Update: The email that was sent out has been reproduced below (obtained from tomorrow.sg). This is after much consideration to put the case in perspective. It is important to know the perspective of the case because the ST article may not paint a complete picture. I was advised that the email is SAF RESTRICTED, but the original email can still be retrieved via the link above.

Warning: Long post ahead 

So it’s officially out, althought I had been hearing news of it recently. I probably have a comment or two, but will probably do so tomorrow… a little tired now. But here’s the full article from straitstimes.com, in case you’d like to follow the story (again, if you feel that this article should be removed, please kindly leave me a comment, it’s reproduced here for the benefit of those who do not have access to the article):

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s son, Li Hongyi, who is serving his national service, has been reprimanded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for not following proper procedures in e-mailing a letter of complaint to many other servicemen.

Second Lieutenant Li Hongyi had alleged that another officer from his unit, had been absent without leave or AWOL on two occasions.

In the June 28 email, which was sent to the Defence Minister and senior SAF officers, among others, 2nd Lt Li also stated that he had reported the matter to the officer’s supervisors, but no disciplinary action had been taken.

In a statement on Thursday, Mindef’s director of public affairs, Colonel Benedict Lim said: ‘2nd Lt Li was found to have contravened the General Orders of Mindef by broadcasting his letter of complaint to many other servicemen – almost all of whom were neither directly under his command, nor in an official capacity where they could deal with the matters contained in his letter of complaint.’

Col Lim added: ‘He has been formally charged and administered a reprimand after a summary trial.’

A summary trial deals with less serious military offences and is normally presided over by a senior disciplinary officer who may serve with the soldier’s own unit or appointed to oversee the trial from another unit.

Penalties include being warned by the senior disciplinary officer, fortfeiture of days off or shouldering extra duties.

Mindef added that following 2nd Lt Li’s complaint, an investigation was conducted and the officers concerned have been disciplined.

The officer who was found to have been AWOL will be court martialled and two supervising officers have been issued letters of warning for poor judgement in administering inappropriate disciplinary action.

In a court martial, which deals with more serious offences, can result in a range of penalties if they are found guilty of misconduct. These include discharge from service, detention in the SAF Detention Barracks, a reduction in rank, forfeiture of seniority, fines and reprimand.

Mindef issued the statement on Thursday in response to media queries about the internet chatter on Mr Li’s email.

Several sites were abuzz with details of the email and comments on how the authorities would respond.

Col Lim stressed that the SAF takes a serious view of misconduct by any serviceman.

‘To maintain organisational discipline, all SAF servicemen with complaints or grievances should take them up through proper channels for redress, to ensure due process and to protect confidential information.

‘All complaints which are not anonymous are investigated and dealt with properly.’

Mr Li, who is the third of the PM Lee’s four children, has received a Public Service Commission scholarship and will soon be leaving to study economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.


The email that was involved in this case in reproduced below. If you feel that there is any inaccuracies in this reproduction, kindly leave me a comment. Thank you.

I was advised that the email is SAF restricted. But the email can still be retrieved here, here and here, and because it’s already spreading like wildfire anyway, you may read it here now too.

Dear Sirs and alI,

I am about to disrupt my national service to pursue further studies, and this will likely be my last email sent out for the next half a decade. Unlike the common “ORD letters” that you read, this letter unfortunately cannot be as cheerful. I am using this last opportunity to issue a letter of complaint against the quality control of officers in the SAF, more specifically against LTA X. During my time as his subordinate, LTA X was AWOL on at least 2 counts, attempted bribery, and lied to his subordinates and his superior officer. The battalion HQ has effectively given no punishment, and has not even made these infractions known to the rest of the battalion.

Let me first give you some background. I am the ____ ____ platoon commander from __________. In order to maintain operational readiness my duties are performed at _____ camp where our ops bus and servers are instead of at stagmont camp where our battalion is. The company is structured like so

Centre Head

The duties are therefore shared between the PC’s, PS’, and the Centre Head. LTA X is the centre head of the __________.

LTA X, was originally supposed to be on duty at _____ Camp as the duty commander for the _______ on the 20th and 22nd of April, a Friday and Sunday respectively. I was on duty on the 21st of April that Saturday, to minimize the changing over, I contacted him and asked if he would like to swap duties for the Saturday and Sunday. To this he agreed, and thus he was to be on duty on the 20th and 21st of April.

On the Friday however, LTA X called to inform me that he was busy during the day, and if I could cover for him until the evening. To this I agreed to do so. At about 1600 hours, I received a call from LTA X, informing me that he was on the way and that I could leave first, thought this would result in a time where there would be no duty commander in camp, he informed me that this had already be cleared with our OC. I therefore left camp.

On Sunday the 22nd of April I arrived back in camp to take over duty from LTA X. After he had left camp the men informed me that he had not arrived in camp on Friday at all, and that he only arrived in camp at 1800 hours on Saturday the 21st of April. On Saturday they had tried to contact him to ask his whereabouts, to which he told them that he was in fact in _____ in ______ camp getting some work done. The men contacted their counterparts in ______ camp to verify this, however no one in______ camp had seen LTA X. 1 further confirmed with the ______ duty personnel on Saturday that none of them had seen LTA X, this was also with confirmed with that day’s BDO.

