Friday, November 16, 2012

PAP Member of Parliament Alex Yam Ziming's words of wisdom versus Internet noise

Member of Parliament Alex Yam Ziming has entered the Hansard as the first MP to raise a point about Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deaths on Fridays.

The point Mr Yam trawled up would be familiar to readers of this blog: Fatal Friday was mentioned a year 10 months ago in a post titled "Singapore Armed Forces training safety audit: SAF deaths from 2001 to 2010".

The January 2011 post said: "In the decade just past, 42 servicemen and women died serving their country.

"Friday proved the deadliest day for the SAF. Why? I have no ready answer. From 2001 to 2010, 14 SAF servicemen died on a Friday. Could the promise of a weekend out of camp make SAF personnel let their guard down on the last day of a work week?"

In the Singaporean Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Yam said:"Since 2001, 16 SAF servicemen have died or encountered accidents on Fridays. Is it possible that safety is lax because this is the last training day of the week?"

What is more surprising than hearing Internet noise repeated in Parliament was the response from Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen.

He said:"About Fridays - I have to check that up. But if it's true, I think that's a useful point."

As Mr Yam, MP for Chua Chu Kang Group Representation Constituency, sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence & Foreign Affairs, it is likely his access to defence data goes beyond what you and I can get our hands on.

But why does it take a debate on deaths of Singaporeans in the military to bring up a point netizens mulled over and debated nearly two years back? Are we a society that acts decisively only after somebody dies?

The MIW's views on Internet commentators have never been flattering. Netizens have been accused of making more noise than sense. Bloggers are said to nurse partisan views.

If that's the case, I would be most keen on learning why the dear Member of Parliament's personal research - assuming he compiled the death statistics by himself - mirrors the training audit timeframe cited in this blog? Why not take it a step further by astonishing us with research that stretches from the first year of compulsory National Service (NS) to the 45th anniversary of NS, which is this year?

The lives of Singaporeans and the need to tighten safety in the SAF are surely worth that extra research, is it not?

Why has Mr Yam's observation about Fridays come to light only now? Anyone who googled "SAF" and "training safety" wouldn't fail to find this blog.
What is more baffling is the Defence Minister's response. Don't his staff officers update the Minister on trends in death statistics?

Granted, a blog on Singaporean defence matters attracts only a niche audience.

But surely the subject of SAF training deaths safety is grave enough to command the attention of MPs who stand in the House championing the values and way of life we all hold dear?

As the author of the January 2011 post, I am quite happy even if the post inspired a thought driver for a point raised in Parliament. Am also assured that the baseline research proved accurate.

One nonetheless hopes that the nagging suspicion that the original post was plagiarised milked for talking points, refreshed with updated training stats and paraded in Parliament to serve a political agenda is totally unfounded.

Whiter than white? Hrmmm.....

You may also like:
Singapore Armed Forces training safety audit: SAF Deaths from 2001 to 2010. Please click here.
Singapore Armed Force Training Safety Audit 2001 to 2010: A look at training halts. Please click here.


Anonymous said...

In your "training halts" post, you wrote:

3 Jan 2003, Four RSN women regulars died after RSS Courageous was rammed by a container vessel.

11 May 2007, Two NSFs killed by a ROCAF F-5F which crashed into a warehouse in Taiwan. A third NSF was flown to Singapore for treatment but died in Singapore more than a week later."

Both incidents happened on Fridays; seven personnel died. The Navy ship was on ops, and there is a different ship on ops every day --- nothing special about Friday; those in Taiwan were simply unlucky, again nothing to do with Friday.

Were these two cases considered in your "Fatal Friday" statistics? And if so, how would this affect your conclusions? (Your original count was 14 of 42. If you examine the other cases less these two cases, then 7 of 35 deaths occurred on Friday --- 1 in 5. By the way, this year's deaths occurred on Tue, Fri, Sun.)

Anonymous said...

Just to add to my earlier comment. This year's Friday death was the overturned jeep: early Friday morning. The cause was unlicensed driver and lap belt not worn (and not enforced by driver and vehicle commander), plus poor supervision and a poor safety culture. Not sure if it being a Friday had anything to do with it...

Anonymous said...

if the SAF were to revert back to 5 1/2-day work week, then there will be no "friday - the last trg day of the week" syndrome.

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous poster for the first two comments,
The SAF Training Audit post published in January 2011 picked that period as it contained 10-year's worth of statistics. At the time, I felt it was interesting to assess trends (if any) over the decade just past.

Am unsure why the MP picked 2001 as the same start point. Only he would know. For your information, Friday deaths pre-date 2001.

Presumably, the Rt Hon MP's parallel research track drove us to the same conclusion (i.e. 14 on Friday's between 2001 and 2010 plus two more since the training audit was posted on this blog).

You may perhaps like to direct your query to the GPC Defence & Foreign Affairs member to find out how the honorable member tallied his death statistics.

Re: SAF deaths in 2012. You may like to add the latest Thursday death to your count.

Re: Friday.
Am not suggesting it is a causal factor. An accurate observation may not validate a hypothesis; but no hypothesis can be valid unless its observations are accurate.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the MP took his numbers directly off your blog, but what do you want him to do? Basically it is synthesis of readily available information that he could have gotten himself but was probably too lazy. Sure, it would have been nice if he mentioned your blog in Parliament but I think even you would admit that that would have been unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Why are your surprised? They have implemented a lot of policies which was orginally raised by the oppositions. They first shoot it down and later implement it as their own great idea

Anonymous said...

David, it was you blogged about "Fatal Fridays" and asked whether this could be due to servicemen letting their guard down on the last day of a work week. Now that it has been pointed out to you that there is nothing special about Fridays, it appears that you are happy to redirect further queries to Alex Yam.

Yet elsewhere on this blog, you say that trainers and commanders should be held responsible for their actions. So did you feel that you are taking responsibility for what you put on this blog, when you passed the buck for "Fatal Fridays" to the MP? Hmm.

David Boey said...

Dear Anonymous 8:12 AM 24 Nov,
There is no buck passing.

The post made a year 10 months ago about "Fatal Fridays" reflects a trend that is noticeable when one goes through a decade of fatalities from 2001 to 2010.

The original post and my responses in the comments here make it clear there is no causal link, that is, accidents happened because it was a Friday.

If some commentators feel there is nothing special about the deaths falling on a Friday, so be it. Am neither embarrassed nor upset because there was no theory to debunk, merely a trend that was pointed out on this blog many moons ago.

There are netizens here who understand the crux of this post: which is about the way some elected representatives craft their talking points to gain political mileage.

In response to the anonymous commentator (19 Nov 1:06 AM), am fully aware that it is unlikely a blogger's research will be credited in Parliament - assuming the January 2011 post inspired the MP's talking point.

But am not about to let the issue pass without pointing out the uncanny coincidence, to phrase it politely.

Best regards,