Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Admin note

Dear All,
Intend to go through White Paper on population end to end before discussing impact on national issues.

Initial impressions not positive.

Capacity to change lacking in PAP's hearts and minds game plan

Surrounded as they are by compliant mindsets, Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP, also known as the Men In White because of their party attire) is unlikely to find its capacity to change from among party faithful.

The party's hearts and minds strategy needs an urgent transformation. Most of Singapore seems to realise this except MIW strategists.

Seemingly mired in collective denial and wedded to outdated ideas on public engagement, the wake-up call that the Punggol Slap delivered at the Punggol East By-Election (BE) may not produce the intended effect.

Punggol Slap
During Saturday's BE, opposition candidate Lee Li Lian from the Worker's Party decisively defeated PAP candidate Dr Koh Poh Koon. Ms Lee earned her 54.4% share of votes with a victory margin of some 11 percentage points. Voters appeared to answer the call by WP chief Low Thia Khiang to give the MIW a "slap" as a wake-up call.

In the aftermath, the MIW's PR machinery blamed the loss on the By-Election Effect. This was a curious about turn from pre-defeat propaganda:
* That caricatured your average Punggol Eastie as a middle class PMET who would vote for political stability as they had financial obligations to serve
* That claimed a multi-quartered fight by a fractured Opposition would give the incumbent an advantage (four parties went for it)
* That a straw poll by the 90 cents newspaper showed Punggol Easties leaning towards the MIW (the sample set was pitifully small).

In addition, a smallish and otherwise unremarkable heartland mall, Rivervale Plaza, was made out to be like the centre of the universe for Punggol Easties - as if the promise to jumpstart its stillborn renovation would be a vote clincher (it wasn't).

To political watchers, the signal that Punggol Easties sent the MIW was a dress rehearsal for bigger things to come, should the party sally forth into the next General Elections with the same old battle plan.

Political transformation
It is ironic that the political party that has the most battle experience in Singapore, having ruled our city-state since independence, the party that prides itself in rigorous candidate selection and has the mainstream media, unions and grassroots organisations on its side now seems utterly clueless how hearts and minds campaigns ought to be mapped out, staffed and executed with panache.

Further irony comes from the fact that when Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, was Defence Minister, he was central to the idea that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should undergo a transformation to keep itself relevant against current and projected threats.

It is also telling that in the real world and cyberworld, you will find cynics who nurse the faint hope that the MIW would take its Punggol East BE experience as a lesson to up its game by making more effort to connect with Singaporeans.

The spirit of transformation is what the MIW badly needs.

In particular, mission praxis for the MIW's public relations strategy needs to be overhauled because much of the party's PR bumbling is self-inflicted.

Take its handling of newsflows after disgraced ex-Speaker of Parliament and Member of Parliament for Punggol East, Michael Palmer, quit suddenly after he cheated on his wife.

The MIW's idea of transparency entailed saying the bare minimum at a press conference, parrying awkward questions with canned responses and casting a protective cloak around the disgraced MP so impenetrable that he has not been quoted since that press conference.

Questions linger over the duration of his deceit. Without the benefit of a definitive response, rumours fester. Grassroots volunteers, party faithful and residents may start to wonder what sort of lies were told to cover up his dalliance.

A precious opportunity was lost in demonstrating to Singaporeans that here is a modernised political party with the confidence it can rise from adversity (let's face it, having an oversexed MP in its ranks is not a national crisis) and be frank with the People.

Bill Clinton is still respected years after his presidency. Adoring millions will cheer Prince Charles. Alas, these are world leaders who made personal indiscretions, yet command a stature and influence in a different orbit from that of political minnows like Thank-You-Palmer.

The AIM saga is another episode that may have set Singaporeans thinking about the importance of and need for checks and balance in Singapore's parliamentary democracy.

Going strictly by business law, there is nothing to hold back having the PAP register and run a technology company like AIM to service IT infrastructure used by town councils. However, one should never forget that political parties must carry themselves as trusted agents, working for and supported by the People they serve.