This news obviously was very distressing, I confronted LTA X regarding this information to which he confirmed that he only arrived in camp on Saturday at 1800 hours, but that he was at _____ for a while then left later to run some errands. Upon learning that I was to bring this information to our OC, LTA X then made an offer to do some of my duties for me to which I declined, his words were “You know if you need me to help you do some of your duties..”

On Wednesday after I had completed my personal investigation and confirmed that these events had indeed transpired, I informed our OC of these offences. Our OC spoke to LTA X regarding these issues, and let him off with a warning.

I would like the story to end here, however LTA RX was again on duty at ____ Camp for _________ on the following Saturday the 28th of April. At 0030 hours on Sunday the 29th of April I received a message from the duty personnel. The duty personnel of the platoon had just spotted LTA X’s car, a white Mitsubishi lancer driving out of camp. I responded by telling them to check all the car parks and look for LTA X in camp. I received a call at about 0115 hours, the duty personnel informed me that they had checked the whole camp, and that LTA X’s car was no where to be found. They also informed me that LTA X was no where to be found, not in any of the bunks nor any of the offices.

On Monday the 20th of April when I arrived back in ______ Camp for work, I confirmed with both the guard commander and the duty officer for Saturday the 28th of April, that at white Mitsubishi lancer had indeed driven out of camp at about 0030 hours on the 29th of April. This latest information was told to our OC.

When confronted by our OC, LTA X told him that indeed it was his car driving out of camp, he claimed however, that it was not him driving the car but that he had lent it to friend to drive out of camp. After checking with the person in question this was established to be untrue. Finally, LTA X admitted that he had lied, and that is was he who had left camp.

I have been informed that LTA X was to be given 10 extra duties, though this may be considered an extremely light punishment there is a further problem. To date, which is to say, 2 months from the incidents, none of the duties have been published in the battalion RO, in addition, LTA X has not served any of the extra duties he was supposedly awarded. In addition, this system of leniency is not consistent throughout the battalion, or even the company. The following was published in the RO on 1 1th of June 2007:

SXXXXXXXX CPL _____ ________ Non-compliance with a lawful duty or order. stoppage of Leave for 7 days

This was the punishment for CPL ______ for leaving camp an hour before he was supposed to. This was published less than a week after his infringement. If you were to calculate the time AWOL alone, LTA X was missing for a minimum of over 20 hours. This does not take into the account the fact that he repeated the crime less than a week after being reprimanded the first time. This does not take into account the lying to his superior officer. This does not take into account the fact that he is an officer, and thus should be even more liable than corporal.

Absence without leave
22. -(1) Every person subject to military law who is absent without leave from service in the Singapore Armed Forces or from the place where he is lawfully required for the time being to be shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction by a subordinate military court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or any less punishment authorised by this Act.
(2) It shall be a defence for any person charged under this section to prove that his absence was a result of circumstances over which he had no control.

this is where the report ends and the editorial begins. LTA X’s continued service in the SAF is an embarrassment the entire officer corps. In the SAF we are constantly being told that we have very high standards expected from our officers. As an officer cadet any one of these actions would have you put immediately out of course. Here you have a person who lied to his subordinates, went AWOL, attempted to bribe a civil servant, went AWOL again not even a week after being reprimanded, then lied to cover himself, and tried to implicate another person in these lies. He discarded his second chance just days after being given it because he thought he could get away with it. I how ask you what exactly are these high standard that we speak of? I am realistically asking you how much worse than this can an officer really go? Does a person have to commit armed robbery or murder before he fails these supposedly “high” standards of officers in the SAF? I simply fail to understand how someone who would undeniably fail the standards expected of a cadet or even a private can continue to be an officer.

The decisions of the battalion HQ are equally saddening. How can a lower standard of discipline be expected of officers than of men? In the our society, when a police officer commits a crime he is held to an even higher standard, and given even greater punishment than a normal citizen, this is because he has betrayed the very values it is his duty to uphold.

I was told that one of the reasons this was so was that they did not wish to ruin his career with a summary trial. However the SAF is not a charity organisation and does not owe anyone a career. I feel that as a regular his status as an officer and his career should be under even closer scrutiny than that of an NSF, to intentionally withhold such information is effectively tricking the SAF into continuing to pay someone whom if all is known, has no place in the organisation.

Another reason told to me for LTA X’s lighter punishment was that it is in light of the work he has done for the battalion, I feel this is unacceptable for several reasons. Firstly in our country we do not mitigate punishments based on past achievements, Durai was not excused despite the amount of money he helped NKF raise, and a doctor would not be excused from molestation no matter how many lives he has helped save. Secondly such mitigation is nothing more than justified corruption and no different from a criminal paying off the police to escape arrest, the very thing we fight so hard to keep out of our society, Finally even if the previous two points are conceded, what LTA X did was not a mistake, mistakes are done by accident. What he has demonstrated is a systematic failure of character and unacceptable as an officer.

