Reply to Lianhe Zaobao Forum Letter: MINDEF Continues "Upholding Integrity of Our System"

Reply to Lianhe Zaobao Forum Letter: MINDEF Continues "Upholding Integrity of Our System"

We refer to the commentary in Lianhe Zaobao "Societal trust should not be taken lightly" (13 Mar).

The key findings leading to the death of PTE Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron have been released during the Coroner's Inquiry (CI) in August 2013. This was a transparent process, taking the form of an open hearing fully accessible to the public and media. The family of the late PTE Lee and their legal counsel were also present, and given opportunities to address any questions that they may have relating to PTE Lee's death to the Court. As part of the process, they were also allowed to pose questions to the two SAF regulars concerned.

The Coroner's full findings and conclusion are open for public viewing upon application and approval by the Court. The Coroner found that PTE Lee died from "acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes" and that the allergic reaction was "unlikely to have been predicted". All these were extensively reported by the local media, including Lianhe Zaobao.

Arising from the Coroner's findings of fact, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) decided not to prosecute anyone as the cause of death was an unforeseen allergic reaction that was unlikely to have been predicted. As such, AGC informed MINDEF to consider taking disciplinary action against the servicemen who had breached Training Safety Regulations. MINDEF has done so, with penalties consistent with other servicemen who have committed similar offences, including fines and delay in promotions. In the recent High Court hearing, the Court struck out the legal suit by PTE Lee's family against MINDEF.

While MINDEF recognises that no amount of compensation will make up for the loss of a loved one, a package of financial compensation based on the maximum extent of the compensation framework was offered to the family. Such compensation is generally two to four times that of the amount provided under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) for incidents arising from training and operations and is no less than what would have been awarded by the court in cases where compensation was ruled to be payable.

Some members of the public, including the late PTE Lee's family members have disagreed with the Coroner's findings. They feel instead that the two SAF regulars should bear greater liability for the cause of death and receive greater punishment. In Lianhe Zaobao's commentary, it has suggested that MINDEF should have done more to respond to these criticisms. It would be wrong to punish SAF servicemen beyond the level of offence which has been determined by independent and impartial judicial processes. MINDEF/SAF would be overstepping its powers and would be legally challenged. Most importantly, it would be unfair to the two SAF regulars. In particular, the level of punishment has to take into account the Coroner's findings that PTE Lee's fatal allergic reaction was unlikely to have been predicted. 

Each death of our servicemen is greatly regretted but when these incidents arise, it is even more important that we maintain societal trust and integrity in respecting the due independent judicial processes to determine the facts and mete out the appropriate punishment where required. The AGC has in the past prosecuted SAF servicemen who have been responsible for causing death due to rash acts or negligence. When they were found culpable, the Courts have sentenced them to jail. In this particular case, AGC decided not to prosecute anyone.

As we expressed in Parliament in 2012, we extend again our deepest condolences to the family of PTE Lee and are deeply sorry for the untimely and tragic loss of PTE Lee. We recognise that it is difficult for the family to find closure in this case and will continue to support them wherever possible.

Lim Chuen Ni
Director Public Communications
MINDEF Communications Organisation
Ministry of Defence

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