When mainstream media reports on the saga are accompanied by a timeline of events to show claim and counter-claim, it's a safe bet heartlanders who have not been following the news will lean towards the argument for even stronger safeguards.

Coupled with pain points such as the cost of living, are you then surprised the ground isn't sweet?

Sparring partners
When loss rates during the air war over Vietnam convinced the United States Navy that its fighter tactics needed urgent revamping, they set up Aggressor squadrons to mimic the way the enemy flies and fights. Training done this way allowed US Navy pilots to get their baptism of fire in controlled and realistic mock battles. Thanks to such pre-battle indoctrination and training, the US Navy pared its loss rate and increased its kills.

In the political battle arena, sparring partners can serve the same role.

Problem is: the MIW is famously intolerant of critical thinkers.

In the cyberworld and real world, dissenting voices find themselves classified almost as social pariahs for raising feedback that sensitive souls do not like to read, see or hear. So the party has few friends, even among well-meaning Singaporeans who learned the hardway there are some arguments they should sit out.

Internet discussants have been famously derided as "noise". Speak out of hand and people start doubting one's loyalty to country. There appears to be no tolerance for a Red Team who stress test ideas in rigorous debate.

Opportunities to shout out are sanitised, with participants and questions at some events scrubbed clean to snuff out troublemakers. Even at university level, some undergrads have to submit questions for "moderation" before the stage-managed Q&A session gets underway. If we cannot trust our future PMETs to think for themselves, what future is our country headed for?

So all the angst streams into the cyberworld, authored on discussion boards largely by nameless souls who can finally speak their mind and say their piece.

In the cyberworld, the MIW is seldom loved. During the Punggol East By-Election, that sentiment flowed from the cyberworld to the real world.

Just imagine what would happen if feelings expressed by netizens are not addressed by the next GE.

You may also like:
In power in the real world, out of favour in the virtual one. Click here

The magic of 2016: Winning hearts and minds for General Election 2016. Click here

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hostage crisis in Algeria: Takeways for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Task Force

[This is a personal commentary that does not necessarily reflect the views of the Singapore Ministry of Defence or Singapore Armed Forces.]

The moment an in-country hostage crisis involves foreign nationals, that domestic event will be immediately escalated into an international event.

Any options for resolving the crisis, whether diplomatic or military, must include an information management component that proactively addresses an international audience hungry for news, restless for answers and short on patience.

The manner in which Algeria carried out the hostage rescue operation last week at a desert natural gas plant is a noteworthy example of how a poorly-conceived or absent Information Operations (IO) plan can compromise a country's international standing.

Crisis communications Fail
Crisis situations abhor a news vacuum.

The lack of official news feeds will see news-gathering agencies gravitate towards anyone with anything to say on the matter. That quote or TV sound bite will then be packaged as a news item for transmission to a global audience.

R2D2 where are you? The Algerian natural gas plant that was attacked by militants, sparking a four-day hostage crisis that suddenly put Algeria on news bulletins worldwide.

For Algeria, the remote location of the hostage crisis - the natural gas plant looks like something you would find on the Star Wars planet of Tatooine - means that foreign embassies may lack boots on the ground to gather their own firsthand information.

Without the Algerian equivalent of a Director Public Affairs (DPA) or some official spokesman fielding questions from the media, the news clip that was broadcast in Singapore featured a harried-looking civilian who mouthed the mission intent of the hostage takers to a global audience - that they did it to drive the "Crusaders" from the country. There was no comeback from Algerian authorities to balance the story.

To foreign observers, their mental picture of a hostage situation could range from a police-type situation involving petty criminals with firearms to one where more military muscle is required. If terror elements who triggered the Algerian hostage crisis approximated what armed forces have to deal with in a small scale insurgency (rather than a SWAT type of incident), Algerian authorities should have wrested the initiative by making this clear from the start.

Score one point for the militants in the IO arena.

Two dimensions of a hostage crisis
Singaporean defence planners tasked with horizon scanning of existing or future threats have to contend with the fact that a hostage situation can have two dimensions.

