PAP candidate Ng Chee Meng dispelling groupthink

From ‘Former CDF dispels concerns over group-think in PAP’, 22 Aug 2015, article by Laura Elizabeth Philomin in Today

With almost a third of the Cabinet members hailing from the military, former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Ng Chee Meng – who was today (Aug 22) formally unveiled as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency – dispelled concerns of “group think” among the country’s political leaders.

…“All of us have unique life experiences… we all bring unique perspectives. Even while we were in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), we speak our mind, we share our views – and the only common thing that drives us is the common desire to serve and achieve the best outcomes,” said Mr Ng, 47, who stood down as CDF earlier this week to enter the political fray.

He added: “The best way to look at group think is to first, be aware of such probabilities and possibilities, and thereafter make sure that we listen actively to differing views, consult widely from the different sectors so that we can seek out the best ideas to answer or design any solutions.”

To support Ng in his assessment of groupthink, DPM Teo Chee Hean chipped in by comparing himself to fellow SAF scholar Lim Swee Say, with whom he shared the same ‘crucible’ that is the SAF, but both having their own personalities, hence ‘same-same but different’. Whatever that means. The former CDF is stating the obvious, that people, by nature, are all different. But that doesn’t absolve one from being an accomplice to groupthink. In fact, you could have groupthink in full force exactly because of contrasting personalities.

If I’m a soft-spoken introvert and my co-worker is a loud obnoxious extrovert who makes his voice heard, the direction of any decision-making will tend to sway towards the vocal one even though my ideas are sound but I suck at pitching them, and the group will naturally take the path of least resistance, and the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. Over time, you’ll tend to deceive yourself that the result was the best possible ‘team’ solution, when it could very well turn out to be the shittiest decision ever made. One example of possible groupthink at work was when a staggering majority of PAP MPs voted Yes for the Population White Paper. It remains to be seen if the right decision was made.

I also think it’s rather premature for a candidate who hasn’t yet secured the electorate’s vote to give his two cents on policy-making. If he could explain to me the difference between a ‘probability’ and a ‘possibility’ of groupthink, I would be slightly more impressed. As a military leader you rule by fear of insubordination, and there’s barely any room for healthy, intellectual debate with all that chest-thumping, medal polishing and baton swinging.  If he’d done his research he would cite teary-eyed Lim Boon Heng when questioned if groupthink exists within the PAP (‘There is no groupthink *sob*’ i.e. “I’m a living example because I opposed the casinos and cried in my sleep over it”). Nobody in the PAP accused him of crocodile tears then. You won’t expect the same outpouring of emotion from a military minister, no SIRee.

Retiring MP Inderjit Singh questioned in a lengthy Facebook post if ‘parachuting’ in so many high ranking SAF officers who are ‘cut from the same cloth’ would lead to groupthink. I don’t know, would you disagree with someone who provided you with not just a parachute bag, but a soft cushion to land on? Incidentally, Pasir Ris-Punggol was also a landing pad for one Michael Palmer. He may not have been a military man, but he sure misfired pretty bad.

So, General Ng, what colour is your parachute ?

LTA mobilising SAF soldiers during MRT breakdowns

From ‘Talk of SAF helping out in rail incidents sparks debate’, 22 Aug 15, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

News that soldiers could be roped in to help out during massive train breakdowns has sparked a debate about whether the military should pitch in during such incidents. Many questioned if rail disruptions are a “matter of national security” and whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), “a national resource”, should be called upon to help the public transport operators, which are commercial entities. Others, though, felt it was worthwhile tapping the military, which can be mobilised quickly and is “quite dependable”.

The Straits Times reported that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has approached the SAF to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

Currently, personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command and Singapore Civil Defence Force already help the LTA and public transport operators to manage such incidents.

On the issue of getting soldiers to lend a hand in the case of major disruptions, commuters had a variety of views. Accountant Lee Boon Chye, 29, who takes the train from Ang Mo Kio to work in Raffles Place, said: “While the army has the manpower and resources to get things done, it should not be helping to solve problems of companies that are profit- driven... It is also not a national crisis that requires soldiers. “These companies can hire auxiliary police officers or private security firms.”

…Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said it is “not a bad thing” to involve the SAF for contingency planning, especially for worst-case scenarios. The associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University said: “Train breakdowns have so far resulted in delays for a few hours.

“But a train breakdown could become a crisis if there are other untoward consequences, such as a stampede, civil unrest or if the train breakdown continues for days or weeks… it will then be justifiable for the military to support efforts to manage the crisis.”

The last time the SAF was activated for a major event that had nothing to do with shooting and killing people was LKY’s state funeral, where 10,000 men and women were roped in to make sure the procession went smoothly (No job too big for Ah Boys, 16 May 15, ST). Other festivities which involved the army include the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, the recent SEA games, and of course the annual staple that is the NDP. The military supposedly has the most experience in organising massive groups of people quickly, and besides defending the nation or going overseas for humanitarian relief efforts, it sidelines as the country’s largest logistics organisation. It’s also a dependable source of cheap labour.

Event planning aside, SAF soldiers have been also tasked to patrol airports to beef up security against terrorists, which led some to question whether our boys in green are even qualified to handle hostage situations or urban warfare. There’s an unlikely long-standing relationship between SAF and public transport operators. In 1976, SBS ‘borrowed’ SAF mechanics to repair their buses in the midst of labour shortage. More bizarrely, soldiers were ‘volunteered’ to become guinea pigs in an 1987 experiment where they were subject to a mock breakdown exercise in the middle of a tunnel, squeezed into two cars to mimic peak hour conditions without air-conditioning. What is this, the Third Reich?

So not only does the SAF supply us with human bodies to do ‘sai-kang’, they also provide trial participants for ethically questionable experiments that test the limits of human endurance. Presumably because they’ve been adequately hard-drilled by the war machine to swallow unspeakable torture. Incidentally, both the LTA and SMRT chiefs are former military stalwarts, so no surprise that they probably agreed on this brilliant idea with a top brass handshake. Ah Boys to MRT Ushers, really. Furthermore, shouldn’t stampede control be managed by the riot police? Or we’re all reserving those guys for Little India scuffles?

So if we’re all fine with sacrificing our army pawns to tackle ‘national crises’ in peacetime, why stop at MRT breakdowns where there’s a remote chance of stampedes and ‘civil unrest’? We could apply their operational finesse in other matters that may affect ‘national security’, so that our police officers can focus on other areas like arresting bloggers. Here’s a list for consideration:

  1. McDonald’s Hello Kitty Queues
  2. Primary One Registration
  3. Securing JEM in event of fire/ceiling collapse/flood
  4. Security at K-pop concerts
  5. Crowd control when Kong Hee goes to court
  6. Sentry duty at SMRT depots in case of trespassing vandals
  7. Collection lines for SG50 Commemorative notes
  8. Picking up dead fish hit by mysterious seaborne disease
  9. N95 mask distribution during bad haze conditions
  10. Road marshalling at marathons. Wait, they’re probably already doing that for that Army one.

Retiring Chief of Defence Force entering politics

From ‘Chief of Defence Force LG Ng Chee Meng to retire this August’, 31 July 2015, article by Neo Chai Chin, Today

In a move set to spark speculation on whether he will enter politics, the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Ng Chee Meng, will retire from the Singapore Armed Forces on Aug 18. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had announced LG Ng’s retirement on Facebook.

On his plans moving forward, LG Ng said: “While I do not rule out the option of returning to the Administrative Service or entering politics if the opportunity presents itself, my immediate focus is on handing over my duties to the incoming Chief of Defence Force.”

Dr Ng said on his Facebook post that there would inevitably be questions asked about LG Ng’s future plans. “Given his tested leadership and proven capabilities, I would not at all be surprised, if indeed he is (entering politics),” wrote Dr Ng, who is also the People’s Action Party’s organising secretary.

According to the book ‘Singapore Politics Under the PAP’, military scholars in the early seventies were second choice to ‘academic and professional’ talents when it came to recruiting new blood for the ruling party. What was once the domain of lawyers, architects, bankers and doctors has given way to Brigadier Generals and Rear Admirals. Our second PM Goh Chok Tong was reportedly ‘aware that having too many military men’ in government was BAD for Singapore’s image, and Cabinet should not have a majority of so-called ‘paper generals’ with the same military mindset. Goh, incidentally, was once a TROOP LEADER in the Boy Scouts.

