Wednesday, 22 August 2007

OPQ 16 July 2007: Compensation for dead or injured NSmen

This was another question where I keenly felt the inability to ask supplementary questions.

In June, Mindef wrote to the papers in response to public interest on the compensation that Mindef pays to NSmen, after the tragic incident in Taiwan. I would not be terribly surprised if Mindef was also aware of the posting on Edmund Ng's blog, which had generated much controversy online. I had intended to file an OPQ on this topic after reading Edmund Ng's blog, and did so despite Mindef's statement because I felt it was inadequate.

Unfortunately, the Minister's response basically restates Mindef's letter to the press. I would have asked the Minister these supplementary questions:

(1) Why, in the first place, does Mindef peg the amount of compensation payable so strictly to the Workmen's Compensation Act as the reference benchmark? I agree that it is helpful as an objective baseline, and I also acknowledge that Mindef pays discretionary sums over and above the workmen's comp amount. However, in an accident where workmen's comp is available, a victim retains the option of suing in civil courts for a higher sum if they feel that they have a good case. The Minister's response mentions discretionary amounts that are calculated based on "principles consistent with those used in civil courts" -- but these remain discretionary.

(2) For permanent disability cases, the Minister's answer mentions 2 components over and above the workmen's comp amount, a "lump sum constant attention award" and a "monthly disability assistance". I would have asked what these amounts are like, in light of the allegations contained in Edmund Ng's blog.

(3) It is positive that SAF has provided a group insurance scheme, which presumably covers claims for death/injuries resulting from training, exercises or military operations (excluding wartime). (The scheme's value would be diminished if it does not provide such coverage.) But the rates ($1.60 per month per $10,000 of coverage) might be too steep for low-ranking NSFs, whose allowances are in the hundreds, to obtain significant coverage. Given that NS is compulsory, it seems to me fairer if Mindef were to foot the bill for some level of group insurance for NSFs, say disability insurance for unmarried NSFs and life insurance added for married NSFs, for corporals and below for coverage of $100,000 or more. So I would have asked if this was possible.


Mr Siew Kum Hong: To ask the Minister for Defence (a) what is the rationale for pegging the compensation for dead or injured NSmen to the Workmen’s Compensation Act; (b) what are the quanta of monthly payments to NSmen who are disabled or paralysed in the course of duty; (c) whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Group Insurance Scheme covers death or injuries in the course of duty; and (d) whether the SAF will consider paying for group life and/or disability insurance for non-commissioned full-time NSmen.

Mr Teo Chee Hean: I thank Mr Siew Kum Hong for his questions on compensation as it allows MINDEF to clarify our compensation framework.

MINDEF applies similar principles and practices used by the civil courts or the Workmen's Compensation Act (WCA) to determine compensation for deaths and injuries due to service.

Based on these principles, MINDEF's compensation framework for death consists of up to three components. The first and base component is the lump sum compensation equivalent to sums prescribed under the Ministry of Manpower's Workmen's Compensation Act. It ensures that full-time national servicemen (NSFs) and NSmen receive amounts that are no worse off than that claimed under the WCA. Above this, more compensation is payable through two other components.

The second component is a lump sum death gratuity. For NSFs and NSmen, MINDEF treats them like regulars and gives a minimum of one year's basic pay for a regular of the same rank.

The third component is provided when there may have been negligence on the part of the organization, or where the serviceman has rendered service beyond the call of duty. This is based again on principles consistent with those used in civil courts. The quantum is generally derived taking into consideration, amongst other factors, what the serviceman would have contributed to his dependants from his potential earnings.

For permanent disability arising from service, MINDEF's compensation framework consists of up to four components. Again, the first and base component is a lump sum disability compensation according to the guidelines provided under the WCA. Above this, the second component pays a lump sum constant attention award, if the serviceman requires constant care as a result of his disability. The third component is a monthly disability assistance, which varies from person to person according to his circumstances, to defray expenses. The fourth component is an additional lump sum compensation provided when there may have been negligence on the part of the organization, or where the serviceman has rendered service beyond the call of duty.