The first embraces hostage rescue scenarios involving foreign nationals in Singapore.

The second dimension involves Singaporeans taken hostage in a foreign country. One should remember that the first Singaporean to die from a terror attack, the late Ms Lo Hwei Wen, was shot dead in Mumbai in November 2008. With global security in a state of flux, will must steel ourselves to the reality that more may follow.

As we have seen with the Algerian crisis, countries with citizens held at gunpoint will monitor the situation closely. We have already heard France, Japan, Malaysia and the United States speak out about the matter.

With the death toll reportedly at 23 hostages and 32 militants killed, Algerian authorities will have to brace themselves for the blowback once anxiety expressed by these foreign countries morphs into anger and the finger-pointing begins.

The country's international image resulting from this crisis is not pretty. There are allegations that Algerian forces carried out the operation ineptly or were trigger happy.

One should remember that the overwhelming majority of home viewers who followed the crisis on TV, through Internet news or their home nation's newspapers probably cannot point out Algeria on a map of the world to save their lives. This newspoint on the gas plant attack, which introduced Algeria to their stream of consciousness, portrayed a negative image of the country which damages its international standing.

The same situation could befall Singapore because many people in other countries do not know much about our city-state. Some still think Singapore is part of China. A large number look at our Asian features and are pleasantly surprised that we can speak English. It's a safe bet many foreign nationals do not read Pioneer magazine and there's a chance rednecks in rural America may think Ng Eng Hen is a kind of poultry.

Our IO plan, triggered by a hostage situation, must address not just a domestic audience but must be able to scale-up to address, reassure and cultivate a global audience. This must be executed in support of Executive Group decisions and deliver our messages to an audience round-the-world and round-the-clock.

Without giving too much away, it is reassuring that the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) and MINDEF and MHA intelligence agencies appear to be on top of its game for domestic security.

SAF capability gap
The same assurance cannot be said when we turn our attention to Singapore's ability to reach out to and support its citizens in an overseas emergency.

This is because the SAF lacks assets needed to project its counter terrorist assets to hot spots outside the immediate ASEAN region.

Singapore should consider itself luck that the area of operations for Operation Crimson Angel in 1997 took place in Phnom Penh, which was within reach of C-130 Hercules tactical airlifters from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 122 Squadron. Gassed up with full internal fuel and with underwing drop tanks, 122 SQN's pilots and aircrew flew a series of shuttle flights to the embattled Cambodian capital to rescue Singaporeans from harm.

The capability gap is glaringly apparent when operations take place farther afield.

Upsy daisy: Republic of Singapore Air Force aircrew from 112 Squadron using ropes to load bags and assorted items due to the lack of appropriate ground handling equipment during the Februaru 2011 quake relief operation in Christchurch, New Zealand. A proper airlifter would have done job better. (Photo credit: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

Nothing says it better than the picture of KC-135R Stratotanker aircrew who assisted New Zelanders during the earthquake relief mission in Christchurch, New Zealand. A modern jet transport belonging to the Third Generation (3G) SAF had to load cargo using ropes because the right ground handling equipment was not available.

People familiar with the mission would know that the KC-135R that flew the Command Team and advance party to NZ had to wait about two days for heavy equipment and civil defence vehicles to arrive in-theatre aboard lumbering propellor-driven C-130s. The slower Herks flew to New Zealand with several stopovers in between to refuel.

We are lucky the operation in New Zealand had a humanitarian complexion and was executed in a benign operating environment.

In a terror attack kind of situation, you would not have two days to wait for Fat Albert to catch up.

If SOTF has to deploy for a rescue/escort similar to Crimson Angel at a faraway location, the 3G SAF will be hard-pressed to support this mission. To be sure, anywhere on the globe is within reach of the RSAF - it's a question of the number of refuelling stops one has to pencil into the mission. Anyone who has taken a ride in a C-130 for an appreciable length of time (four hours or more) would remember the enervating effect that riding in the noisy, cargo-class environment has on its self-loading cargo.