Hmm, I wonder what kind of impression that a government dominated by ‘scholar-soldiers’, some of whom get promptly appointed Minister of States after elections, would give the rest of the world.

Nevermind that the captain of the Singapore ship is the shining example of the military-PAP-public service complex, the youngest ever Brigadier General at the tender age of 32. Our DPM Teo is another, so is the current Secretary General of NTUC and the Minister of Manpower, a man who knows more than a thing or two about cardboard exercise. They even got an army guy as Auditor-General. Which turned out to be not a bad thing after all.

But it’s not just Parliament loading up with SAF powerhouses, military men have been snagging top positions in public transport operators and statutory boards as well, the most prominent one hogging the limelight at the moment being the ever apologetic Desmond Kuek, former Chief of Army and now SMRT CEO. Incidentally, Minister of Transport Lui Tuck Yew also happens to be a former Chief of Navy. Their combined military prowess could not prevent salt water from causing one of the worst train breakdowns in history.

Your retirement money is also in the safe hands of a military man. Earlier this year, Ng Chee Peng, former navy chief was appointed chief executive of the CPF board. He also happens to be Ng Chee Meng’s brother. Rear Admiral Ronnie Tay was chief of NEA and then IDA. BG Tan Yih Shan spearheaded IPOS. Chew Men Leong, ex Navy Chief, helmed PUB and is currently the head of LTA. So, assuming that men drilled in the ways of the warrior have the skill-set and discipline to deliver with clockwork precision, it’s inevitable that your money, your drinking water, your internet, mobile phone, car, even groceries all somehow have links to the SAF hydra. If an SAF scholar ever takes the chair at MDA, you can kiss your porn goodbye.

Maybe we should reserve our SAF scholars for something more befitting of their calibre than running ministries. Like saving our country from an alien invasion, a doomsday asteroid or Ebola. Like this badass below.

SAF getting first female Brigadier General

From ‘SAF promotes first female to Brigadier General’, 26 June 2015, article by Chan Luo Er, CNA

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) now has their first female Brigadier-General (BG). Col Gan Siow Huang was one of seven Colonels promoted to the rank of BG and RADM (One -Star) at the annual SAF promotion ceremony on Friday (Jun 26). She will assume her rank on Jul 1.

She was among the first four women to receive the SAF merit scholarship in 1993, and she now heads the Joint Manpower Department. In recent years, she has been making calls for more women to choose the SAF as a career. Currently, close to 1,500 women hold combat jobs in the SAF, less than 10 per cent of SAF regular personnel. Every year, about 60 women join the army.

As women make progress in the armed forces, Singapore continues to lag in terms of female presence in boardroom positions (9% of board seats). This despite instances of negative gender stereotypes in army recruitment ads, such as the ‘Shades of Green‘ campaign that suggested that there’s still a little vain princess in every woman looking at a career in SAF, rather than a GI Jane. It’s probably a matter of time before we get a female Chief of Army, and this is likely to be even before we get our first female Prime Minister.

Here’s a timeline of achievements by women in uniform in an organisation that is traditionally helmed by men with moustaches. As expected, those in the honour roll who are also mothers are lauded for their ability to ‘balance work and family commitments’, and talk about how their husbands are always ‘supportive’ and OK with the fact that their spouses have more balls than they do.

1967: First deployed doing clerical and logistics work.
1971: First military car drivers.
1987: First Senior Warrant Officer (SWO).
1987: First combat instructors. In this article, the now derogratory phrase ‘fairer sex’ was used.
1999: First Lieutenant Colonels (LTC) (High-flying women, 30 June 1999, ST)
2000: First Commanding Officer (CO) of an an army combat unit
2005: First colonel. Like BG Gan, Karen Tan (now retired from SAF) is a working mother.
2006: First Regimental Sergeant Major
2007 (?): First F-16 fighter pilot
2014: First Apache helicopter pilot. Captain Joyce Xie was formally trained in molecular and cell biology.
2015: First BG.

