The Singapore Armed Forces and Other Matters Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

Mr Speaker,

This bill proposes, among other things, to amend the SAF Act 1972 to establish a digital and intelligence service to be led by a new Chief of Digital and Intelligence Services alongside other existing service chiefs., make changes and enhance punishments in the SAF and to permit military manoeuvres being carried out in catchment areas currently under the PUB. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I support the creation of the DIS. However, I do have some clarifications for the minister.  

Digital and Intelligence Service Personnel

MINDEF has said that for the proposed DIS, the SAF will grow the initial core of digital experts through recruitment, in-service conversions, and professional partnerships with the wider digital ecosystem, and that it will also be leveraging on NSF and NSmen personnel with tech talents. May I ask the minister for a start what is the proportion of servicemen which MINDEF expects to recruit from outside MINDEF or SAF? What is the expected proportion of uniformed staff and non-uniformed staff?

Will non-Singaporean or PRs be allowed to serve in the DIS and if so, what are the security safeguards in place to ensure national security?  

Digital and Intelligence Service – Proper governance in respect of the operational role and limits of the Service and its staff

Mr Speaker, I would also like to ask the minister what measures are in place to ensure that in carrying out its work to safeguard the security of our country, the DIS will be bound by clear regulations governing the conduct of their investigations and other work which will prevent any misuses of its investigation powers or resources, especially during peacetime. I have full confidence in our armed forces and its personnel. Nevertheless, clearly spelt out regulations will ensure that all personnel will know the legal limits of their operational work and ensure surveillance, investigation and other actions will be taken in full compliance with the law, including if the service is expected to work with another government agency.

Discipline and Punishment – Introduction of the Concept of Composition of Offences

This Bill also introduces the concept of composition of offences to the disciplinary regimes of the SAF, the Civil Defence and the Police Force. May I ask the minister what is the thinking behind the introduction of composition of offences? Why is this considered to be a positive enhancement of the disciplinary regime?

I recall from my experience in the SAF some years ago as an NSmen as well as a unit disciplinary officer, that a conviction pursuant to a summary trial will be captured in the records of an errant servicemen and may possibly affect the performance assessment of such servicemen. May I clarify with the minister, under the proposed composition of offences regime, will an offence or the fact of an offence being compounded be recorded in the disciplinary or the personnel records of an errant serviceman and if so, will this be a relevant factor for purposes of the assessment of the serviceman’s performance and his promotion prospects? On the other hand, if compounded offences are scrubbed from the personnel records, will the records not show an inaccurate picture of a serviceman’s disciplinary records with misdemeanours and commission of less serious offences not being reflected.

Next, may I also ask the minister whether to elaborate on the guidelines for the independent disciplinary officers deciding on whether to allow the servicemen to compound the offence? For example, will a repeat of a similar offence by a serviceman disallow the independent disciplinary officer to compound the offence again?

Discipline and Punishment – Enhancing punishments

I note that this bill is enhancing the maximum punishments under the SAF Act which can be awarded for certain offences as well as by the relevant officer assigned to officiate summary trials.

Clauses 12 to 17 increase the current fine amounts that may be awarded in a summary trial by a disciplinary officer or a Senior Disciplinary Committee.

Besides the reasons given by the minister in his speech for the enhancements under the SAF Act, may I ask the minister whether there has been a significant or proportionate increase in summary trials and/or convictions at summary trials in the last 5 or 10 years and if so whether this plays a part in the Government deciding to enhance the punishments.  Can the minister share with the house the number of summary trials carried out each year in the past 5 years?

The carrying out of maneouvres in catchment areas

The last point I wish to raise relates to Clause 27 of the Bill which proposes to amend Section 7 of the Military Maneouvres Act to permit the SAF to carry out military manoeuvres in catchment areas with the approval of PUB.  While military action can occur across any geographical feature and training has to be as realistic as possible, the impact of military equipment could well be damaging and polluting to the waterways and the surroundings. I would like to know besides approval, what oversight of the military exercises will PUB have? Does PUB have complete say in its pre-exercise or pre-training assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed SAF training? Does PUB have a continuing duty to supervise the training being carried out on the ground so that PUB is able to ensure that the actual environmental impact of any SAF training in any of its public reservoirs is minimized? If not, can PUB be given such a power to supervise the actual use of its lands by the SAF?

Thank you.