Our SOTF troopers will not be primed for action after a long flight in a C-130. We could of course use the KC-135Rs, but the downside is not having any heavy equipment upon arrival.

There are aircraft available that can help the RSAF do the job. Jet-powered airlifters from Russia and the United States of various models spring to mind.

Most operational experience
Under present circumstances, however, the SAF's force modernisation bucket list sees support assets such as airlifters some way down the list of priorities. Teeth arms - armour, artillery, warplanes, attack helicopters, warships and guided munitions - are high on the agenda. This is a pity.

It is ironic that in the post-9/11 world, the SAF warfighters with the most operational experience are precisely these "support" assets like our Chinooks, Cougars, Hercules and Super Pumas.

If you pick an individual RSAF helicopter squadron like 122 SQN (Hercules), 125 SQN (Super Puma) or 127 SQN (CH-47D Chinook), I bet you will find more pilots and aircrew with real operational experience in just one of these squadrons than all - repeat all - RSAF combat squadrons combined.

It's the same story in the Republic of Singapore Navy. More Endurance-class tank landing ship (LST) crews have served on missions overseas than their shipmates in the submarine or stealth frigate squadron. You would have more officers and ratings decorated for overseas missions on just one LST than in the entire stealth frigate squadron.

One hopes this operational reality will see MINDEF/SAF relook its bucket list/wish list so that the SAF units get the tools they need to finish the job.

The stakes of being caught unprepared are just too high.

You may also like:
Operasi Piramid
Civil Resources in action: Malaysia launches Ops Piramid to airlift Malaysian citizens from Egypt. Click here
Malaysian military operations that made headline news in Feb 2011. Click here

Operation Crimson Angel
Better than any SAF advertisement. Click here
SAF versus cynics and critics in the halcyon days of peace. Click here

On unsung heroes:
Special forces ops. Click here

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Half empty or half full?: A look at the media reports on Singapore's expanded train network

When two newspapers from the mainstream media carry the same newspoint in their standfirst - that 80 per cent of homes will be within a 10-minute walk from a station - you can tell this is one message officialdom wishes to propagate to Singaporeans.

If media relations is measured by putting ticks in boxes, then the Page 1 treatment that The Straits Times and the Today newspaper gave to the event must make the public relations (PR) team that penned the news release really proud.

But apart from telling people that the Singapore government has foresight - which is a point we already know - reports that our rail network will grow from 178 km to 360 km by the year 2030 are nothing to celebrate about.

And here's why: If you draw a range ring round your home equivalent to a 10-minute walk, which works out to around 900 metres, and you find no vacant plots of land or plausible places to site a new train station, then you can draw three inferences from this assessment.

The first inference: The station may be underground and still within 10 minutes' walk from your doorstep. This, by the way, is the best case scenario.

The second: You fall within the 20 per cent of commuters who will not be able to reach a station on foot within 10 minutes.  

The last inference is more ominous: Someone is going to have to lose their property in the name of progress. For property owners mortgaged up to their eyeballs with multi-year bank loans, having their property acquired will probably dash their Singaporean dream of home ownership.

So is the glass half empty or half full?

Until engineering studies are completed and more details are released by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the government body that will plan and commission tenders to build the rail lines, it is premature to say either way.

Will the new stations be underground or elevated?

What is the exact route that the rail lines will trace?

How much land will be acquired for this rail network?

You will probably get better odds in a casino than betting that real estate in *insert your location of choice* will shoot up in value, thanks to the upcoming train stations.

The bold (or foolhardy, depending on your POV) may make a purchase now and stand to repent regret years later.

It will be a cruel joke if the bet property speculators make, based on their freelance assessments of possible station locations, ends up unerringly accurate but is perhaps too precise. This means their guesstimate is correct but their property ends up being acquired.

Your property could remain intact and still see a drop in market value. This could happen if an elevated line runs within spitting distance of your balcony or bedroom window, or if some part of your front yard or estate is gobbled up for nation-building (go ask residents who sacrificed for the North-East Line).

