 years of their precious time to serve NS. Most of these people had bright futures and to have these dreams destroyed cause of some illfated accident is already extremely unfortunate. It seems really cold that the government is only giving out a paltry compensation to these people or their families.

I'm sure the people are not asking for alot, just the government provides enough for the family that they need not worry about where their next meal is coming from while going through this difficult period.

Does the government care about the people anymore? Or do we truly exist only in a world where everthing we do must be accessed to be "economically feasible"?

Anonymous said...

this is the extract from a news report on the 2 NS guys who died in taiwan:

"...but the victims' families need to be 'realistic' on amount of compensation they can get"

the family is still grieving over their loss and this insensitive person is already calculating over the monetary compensation.

he is.........

our beloved Minister of Defense:
Mr Teo Chee Hean

Anonymous said...

this is the extract from a news report on the 2 NS guys who died in taiwan:

"...but the victims' families need to be 'realistic' on amount of compensation they can get"

the family is still grieving over their loss and this insensitive person is already calculating over the monetary compensation.

he is.........

our beloved Minister of Defense:
Mr Teo Chee Hean

my source of the extract is wrong.
Mr Teo Chee Hean said none of the following:
"...but the victims' families need to be 'realistic' on amount of compensation they can get"

my apologies to Mr Teo.

(i cant delete that previous comment so, well, apologizing is better than nothing)

Disparaged citizen said...

I don't understand why MINDEF "cannot " afford Group Insurance for all NSF.

They are already paying NSF below market salaries.

A junior officer earning a $1,000 a month salary? Just because he is serving NS?

If he becomes a regular, but still doing the same job, MINDEF pays him more?

Since Mindef is already saving a lot of money, why not pass back some of the savings in terms of subsidizing the insurance premiums?

I'm sure NTUC can work something that is affordable.

I would hardly think that premiums would be expensive for the government. Furthermore, you can restrict coverage to NSFs only, and only for peace time training.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, what incentive is there for them to address this 'need'?

One can argue that this will improve morale, address certain worries, but this argument can also be easily rationalised/numeralised away by saying that these incidents are few and it would be unfair to impose a burden on everyone.

Arguments ad nauseum....

Status quo - everyone has to do NS
Status change - everyone has to do NS

The man in the street has lost his voice, drowned out by the silence of apathy and despair of perceived choicelessness.

Who will speak out for the weak?
Who will represent the interests of the disadvantaged?
Who will light a candle for those who despair?

I look around and there wasn't much, save the bloggers.

II Timothy 3:1-5,7 "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a group insurance thing when you're doing NS that you can opt in to? I seem to recall that it will come out of your paycheck or something (sorry, too long ago ... and it's a few bucks depending on how much coverage you want) but if you're going to be engaging in these "dangerous" activities, the least you can do is to protect yourself. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.

Unknown said...

It took the current administration a good 10 years to reduce the length of NSF to 2 years & NSMen reservist liability to 10 years. Wouldn't hold my breath for them to bother about insurance coverage.

As for the memorials. Well, the current administration wouldn't do it purely because it does reap any economic returns.

The advantages of insurance coverage has been address by many here.

I differ about the need for memorials. Singapore is moving too fast too furious ahead of itself; the constant news of en-bloc to reap economic returns inspite of the needs of the minority is just one of the many examples.

There is a need for memorials to act as reminders for the many contributions from all walks of life that made Singapore (for better or for worst) the way it is today.

Anonymous said...

The point here is why should NSmen or NSF be forking out their own $$ to pay for insurance coverage??????? The bloody SAF should be covering it! *fumes*

Anonymous said...

It is simply ridiculous to suggest that compensation for NS men due to mishaps must come via insurance scheme! Whatever compensation NS Conscripts get should and must be borne by the SAF> Whatever scheme the SAF wants to adopt to generate the fund for compensation purposes is beside the point> Compensations for injury and death of conscripts is an independent issue itself< this is definitely reasonable! For regulars who take soldiering as a job and paid according to a professional employee< he obviously has a contract and terms that cover him> Personally as a ex NS man myself thirty five years ago< I think casualties of mishaps thankfully are few and far in between in SAF and to have adequate compensations for NS men< it will not cost much> It a question of compassion and responsibility on the part of the Government!

