That Lee Lam Thye fella and ‘the system’

Posted on May 14, 2008


By Helen Ang


Singapore has had National Service for 41 years, Malaysia 4. Theirs is for lads who serve two to two-and-half years fulltime.

As far as I can ascertain from the Mindef website, the last time that Singapore national servicemen died in camp was August and September 2003. In June 2007, there was one case ruled suicide and earlier, sudden death of a sergeant in Singapore Air Force (SAF).

In the corresponding period (2004 until present), there were more than 20 deaths related to our NS, none for Singapore.

In October 2003, Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean answered to Parliament. The deaths were Hu En Huai, 19, and Andrew Chew Heng Huat, 20. The minister said Hu collapsed during a Combat Survival Training (CST) session and Chew during a 2.4-km run (for obese recruits) in Basic Military Training Programme.

Hu collapsed at 1645 hours, was given medical treatment onsite and evacuated to Pulau Tekong Medical Centre at 1710 hrs, and by helicopter to Singapore General Hospital arriving at 1752 hrs. Chew collapsed at 1745 hrs and evacuated by helicopter, arriving hospital at 1842 hrs.

Hu died of asphyxia and near drowning. The SAF suspended the CST immediately after the incident. Four officers and a senior specialist who conducted the training were immediately suspended, two instructors responsible for supervising the training relieved of duty and the CO relieved from command. In short, heads rolled for the “extremely serious lapse in the conduct of the training”.

The basic difference is that both Singaporean boys were sent by helicopter to hospital within an hour, whereas the Malaysian boys and girls had been left to be sick and unattended for days. The other difference is that the Singaporeans were doing serious military training as soldiers for the defence of their country; we don’t know what our kids are doing in summer camp.

Singapore Mindef promised “to take all the necessary measures so that what can be prevented will not happen again”. The Malaysian training council chairman still maintains that ‘NS is good for youths’ and claims, “There is only so much I can do as a non-executive chairman given the fact that I do not have executive powers.”

Our ‘friend’ the MCA think tank CEO remarked in NST recently: “Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye jumped from DAP to ‘pro-establishment’ for the same reason [as Gerakan’s Datuk Lee Kah Choon in Penang], because he wanted to serve.”

Aaah, those who have chosen to ‘work within the system’.

From the cursory comparison with Singapore, our NS looks fatally flawed. The Boleh ‘system’ makes it so. And along this trail of death, Malaysian parents have thus far used ‘proper channels’ to voice their objections. They have not been given proper answers, unlike in Singapore.

Lee Lam Thye said in The Star: “In the final analysis, what is crucially important is whether all those given responsibilities and the trust to manage the camps discharge their duties with care, honesty, integrity and a sense of commitment.”

The Tan Sri’s choice and use of words evokes what theSun says in its World Press Freedom Day editorial: “However, with the dawn of the Abdullah administration four years ago, the media – both mainstream and alternative – have been enjoying greater liberties in shaping public opinion and nurturing reforms.”

theSun makes this claim for itself: “This paper at least is committed to ‘telling it as it is’. The exposes and columns that have graced the cover and opinion pages would have been close to impossible under the previous administration.”

theSun’s second claim: “The results of the March general election – spurred by the popularity of the alternative as well some traditional media in giving space to the Opposition – further proved that the freer media played a big part in the unprecedented outcome.”

The paper’s ex-editors venturing into New Media claim to continue a legacy of providing “content that is written and edited according to the journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy, balance and accountability”.

Its ex-editors also claim the proud tradition: “All a reader needs to do to judge our journalistic integrity is to measure the quality of the interviews we conduct and the issues we write about.”

What has theSun written about the recent spate of deaths in NS? Shall we ask it to interview Lee Lam Thye?