What's more, the long gestation period for this project - the last station is due to open 17 years from now - means Singapore will probably undergo several economic cycles during that timeframe. Can you weather the chop?

It is also important to remember that rail lines threaded around our island have to end up somewhere. Land will also be needed to stable all that rolling stock and for maintenance bays and train marshalling yards.

To be sure, land banks around Singapore will give LTA planners some room to manoeuvre. One hopes they execute their urban planning with a heart by keeping land acquisitions to the absolute minimum and not by bulldozing their way across the island, erasing homes and places we cherish.

Forward planning is all well and good.

But until plans for the rail network are firmed up and publicised, you can bet a fair number of homeowners across the island will be kept on tenterhooks, hoping that the dreaded land acquisition notice will not be pasted on their front door one day.

Caveat emptor

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Two sides of the same street: Singapore's neighbours determined to close development gap

As neighbours on two sides of the same street strait, Singapore island and Indonesia's Riau islands could not be more different.

Looking at Singapore, one sees a prosperous city-state. A modern metropolis with a postcard pretty Central Business District, coastline fringed with high-rise apartments with (literally) million-dollar views, a harbour which sees one ship arrive/depart every seven minutes or so and an international airport at Changi which is world-renowned.

Look south to the Riau islands and one sees a strikingly different scale of urban development, even with these islands sitting astride the same sea lanes and air routes that helped Singapore prosper.

The situation will change within a decade or so as Indonesia kick starts growth in the Riau islands and Malaysia mimicks Singapore's growth story.

With a somewhat belated realisation that natural harbours are also found in Riau, Indonesia has voiced ambitions to create a deep water port to rival that of its northern neighbour. 

Work starts this year to build wharf space some two kilometres long with the intention of raising Riau's status as a transhipment destination. When the port is ready around 2015, Singapore can expect to feel the heat as shipping lines which call on Singapore no longer have to anchor their operations in the Lion City.

New competition
In and around Singapore, the city-state's neighbours are determined to trace Singapore's growth trajectory and bring greater prosperity to their citizens.

Eastward from Singapore will rise Malaysia's oil storage hub at Tanjung Bin and Tanjung Langsat, on the eastern tip of the Malay peninsula. Its developer, the Johor Petroleum Development Corporation Berhad, has designed fuel farms capable of holding some 10 million cubic metres of POL when the massive complex is ready around 2025.

Off the western end of Singapore stands the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, which in 2000 scored a coup after container ships from Danish shipping giant, Maersk, set course for Pelepas instead of Singapore. The departure of Maersk is said to have accounted for some 10 per cent loss of business for Singapore's port sector. As Johore strengthens its economic clout, so will PTP's status as a regional port.

In Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur, will rise an international financial district spanning some 70 acres. Malaysian ambitions to establish KL as a global financial centre were made abundantly clear last July when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak unveiled plans to build the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) in the heart of the city. 

The project has more than symbolic value to the PM: TRX is named after the premier's father. Construction of TRX starts from the middle of 2013.When it is ready around the end of this decade, some 100 of the world's top companies from the banking and finance industry will have an address in TRX. 

Window of opportunity
Singapore needs to make the most of the meagre window of opportunity between groundbreaking and project completion to up its game. It could indeed stand idle and not do anything. However, to maintain status quo while business rivals forge ahead means one is regressing.

It will be clear to Singapore watchers that the common denominator between Indonesia's deep water port project, Malaysia's petrochem hub, Johor's Pelepas container port and KL's upcoming international financial district is the fact that these industry sectors are the same ones that power Singapore's economic engine.

In coming years, Singapore will need to redouble efforts to strengthen strategic relations with longstanding customers in its core economic sectors. The charm offensive needs to get underway before the city-state's neighbours roll-out  incentives to woo the same clients to their spanking new premises with tax breaks, pioneer status and other hard-to-resist goodies. 

Indonesia and Malaysia cannot be expected to throw trillions in Rupiah and billions in Ringgit at these projects only to watch them stand idle. Having had the firsthand privilege of seeing Malaysian business minds at work, Singapore better be in good shape once its regional business rivals are ready to challenge it to a race.

