An intriguing story about how a regular Company Sergeant Major (CSM) with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Cheok Thiam Soon, borrowed money from a full-time national serviceman (NSF), Kang Xueming, and has staunchly refused to pay the sum of money back had made its rounds on the Internet early Saturday morning. The original FaceBook note – with an accompanying photo album of “evidence” incriminating the former – detailed the exchanges from the perspective of the NSF, including a news clipping from Lian He Wan Bao. The original uploads are no longer available, but here is a brief summary of the aforementioned note (emphasis mine):
On 26 July 2011, CSM Cheok Thiam Soon wanted to borrow SGD$5000 & promised to return me in 2 days’ time. I was reluctant to lend him, but I was also being pressured by the fact that I needed his signature for my ORD clearance. Cheok then went on & used his authority by saying, ‘Dont worry, I’m your CSM & you’ll be able to find me if anything happens.’ Therefore, I lent Cheok the sum of money as though I was following an order that my superior gave.
Feb 2012, I filed a Police Report, called up Mindef Hotline & went to LianHeWanBao to seek any form of help there is.
July, I was shocked to hear that Cheok was even promoted from Staff Sergeant to Master Sergeant. How did someone like Cheok get promoted after such an incident? Why is Cheok still in SAF?? Why is Cheok not in Detention Barracks? What if another NSF falls prey to his lies?? I started to question what exactly did Mindef/SAF do, as they didn’t get back to me regarding Cheok’s punishments or follow up on whether Cheok paid me back or not.
Hasty generalisations should not be drawn from this case, and there are points of contention too: was it not possible to seek redress with his other immediate superiors; how was the case handled by the SAF and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), and were there follow-up actions (if such a case even comes under their purview); was the servicemen justified in his decision to go public twice – first with Lian He Wan Bao, then on FaceBook – especially if formal means have proven to be ineffectual; moreover, it is also important to consider the CSM’s side of the story, and to check if there were details left out.
Of “Loans” And Implicit Pressures
Based on anecdotal experience and interactions (note: may not be representative), this practice of “loans” may not be ubiquitous within the service, but it might not be isolated. Servicemen who have gone through National Service would acknowledge that the hierarchal system of the military renders such cases plausible, especially if the regulars adopt these implicit pressures. They may not have the ability to directly threaten individuals who do not comply with their demands, but they are definitely in the capacity – without rational justifications – to tweak systems or policies within the unit or company so as to make life difficult or inconvenient for their subordinate.
Where do we go from here with regard to these practices? Consider three propositions:
– Right from the beginning of a serviceman’s NS stint, the military regulations governing loans within the service should be established clearly. NSFs should be advised on what to do if they are approached by their superiors – or worse, blackmailed – to provide loans. I vaguely remember a point about how regulars are not allowed to ask for loans (do correct me if I am wrong); however, should a NSF decide to still provide a loan privately, the risks should also be explained. This is, of course, a preventative measure
– Can we provide a special hotline or channel – through email or phone – for the NSFs, if they believe that they are the victims of gross transgressions or unfair treatment? This should be used and could be publicised as the very last resort. While we have faith in – and rely on – the chain of command, we should accept the possibility that cracks are inevitable, and certain “black sheep” unavoidable. When something genuinely unfortunate happens, this channel could provide servicemen with a platform to air their grievances, when all other means have been exhausted. To stem abuse, stern penalties can be in place for falsified or exaggerated reports.
– Most importantly, it should be reinforced that regulars have an obligation to report their colleagues if they know of these practices; in fact, the worst wrongdoing would be for them to be cognisant of these happenings, and instead choose to condone the actions of their counterparts. Regulars who are aware of these practices, but choose to look the other side should also be treated punitively.