As you can see, women in uniform have achieved more in 15 years than their counterparts in Parliament. Our Cabinet is still predominantly male. Maybe Jack Neo, currently bleeding the Ah Boys franchise dry, may want to consider an ‘Ah Girls to Generals’ movie trilogy.

Butler service making NSmen bad soldiers

From ‘Butler service for NSmen reflects wrong mindset’, 30 April 15, ST Forum

(Mrs Elisa Choo): HOW can a national serviceman fight and die for his country when he does not learn how to be faithful in taking care of his duffel bag, no matter how inconvenient it is and how much space it takes up (“Start-up offers ‘butler service’ for NSmen”; Monday)? This reflects the wrong mindset that some Singaporean soldiers have.

We are the sons and daughters of this land. We defend our country because this is our home. A mother with an asthmatic child will always ensure the child has a nebuliser close by, because it is what may save the child’s life during an asthmatic attack. It is burdensome, but the mother will do it out of love.

This is what being an operationally ready NSman means – being always ready to respond to any emergency and doing it in the right spirit if we truly love our nation. I discussed the article with my teenage sons, to ensure that they understood the importance of personal responsibility and their responsibility towards their nation.

It is not just the Defence Ministry’s job to educate soldiers; such values must first be inculcated at home by parents. Many parents wait for the army to train their sons. However, parents should also train their sons for the army.

Today’s NSmen have the luxury of stylish duffel bags with wheels so they can double up as vacation luggage for cheapskates, yet despite such cool features there apparently is a market for army storage solutions, courtesy of’s ‘Kaki’ service. My army junk is tucked away in the dark recesses of my storeroom, and in the unlikely event that I do need to put on a helmet or wear green socks, rest assured I will be reporting to camp in a jiffy, duffel bag or no bag, ready to kick some enemy ass. Nevermind if my mess tin for combat rations has streaks of lizard shit all over it. It’s my sacrifice to the nation.

To call the Kaki service some kind of ‘butlerly’ is misleading. No one is going to turn up in a tux with white gloves and a complimentary pot of Earl Grey tea before attending to your army crap, or crack dry English jokes at your expense like Jeffrey from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Chances are it’ll be a sweaty guy in a cap doing the stuff you used to ask your poor maid to do, except folding in the sleeves for your smart four.

Your number 4 is ready, sire

Here we have a concerned mother with a typical misconception of what the primary purpose of NS is; building ‘character’: It’s your shit, you take care of it. Leaving your duffel bag to professionals is like depriving a wheezing child of life-saving medication. If you pay someone else to look after your stuff, you’ll do the same to your parents when they’re old, put them in some cold storage nursing home in JB. You’ll become an amoral psychopath if you dump your precious kit offsite, not to mention a terrible soldier with not an iota of patriotism in your bones.

No, the army is not a school for saints. It’s designed to make you a killing machine to die vaingloriously for your country, and if you could hire air-con buses to ferry NSmen to and from ferry terminals, issue iPads, or outsource toilet cleaning so that our soldiers can focus on, well, shooting at and killing people, then what more a duffel bag delivery service? I mean, aren’t NSmen all already having some kind of home laundry service for their soiled attire? It’s called ‘Mommy’. I wouldn’t mind having a boot polishing service either; all those minutes putting a sparkle on my boots for show during some shitty parade could have been better spent doing push-ups, or practising my rifle assembly drills. In the near future, I could send drones to fetch my ammo so I don’t have to be bogged down like Rambo when I assault trenches on a hill. Would that make me a sissy soldier too?

If you think a butler service is worth the money, by all means go for it. But you know who are the ones who REALLY need storage solutions? Hoarders, that’s who. And YOU think you have space issues?

You need Super Kaki for this

Singapore swimmers dropping the name ‘Red Lions’

From ‘MINDEF welcomes SSA’s decision to drop Red Lions name’, 18 March 2015, article in CNA

The Ministry of Defence said it welcomes the Singapore Swimming Association’s decision to not use the name ‘Red Lions’. This comes just days after Manpower Minister and Singapore National Olympic Council President Tan Chuan-Jin announced that Singapore’s aquatic athletes will be collectively known as “The Red Lions”, in a bid to provide a common identity for the sport.