One should remember that business siphoned out of Singapore is unlikely to return. 

Incremental losses from each industry sector could balloon to a sizeable amount, especially for high value industry sectors that our neighbours have set their sights on. 

As container ships get ever larger, the loss suffered by Singapore for every mega container ship that calls elsewhere will be disproportionate to that of yesteryear when ships were designed with more modest payloads.

Looking farther afield, strategic planners in Dubai are also hungry for a bigger slice of the pie. This April, Australian airline Qantas will reroute flights from Australia to London and Frankfurt out of Singapore to Dubai under an alliance with UAE-based carrier, Emirates.

Not so long ago, Singapore's status as a stopover for thirsty airliners on the Kangeroo route from England to Australia looked assured. The critical mass built up from the number of airlines that used Singapore as a refuelling stop saw Changi Airport evolve as a hub for transit travelers.

Alas, technology which has given airliners longer legs has given airline planners options to fly longer routes with fewer stopovers. Indeed, there may well come a day when airlines plying destinations in Europe and the Middle East to Australia could bypass Singapore altogether as a refueling stop.

To avert that situation means pulling out all the stops to ensure this island nation continues to remain business relevant amid change.

Our collective failure will not mean the end of Singapore. As a geographical entity, the city-state will not disappear but will probably putter along on a slow, prolonged death as its economic life slowly ebbs away over decades.

Airlines and shipping lines will still ply air and sea routes around Singapore - the big difference being that the airplanes and ships will stop elsewhere. No stopover means no business, no business means fewer jobs. Shrinking employment spells trouble for the Lion City.

Unless we find new ways to identify and catch the next economic wave, Singaporeans may have to contend with seeing their modern metropolis slump to the status of a has-been, irrelevant to the world economy, outpaced and outfoxed by savvy business minds, a modern age Malacca whose golden era came and went for good, a regional backwater whose best days are but a footnote in Southeast Asian history.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How not to manage irritating blog postings: Lessons in info management from PM Lee versus Alex Au's Yawning Bread blog

[Updated 11:04pm 6 Jan'13 with a quote from blogger Alex Au]

If you feel your good name has been hurt by a blog post, the last thing you need or want to do is to direct eyeballs to that blog.

Above all, having the mainstream media (MSM) publish your grievances on Page 1 and televise them on the nightly TV news bulletin is a surefire way of igniting interests in the very blog that you feel so aggrieved about.

This traffic spurt is exactly what the local blog, Yawning Bread (click here), has enjoyed.

Visitors were drawn to Yawning Bread, thanks to MSM reports that said Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had asked the blog to remove an allegedly defamatory article plus comments from readers.

For students of public relations and information management practitioners, news reports of PM Lee versus local blogger Alex Au provide an interesting case study on how the blogosphere should not be engaged.

"Traffic to my site spiked about 800 to 1,000 percent above normal in the remaining 8 hours of Friday afternoon/evening after news circulated on Facebook re the lawyer's letter," said Mr Au in response to a query on Yawning Bread's page views from Senang Diri."The total hits for Friday 4 January was almost 100,000."

While PM Lee's lawyer succeeded in getting the "defamatory post" removed from Yawning Bread, curious netizens who contributed to the spike in traffic could read about the case in four follow-up postings on the matter.

This sort of information management plan is perplexing. This is not how IOs I know and have had the benefit of learning from would run their info ops campaign.

Firstly, Yawning Bread has been elevated to the status of thought-leader since it was the blog that broke news of the relationship between information technology company, Action Information Management (AIM) and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Being a thought-leader in the real world and cyberworld is important because people will gravitate to such opinion shapers for their ideas, reactions and viewpoints.

Such a reputation is not earned overnight.

Secondly, by declining to comment on the number of companies the PAP owns, the system surrendered the initiative in info management regarding this episode. This loss of initiative means the system is reacting to public opinion, rather than leading it. The Facebook posting by MIW politician Grace Fu, dutifully published in full by the MSM's Sunday Times on 6 January 2013, comes after the milk has been spilled.