Anonymous said...

huh? "starlight" was supposed to be a secret?

and...mindef spends 3.5b on NSFs? /me doubts. way too high an estimate methinks

Anonymous said...

well if the govt is going to peg their salary to that of the private sector. The obvious analogy would be for NS men (who are pretty much civil servants) to have their pay pegged to what their peers would be getting if they were out in the job market. This hypocritical stance by the govt to serve their own interests and neglect the grassroots is deplorable to a large extent. Even if the pay is not going to be pegged to the private sector, at the very least a decent insurance coverage would serve a better sense of justice.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The memorial is a nice idea. I am just saying that it won't happen.

SAF presence in Taiwan, I think, is still a touchy issue because of potential diplomatic issues with PRC.

Consequently, you'll find MINDEF publicly talking about the SAF training in Australia, the US, Thailand etc, but (almost) never about the SAF training in Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

and...mindef spends 3.5b on NSFs? me doubts. way too high an estimate me thinks

It is possible, but the devil is in the details. For example MINDEF may outsource food catering to the tune of say $500mil in SAF camps to S'pore Food Industry, NTUC or some GLCs etc. Technically they can say this amount is spent on servicemen. But of course we know that these outsourced companies need to make a profit, so how much really is spent on servicemen?

chwy said...

Still, one has to think of a long term solution, other than fighting fire.

The crux of the issue is to reduce the number of people required to maintain an operational capability until the critical point where it is feasible to do away with conscription.

But to those in the know, the system is already so addicted to cheap labour (just like the slave issue in the US) that probably only a civil war will resolve the problem.

The other alternative is by sheer technological progress. To it's credit DSTA has organized the TechX competition which is one small step in this direction. The money is not great, but at least they're willing to test the water.

Just wanted to put forth a different angle to this.

Anonymous said...

i disagree that the young SAF soldiers needs death insurance. after all, they are NOT contributing to the family's overall income. With or without the soldier, his parents don't need his money anyway. The only loss is emotional loss and physical loss, not financial loss. Therefore death insurance is irrelevant.

Using insurance to cover SAF soldier's unearned income is also irrelevant. it's almost the same as telling me that a primary six child need a huge death insurance term policy because he or she can potentially earn a six-figure salary 20 years down the road.

the only coverage i see is for hospitalisation and disability compensation.

if SAF can just cover disability and hospitalisation, you can save costs and pay minimal insurance. I do not want to pay extra tax just to sustain this "cover". Please don't give our talented government yet another reason to increase the G.S.T.

Just Wondering around said...

I was stunned by this piece of news.
I can never accept this brutal truth (compensation), if such tragic incident happens to me.
Remember my recruit days the ex-saf officers gave all recruit a talk, persuading and telling us the importance of getting yourself (life)secured during NS - insurance. YOU MUST PAY FOR IT!!! A few dollars per month from your NS (miserable) pay is nothing, said the happy officer.
Now I begin to ask, is the gahman transferring the "Operational risk" (expenses) of any kind of injuries or death to the ordinary people of Singapore, soldiers.
I believe the gahman thinks that,” silence means consent". In fact, many of us suffered in silence as, likely, we have no one to turn to.
Let me remind you guys this frequent term used in NS... L L STUCK THUMB
Lets pray for Lawance.
Be rational,
I agree with you that it is not practical to have death insurance but there should be a reasonable (few thousand of dollars enough?) compensation for the family of the dead.
I would agree that an insurance that cover disability and hospitalisation is needed badly.
But, I would not agree not to bring up the problem because of GST and we are talking about soldier welfare, a fixed expenses to the county military budget.
As for GST I strongly believe, it is morally not right to ask the people for more money when the country is still earning (billions dollars reserves OMG), thus dont link it to welfare of solider... like what is happening now, tax the poor to help the poor or tax to fund the pay rise.

Giving a second thought, you might be right (still morally disagree). You must remember our lovely home is widely said to be an Inc. A drop in the revenue, our great boss will have a hard time to explain to their fellow shareholders(minister?). Running out of ideas, the slaves of the Inc will need to suffer buy tighting up our belts to cough out the losses... how sad...

Anyway carrot is here GST offset package!!!!! Cheers for the poor~~~

Maybe all NS men need a injury and death off-set package???