In addition, MINDEF also provides fully subsidised medical benefits at all government/restructured hospitals or clinics, and the medical supplies needed for service injuries, for as long as the serviceman requires it.

Because the base component in our compensation framework uses the Workmen's Compensation Act as the reference, compensation amounts for deaths, injuries and disability due to service would provide amounts not less than those prescribed under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and in most cases more than this amount. For the additional lump sum compensation, MINDEF uses the principles applied by civil courts to determine compensation amounts. This is a fair system based on prevailing practices and awards.

Today, MINDEF also has an Awards Appeal Tribunal to consider appeals from servicemen or their dependants on compensation. To provide greater assurance to our servicemen and their families that compensation is fair, and applied according to the principles I have described, MINDEF intends to replace the Tribunal with a new Compensation Board that will be chaired by a non-MINDEF officer. The details are being worked out.

Mr Siew also asked about insurance in the SAF. Insurance is a question of whether the organization wants to pass on the potential liability of paying compensation to an insurance company to carry. MINDEF does not buy insurance for its servicemen because MINDEF itself takes on the liability of paying compensation its servicemen for deaths and injuries arising from service through MINDEF's compensation framework. As explained earlier, this framework applies similar principles and practices used by the civil courts or the Workmen's Compensation Act (WCA) to determine compensation for deaths and injuries due to service. However, servicemen may purchase additional insurance coverage if they wish to. This is similar to employees who would choose to buy additional insurance for personal protection even though they are covered under the WCA or have recourse to civil courts to claim damages. The SAF has the SAF Group Insurance Scheme, which provides- coverage for death and permanent disability from $50,000 to a maximum of $400,000. This covers servicemen both during the course of duty and when the serviceman is off duty. The premiums are affordable and MINDEF will continue to look for more competitive premiums for the coverage, and encourage our servicemen to take this up. For example, servicemen can currently insure themselves for $100,000 with a monthly premium of $16. NSmen can also take up this insurance even after their active service. As needs would vary among individuals, we leave it to the servicemen to determine what level of additional insurance coverage they would want to purchase.


singmailer said...

Surely it is not right to treat NSmen like workers when he is serving his country on a compulsory basis. He is

supposed to lay down his life if need be for his country. He can be deliberately put in harm's way by the

country in times of need. He is undetaking risk undergoing military training which exposes him to all sorts of

hazards, some of which may surface years later as a form of serious illness, like exposure to dangerous

radiation and chemicals. This is real and not hypothectical.

He/His dependents should be compensated in case of injury or death in the course of duty with a sum much higher

than that under the workmen comp act which uses pay as a criterion, if I am not mistaken. You can imagine how

much that would be work out to be. Other benefits should also be considered like heavily subsidised medical care

for his dependents etc. Govt has habitually been long on demand and short on real care.

I agree fully with you that NSmen should be insured by the govt.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To singmailer: Exactly. Sadly, the Government does not appear to share this view. While the Government does provide additional discretionary payments, without knowing the typical amounts of such payments (and I doubt if I can get them even if I ask), it's hard for us to evaluate the adequacy of the overall compensation paid to NSmen. And really, I think this is too symbolically important to leave to a case-by-case discretionary approach.

George said...

Mr Siew,

What about you asking Mindef to provide past cases of compensation paid to dependents and NOK of the deceased servicemen, both regulars and NSF. Should include some details of the accident/circumstances. There are scores of them I am pretty sure. For example, accidents in ROC and elsewhere. Local trainnig accident, etc. Maybe from there you can raise further issues. Granted govt cannot give out millions to affected NOK it must be a quantam way beyond that accorded by the WCA - surely dying for your country in peacetime or war deserves adequate recognition.

You may also query govt on its reluctance to set aside a place to commemorate servicemen who fell in the services of the country whether during training or active duty. I believe govt has up till now shy away from this mostly due to political implication of more and more servicemen laid to rest in such a cemetary/columbarium, but it is a fact of the human cost that the defence of the country demands. Maybe, this will make military commanders to be more mindful when they command/direct their men in the field.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To george: Those are possible questions and I'll think about it. But right now, I don't think I will revisit this issue this year -- I may revisit this next year, possibly during the Budget debate. Thanks.

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