Thirdly, legal action is high-handed but admittedly necessary where reputations have been besmirched. However, unleashing the silks comes with a price: It gives rise to concerns among Singaporeans that perhaps the only way to sift the wheat from the chaff is to have people like Alex Au raise all sorts of scenarios and wait for the system to respond to find out where the pain points are.

It also makes one wonder if legal action is the only arrow in the system's quiver. A constant and proactive programme at cultivating engaging bloggers, coupled with a desire for transparency, would do wonders in steering both sides away from a clash of ideas.

Fourthly, the AIM business is probably not a topic you would want to raise during the National Conversation, even if you have the best intentions for Singapore at heart, because you may inadvertently blunder into a minefield.

All this intellectual energy will have to be channelled somewhere. So it flows from the real world to the cyberworld and the system loses a valuable opportunity at shaping opinions when it takes on questions, concerns and criticisms from the people squarely.

Lastly, a half-baked info ops or PR plan will backfire. If the mission intent of a legal letter is to put a stop to wayward discussions on a certain matter, this has to be done decisively.

The Sunday Times said in its report today:"Blogger Alex Au yesterday apologised to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamatory comments made in an article about a deal to sell computer systems used by town councils.

"He has removed the article and related comments and replaced it with a brief note saying the article has been taken down. He also provided a link to his apology."

The paper of record has spoken. A mopping up operation by the PM's lawyer to kill follow-on postings, after the MSM reported the takedown of Part 1, would point to the system's belated realisation that it could have perhaps been more precise in its letter of demand.

So with Part 1 of the multi-part discussion erased from Yawning Bread, does this mean parts 2 to 4 are kosher?

Standby for Part 6.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training safety record for 2012

The seven Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deaths reported for 2012 made this the worst tally for Singaporeans killed in camp or during military training since 2009, when the SAF reported 10 deaths.

Last year's figure could have been higher had a near-miss, said to involve at least five servicemen, not been the case.

The incident mirrors a December 1996 tragedy when an officer cadet was shot in the chest by a 7.62mm GPMG round which had been misfired. This leads to the question whether and how well the SAF institutionalises lessons learned from previous fatal incidents and/or near-misses.

The Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF should be keenly aware that near-misses, particularly those involving firearms, shake the confidence of young soldiers in the safety protocols, guidelines and processes that are meant to safeguard SAF personnel.

Families who are aware of the near-miss also worry, not without reason, for the safety of their loved ones.

The learning value of such near-misses is tragically lost when the system does not make it a practice to share lessons learned or report close shaves to the Singaporean public. This deprives our citizens' armed forces of a golden opportunity to strengthen the safety awareness and safety first culture in Our Army.

In year-on-year terms, the training deaths reported in 2012 - the year that celebrated 45 Years of National Service - was a grim advance from the three SAF deaths reported in 2011.

The death tally for 2011 came after the SAF maintained a clean record of zero training deaths in 2010, which was an unmatched safety record since full-time conscription began in 1967.

The growth trajectory of SAF deaths from three in 2011 to seven in 2012 - more than doubling the death toll in one year - is alarming. Nobody in Singapore should attempt to densensitise Singaporeans to the gravity of the matter because every death is one too many.

Even if MINDEF/SAF halves the death rate in 2013, this means at least three funerals for NSFs or NSmen this year. Is this acceptable to you?

Last year, four of the deaths were full-time National Service (NSFs), two were operationally ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) while one was a regular.

The first training death for 2012 took place just 10 days after the start of the new year when a 28-year-old soldier fainted and failed to regain consciousness after completing his 2.4km run at Kranji Camp III.

At least two deaths in 2012 appeared to have been self-inflicted, with the likely cause of death being death by asphyxiation.

Related posts:
SAF training deaths: Views from a father of one of the fallen. Click here

SAF training deaths: Proactive, preventive action speaks louder than words. Click here