Following the Facebook post by Dominique’s mum, we have been surprised and touched by the show of support and words of encouragement from members of the public. We, the family, would like to sincerely thank those who have given their support and encouragement.
The family would like to clarify our position and address some of the misconceptions that have arisen due to lack of accurate information.
CI AND COI FINDINGS
MINDEF in its Facebook posting today (Key Findings from the Death of PTE Dominique Sarron Lee, 7 March 2016), stated that Dominique’s death was “unlikely to have been predicted”. If this was the case, why then is there a Training Safety Regulation to limit to 2, the number of smoke grenades to be used in the specific exercise that Dominique was involved in to begin with? How did SAF decide on this limit as being within safety regulation of such an exercise?
MINDEF has also repeatedly iterated that the coroner had noted that Dominique “had under played and under declared his asthmatic condition.” Yet the coroner had also opined that asthma had a weak correlation to the allergic reaction that Dominique suffered in the exercise. Furthermore, the Minister for Defence himself had said that even those without asthma may be affected by the effects of zinc chloride. So our question is, did Dominique’s alleged under play and under declaration of his condition contribute directly to his untimely demise? Our layman conclusion is that it does not.
In the Facebook statement, MINDEF stated that “the coroner noted that more smoke grenades than necessary were used during the exercise, but could not ascertain whether the acute allergic reaction was due to concentration and/or the mere exposure of zinc chloride fumes”. We had learnt anecdotally from SAF personnel, immediately after the tragic incident, that Dominique had taken part in a similar exercise before where the TSR had not been breached. This to us, suggests that the fatal allergic reaction occurred due to concentration of rather than mere exposure to zinc chloride fumes, which brings us back to the question of MINDEF’s TSR of 2 smoke grenades as being within safety limits.
If the safety hazard has to do with mere exposure to zinc chloride fumes, then the regulation on the number of smoke grenades would be irrelevant as the grenades should not even be in use at all. In that regard, we would like to ask MINDEF about the new N452 smoke grenades that have be introduced since the incident. How are they an improvement to the previous smoke grenades? Has any test been done to ascertain if the concentration and/or mere exposure to the fumes would result in acute allergic reaction? Can MINDEF/SAF share the safety aspect(s) of such an assessment (if any) with the public? What are the chemical compound(s) found in these new smoke grenades?
It is a fact that Dom died from the effects of the smoke grenades thrown. It is also a fact that the number of smoke grenades thrown exceeded thrice the safety limits. We do not know how more direct a link one can infer from this, about the factors leading to Dominique’s untimely death. The Coroner’s Inquiry is to ascertain the cause of death. The Coroner’s Inquiry does not determine whether or not the 2 officers or MINDEF is/are culpable or not. Can MINDEF kindly make this point clear in its statement? The Minister for Defence, in his Parliamentary Statement in November 2012, stated that the COI concluded that the two officers were negligent. But in the Facebook statement, BG Chan stated that the COI “did not find that the two officers were directly responsible for PTE Lee’s death”. Can MINDEF again, kindly clarify if the Ministerial Statement or the Facebook statement was erroneous?
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MINDEF/SAF
MINDEF/SAF has not apologized formally to the family for the incident resulting in Dominique’s death. We had previously requested that the Minister for Defence offer the apology directly to Dominique’s mum as acknowledgement of the negligence on their part, and of the grief she has suffered, but we were rebuffed. We were told by the MINDEF representative, in no uncertain terms, that the Minister will never apologise for the incident, nor will any senior official from MINDEF/SAF.
Subsequently, we offered an olive branch to MINDEF. Instead of the personal apology, we requested for MINDEF to pay for Dom’s tomb as a symbolic gesture, but this was again rejected. Legal constraints were cited as the reason for the rejection. It is only today (7 March 2016) that we see the first statement of apology from MINDEF in their Facebook statement addressed to the general public.
We have repeatedly asked for details on how the two officers have been dealt with as the Minister for Defence had said in Parliament in November 2012, that they had been negligent in their duties. The COI had also found that they did not comply with safety regulations.
