SINGAPORE - The two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers involved in the training exercise that led to the death of Private Dominique Sarron Lee were punished by having their promotions delayed, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament today (March 24).
He was responding to a question by Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, who wanted to know details of the punishments meted out to Captain Najib Hanuk Bin Muhamad Jalal and Major Chia Thye Siong.
The two men were found guilty of negligent performance of lawful order or duty in 2013, but did not face criminal charges. They were punished according to military law, but the SAF did not specify details of the punishments.
Dr Ng revealed today that they were punished with penalties consistent with other servicemen who have committed similar offences, through fines and delay in promotion.
"Both officers have suffered a setback in their careers. The monetary cost of the promotion delays is significant, amounting to about half of their total annual salaries," Dr Ng said.
Earlier this month, a report by The Straits Times pointed out that Major Chia was promoted a year after he was found guilty, sparking an intense debate online.
"This seems to be a contradiction of the assurances by Mindef and the SAF that the negligent officers have been duly dealt with, that justice has been done," Pte Lee's family members said on Facebook.
Pte Lee was found by the coroner to have died from "an unforeseen acute allergic reaction" to zinc chloride fumes from smoke grenades. While the 21-year-old had under played and under declared his asthmatic condition, more smoke grenades than necessary were used during the exercise, the coroner noted. The number of smoke grenades discharged and the distance between the smoke grenades were also found to have breached the limits and minimum distance specified in the Training Safety Regulations.
Giving a brief background of zinc chloride, Dr Ng told Parliament that Pte Lee's allergy was so far the first and only case among the "hundreds of thousands" of soldiers who have been exposed to it.
There is no international safety requirement that precludes the use of such smoke grenades, he said, adding that the SAF has been using them for over 30 years.
"And indeed other militaries continue to use it and this underscores the fact that allergy to zinc chloride is rare so that other militaries have chosen to continue their use and accept that risk," he said.
Despite this, the SAF switched to alternative smoke grenades in March last year following a safety review of Pte Lee's case.
"The SAF will endeavour to do its utmost to train safely, but realistically speaking, all of us recognise that in military organisations, injuries and deaths can happen despite best efforts," Dr Ng said.