The Red Lions tag was meant to unite the five disciplines – diving, swimming, synchronised swimming, waterpolo and open water swimming. However, the name is already used for the Singapore Armed Forces’ parachute team.

In response to media queries, Chief Commando Officer COL Simon Lim said: “We welcome Singapore Swimming Association’s move to drop the use of ‘Red Lions’. The SAF Red Lions and our national aquatic teams are sources of national pride for Singaporeans. We are supportive of our aquatic athletes and are cheering them on as they fly the Singapore flag high at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.”

SAF came up with the ‘Red Lions’ in 1995, and when the SSA decided to adopt the tag for our swimming team, commandos cried foul. Granted, it’s awkward to name a swim team after a land mammal, likewise an elite group of flying commandos, but this ruckus over a name supposedly synonymous with the NDP parachuters smacks of poor, well, sportsmanship. These are our own countrymen fighting tooth and nail for national glory for goodness sake.

MINDEF itself has been accused of stealing other people’s ideas, namely a mobile medical station. ‘Lions’, in fact, has been used to identify sport teams way before the commandos decided to add a national colour to it and claim ownership. Here’s a rundown:

1) The Singapore Lions, polo (1920’s). I suppose the one with horses.

2) Our national soccer team (1970’s till now), with the developmental ‘Young Lions’ under their wing.

3) The Dunearn Lions, rugby (1970’s)

4) The ‘Police Lions‘, a squash team (1980)

5) Amazingly, a tennis squad called the Brylcreem Lions (1970s). I’m sure they gel very well as a team.

6) TaeKwanDo Lions(1980s), which in my opinion, is the most befitting of the king of the jungle, a sport which involves you striking and mauling your opponent. Sometimes you also roar.

Of course these days we have teams adopting the ‘Singapore Lions’ tag without our football team making a hissy fit about it, like this cheerleading squad for example. I could form a competitive chess team and call ourselves Singapore Lions without anyone accusing me of identity theft. Like the sky-jumpers, our footballers also deserve to be called ‘a group who have dedicated their lives and put themselves through HIGH RISKS to capture people’s imagination’. But that doesn’t necessarily grant you exclusivity to the name, especially one that pays tribute to a national symbol. 

If there’s any good out of this, it gives the SSA a chance to choose a far superior name, something closer to the aquatic nature of the sport. The ST reported that other choices included the Red Singas, Red Merlions or, strangely enough, Aquamen, the latter possibly getting you in trouble with DC comics. Or AWARE since there are women in the team.  How about the Red Tomans perhaps, unless MINDEF decides to shoot the SSA down again for choosing the same colour.

Malays excluded from Navy due to lack of halal kitchens

From ‘Malays deployed in the SAF as sailors: Ng Eng Hen’, 16 Feb 2015, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

A person is deployed in a sensitive unit in the Singapore Armed Forces based on his ability and beliefs to ensure that he is not a security risk, not on his race, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday night. He also revealed that the SAF has started to deploy Malay servicemen onboard ships as sailors who will go out to sea. Previously, Malays in the navy were only deployed as “sea soldiers”, who primarily patrolled naval bases.

…Responding to a question on a perceived bias against Malays in the SAF and why they have been excluded from the Navy until now, Dr Ng said it was a “practical issue” of having halal-certified kitchens onboard ships. “(This is) because in a confined space, it is hard to have a halal kitchen. If you spend months out at sea, it is difficult.”

But provisions have been made for Malay Muslims who are willing to serve, said Dr Ng. “So we made and found some accommodation and started to have Malays in the navy as well, if the person is willing.” He also reiterated that Malays now serve in the army, navy and air force, adding that with Singapore’s small population, the SAF does not discriminate against anyone and promotes its servicemen based on their ability.

“We want to get the maximum out of each person in the SAF…we are putting the best people in the best positions.”

But for sensitive positions in the military, the SAF is not blind to the fact that “people can be blackmailed“, said Dr Ng. “We ask ourselves, can we trust this person in that position to make sure he will not be made use of, that he will not be vulnerable.”