Even if you attribute the lack of punishment to extreme leniency, the decision to not inform the battalion is even more suspicious. Especially in a _____ unit such as _________ where the importance of being on duty cannot be over emphasized, to not even inform the battalion of the occurrence is to send a signal that there is nothing wrong with his actions. If it was unintentional it shows gross negligence for something which is clearly an important matter, and if intentional shows a level of corruption that I need not elaborate on.

While some might say this is just a small matter, a story of a single bad officer, the fact that it was not dealt with more severely is indicative of a bigger problem. It shows the lack of quality control being practiced for the leaders of the SAF. The following quote was taken from the army’s own intranet homepage:

“In the 3rd Generation SAF, the quality and commitment of our people will continue to be the most important determinant for advancement” – Member of Parliament Ms Indranee Rajah

We can take criticism about having second hand equipment, outdated training methods, and even questionable relevance to modern day operations. But one thing that cannot be tolerated is a reputation for having bad leaders. Such a reputation would compromise Singapore’s defence credibility far more than using refurbished tanks or old training manuals.

While I may only be a 2nd lieutenant, I am a citizen of this country. And as a citizen I have the right to demand high standards from the leaders of the SAF While it is true that high standards are hard to come by and even harder to enforce, for such events to come to light and yet nothing be done about it is to say the very least, unacceptable and disappointing.

Yours Sincerely,
2LT Li Hongyi –
___________ Commander


This will inevitably bring out topics like the White Horse (WH) System, the “buddy-buddiness” amongst the people in the higher management, or the fate of complaints through the much mentioned SAF Hotline. If the complaints from a 2LT fell on deaf ears, where will the complaints of specialists and below go to? Of course, there’s always 2 sides to a story, and it’d be interesting to hear both sides; but this being Singapore, such things will be soon forgotten and life goes on.


Before I move into these discussions, let me voice my personal feeling. I would consider this a case of blowing the whistle, i.e. 2LT Li had blown the whistle because there was something that he felt injust about the system, but at the expense of breaking the chain of command.

In SAF, breaking the chain of command is probably something taboo. In a corporate environment, it’s like sending an email to the MD, bypassing the Managers and middle management in between. Obviously, when the MD starts asking the middle management what is happening, they would be taken aback and more investigations have to be carried out, and they would probably be seen as not doing their job sometimes. The middle management gets into trouble, and this effectively affects the complainant as well.

Personally, I detest people who abandon their duties/job, i.e. the LTA that was mentioned in the email; and if I were to bring it up to my superiors, what’s frustrating is really when no further action is done, or if there apparent favouritism. Having been in such situations before, I can understand how 2LT Li feels.

The fact that 2Lt Li gets a summary trial showed that he’s treated like any other servicemen (which to many people, is probably wayang *, but perhaps we can be objective about it? at least there’s still a trial and not swept under the mat). For breaking the chain of command, the punishment that was meted is probably fair. But a lot of people will be thinking:

Isn’t he a whistleblower, and there has been a general call for whistleblowers to be protected? Well, yes and no. If you are in the private sector, there might be nothing wrong with blowing the whistle because the interest of the company is protected.

So, isn’t the interest of the SAF protected? Well, yes. And no. Because the SAF is such a highly structured organization, it is not possible for the upper management to monitor all movements at ground level at all times. As such, I feel that they stress on chain of command so that complaints can be handled in an orderly manner. Of course, occasionally we have complaints stuck at some level. According to my guy friends, it’s a term coined as LPPL (er, sorry, what’s that actually? no one seems to want to explain to me). By blowing the matter up to the top brass, some form of accountability is ensured, which is in the interest of the SAF. However, by doing so, there is a break of chain of command, which in the eyes of the SAF, is 2 different matters.

WH System? I’m not sure, but MINDEF is definitely going all out to crush that. I still recall how Col Benedict Lim (or someone else?) said that the WH System is in place so that there will not be special treatment. Hahaha…


Ok. Let’s talk about the “buddy-buddy system” that was observed in the email. In layman terms, it’s a.k.a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”. In army terms, it’s called “you cover my backside, I cover yours”. Is this wrong? Doesn’t everyone do that at some time or other?

Well, it really depends on the severity of covering the back(side). If you are talking about some high profile mistakes/offence, then covering backs might not be such an advisable thing to do, especially if it is known by someone who is buay kam wan ** about the entire situation. Instead of being a rightist, I am being realistic. Covering someone’s back is something commonplace in the environments that I know. I am not saying that 2Lt Li should have covered the LTA’s back, but rather, the superiors should have been more discreet about meting out invisible punishments. Once the punishments are meted out, they should have just carried it out instead of hoping that it’d be long, gone, forgotten.


Contrary to legends (sorry, a little kua zhang *** here), complaints lodged through the SAF Hotlines do really end up somewhere. According to non-reliable sources, the complaints are looked after by some investigating officer if there is credibility in the complaint. Then, depending on the severity of it, it either goes to the OC, MPO or CO/COPA, etc. That’s all I know of this. Would anyone like to complement?

wayang * a colloquial term for acting
buay kam wan ** a dialect depicting a feeling of injust
kua zhang *** exaggerated

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