It was sad enough to read about the death of national serviceman Private Dominique Sarron Lee’s death back in 2012, and subsequently the sad circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as other deaths in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). In recent weeks, we’ve also heard about Benjamin Lim’s death, and today, how the case concerning Dominique’s death was dismissed in court.
Private Dominique’s death was an accident. It was a preventable accident. Someone was responsible for that accident.
The family of Private Dominique had filed suit in the high court against the SAF and two officers who were negligent in the training exercise. The case was thrown out. Lawyers for the two officers had argued that the defendants are indemnified from suits of negligence if the deaths or injuries occured during service. The judge also dismissed arguments by the plaintiff that there was a contract between the SAF and Private Dominique, and that the former had breached its contractual duty to ensure the highest standard of training safety.
Perhaps the SAF and the two officers have won in court. But, it’s really sad isn’t it? Are we going to just leave this case as one of an unfortunate accident?
To make matters worse, the family of Private Dominique apparently has to pay for the legal costs too. A Singapore son died in a tragic accident, and the family has to pay costs in their failed bid to find some closure in court.
The case with Benjamin Lim is, shall we say, still developing. We can only speculate at this time the reasons for his suicide. Perhaps it has to do with his being brought to a police station of questioning. Perhaps it was compounded by how his school handled the matter, before and after he was taken by the police. Or perhaps there were some other factors we know not about.
I thought, however, that the way the government machinery dealt with the situation was rather cold. Everyone supposedly did their jobs right, but the boy committed suicide, we don’t know why. The fact that there’s now an apparently discrepancy in how the Minister of Education reported the matter in parliament, and Benjamin Lim’s father’s account of the telephone call from the school’s counsellor, seems to suggest that the fact-finding mission hadn’t even been quite thorough.
I’ll grant that we haven’t heard the end of this case, so perhaps we should not draw too many conclusions about the events surrounding the suicide. But there is no doubt that the treatment of the matter could have been more empathetic.
Singapore is a success story in many ways. We’ve crossed 50 years of nation building and made our little red dot on the map recognised globally. But as we make strive to do greater things, have we forgotten why and who we’re working so hard for?
Each death is tragic. How many more do we need before we get people in the right places to sit up, pay attention, and do the right thing?