In 1987, then Trade and Industry Minister BG Lee was bashed by critics across the Causeway for remarks which reinforced this ‘perceived bias’ against Malays in the armed forces, that the Government did not want to ‘put its soldiers in a difficult position where their emotions for the nation may be in conflict with their emotions for their religion’. In response, Chiam See Tong accused the practice as discriminatory towards the Malays and not being in the spirit of regional harmony, that the best way to build a nation was to ‘trust everybody’ to have that trust reciprocated. He was swiftly slammed by Malay MPs for trying to be a ‘hero’ for the Malay community when he was in no such position to do so.

Some observers suggest that this ‘cautious approach’ is due to an initial fear of Malay ‘Trojan Horses’ within the military, or in plainspeaking terms, ultimately a question of ‘loyalty’ amongst our own countrymen given our geopolitical ‘situation’. Lee Hsien Loong back then added that this was the ‘reality that we cannot run away from’, and the Malay situation would improve over time as the nation became ‘more integrated’. By ‘integration’, in the case of the Navy, surely we mean that a Malay soldier by now would have no qualms about firing a torpedo at someone else of the same ethnicity/religion in actual war, rather than the SAF accommodating extra space for halal kitchens on board ships, which begs the question of why these weren’t considered in the first place. How does the SAF decide which unit is more ‘sensitive’ than another as they gradually phase Malay soldiers in anyway?

What we do know is that we have Gurkhas tasked to guard the very lives of some important politicians, which I would consider a highly ‘sensitive’ deployment. Unlike our own born and bred Singaporeans, the fierce loyalty of these foreigners has never been in doubt. In Chiam’s own words, ‘We trust all kinds of foreigners but we do not trust our own Malay citizens’. In 2013, PAP MP Zaqy Mohamed raised a valid point about our eagerness in enlisting new citizens or children of foreign spouses into the army, and whether SAF was playing fair if it continues to maintain this ‘national security narrative’ affecting the military prospects of own Malay Sons of Singapore (MP asks how position of Malays in SAF compares to those of new citizens, Feb 6 2013, ST)

The ‘practical’ matter of dietary requirements aside, Ng Eng Hen also mentioned, rather strangely, about the SAF needing to screen out ‘people who can be blackmailed’, which I would infer as someone trained to be a soldier, but forced under circumstances to turn his weapon on his own people, or run away to join a mercenary brigand. Under what circumstances exactly isn’t clear. We have heard of NSmen turning their weapons on themselves though. To date, more tragedies have occurred due to suicide or accidents rather than an ’emotionally conflicted’ soldier going ‘Trojan Horse’ on the military, or someone forced to steal SAR 21s for a terrorist cell group otherwise their sex videos may get leaked on the internet. Maybe we should focus more on soldiers with undiagnosed mental disorders posing a danger to us all in peacetime , rather than being fixated on the notion that men of a certain demographic are a higher ‘security risk’ in sensitive units compared to others during actual war.

So, as Chiam has pointed out,  it appears that there still remains, especially in a time when we have our own people joining armies to wage war against Syria, a lingering trust issue in the military despite our integration efforts. At the same time, as the Defence Minister has stated himself, we don’t want to put Malays in high-ranking positions just to meet certain expected racial quotas, which would amount to ‘tokenism’. What we need is an honest, open discussion about the actual place of Malays in the armed forces, what exactly constitutes a ‘security risk’, whether this concern is still relevant today, and not, to put it in army vernacular, a ‘smoke-out’.

In the late nineties, LKY was more specific as to what a Malay soldier shouldn’t be commanding, namely a ‘machine gun unit’, that it would be ‘tricky business’ if such a soldier had family or religious ties to our immediate neighbours and that ‘he and his family’ would have a tragedy on their hands if we did not think this through. He did not say if it was OK for them to pilot fighter jets, drive tanks or even help design weapons in a research lab for that matter. PAP Malay MPs were quick to shrug off the senior Lee’s comment as an ‘honest and candid one’, and needs to be put in the right ‘context’ given our geographical realities. The reality is that if it were anyone but LKY telling us what a Malay should or should not do in such an indelicate manner, even if it were ‘candid’ to the point of satire, they may just be arrested for sedition.


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