We are not out to persecute the two officers, nor asking for them to be crucified. We do not believe in an eye for an eye. We are only asking for MINDEF/SAF to be accountable. Minister K. Shanmugam himself had said in Parliament in May 2012, that “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”. But MINDEF/SAF has thus far, refused to show us how the justice has been done. All we know for sure from recent Facebook postings by netizens, is that one of the officers was promoted in July 2014. To our layman understanding, this seems to be a contradiction of the assurances by MINDEF/SAF that the negligent officers have been duly dealt with, that justice has been done.
Could MINDEF kindly clarify their statement in the Facebook posting, that ‘‘administrative and disciplinary action against the two officers” have been taken? Please inform the public how the two officers have been “punished according to military law” so that the public can see for themselves that the justice has been served, and not just know it to have been served.
IMPROVEMENTS TO SAFETY
It is of small comfort to the family to know that following Dominique’s death, improvements have been made to ensure the safety of all National Service men, with “the setting up of a Safety and Systems Review Directorate, the convening of a Respiratory Medicine Specialist Advisory Board to review medical classification Asthma, and the deploying of more safety officers on the ground as full-time Unit Safety Officers”, as well as the introduction of “new N452 grenades … to replace the smoke grenades used in that training exercise”. We wish all these safety measures had been in place sooner so that it would not have taken a death, Dominique’s death, for the SAF to realize their lapses in ensuring the safety of all National Service men.
SUPPORT FOR THE FAMILY
MINDEF’s statement revealed that we had “previously taken out a pre-action discovery application, which [we] subsequently withdrew” and that the court had “awarded costs to MINDEF”, which they had waived. What the statement does not mention is the fact that the said application was withdrawn because we accepted the AGC’s request to enter a mediation with MINDEF, and the agreement was made on the condition that the legal fees were waived. The mediation did not go as planned as MINDEF was not willing to accede to our request for either the Minister to apologise to the family or MINDEF to pay for Dominique’s tomb. Left with no other recourse, the family made the difficult decision of seeking redress in a civilian court.
We would like to clarify that this law suit has never been about money. It has always been about getting answers to our questions. We would not have taken the legal route had MINDEF been fully “committed to assisting and providing” us with the answers we seek.
To concerned members of the public, we would like to clarify that to date, we have not accepted nor received any compensation from MINDEF/SAF for Dominique’s untimely demise. The family has repeatedly rejected offers from MINDEF/SAF to discuss monetary compensation. We have only accepted a funeral grant to defray the cost of the funeral, on the same day Dominique was sent back home in a coffin. This grant, according to the SAF, is not part of the compensation.
Finally, we would like to appeal to the public be fair to Dr Chee Soon Juan. We had initiated the meeting with Dr Chee as we are at our wit’s end. We do not intend nor wish for this to be a political issue. We had, over the past 3 years, approached no less than 4 PAP MPs, including an anchor Minister and a GPC Chairman for their assistance. We had even written to the Prime Minister several times, pleading for help in getting answers. All they did was to direct our questions to MINDEF for their reply. Such help is as useful to us, as a comb is to Michael Jordan. We are not siding with any political party; we are just seeking answers to get some closure. We only seek accountability from MINDEF and SAF.
We are not asking Singaporeans to change the government; We are asking Singaporeans to demand that the government change the laws to achieve “justice and equality” for all. How can we continue to trust the government when we now know that they have set lower standards of accountability for themselves in law, when In fact they should set higher standards for themselves?
Unlike MINDEF, we do not have a team of lawyers or PR personnel to craft out statements. While their spin doctors spin ambiguities to manage the fiasco that they have created for themselves through their high-handed handling of our case, we can only rely on our own heartfelt responses to speak about what we intrinsically know to be an injustice to not just us, but the people of Singapore. We lay all our cards on the table. MINDEF, we ask that you do the same. Please be transparent. We do not think that Dominique’s death is in any way a matter of national security that requires secrecy. While you are at it, kindly, with our permission, reveal to the public the compensation that you had intended to offer the family, so that all Singaporeans will know how much the life of a promising young man is worth to MINDEF.