National Service and the open door policy
Ramifications of the intertwine between NS and open door policy towards foreigners
By Kelvin Teo ⋅ April 12, 2009
SINGAPORE - On the way back home on the bus from work one day, I overheard a conversation between a Singaporean and his foreign counterpart (FC). It went like this:
FC: What is the purpose of Singaporeans doing National Service?
Local: Supposingly to defend Singapore against perceived threats.
FC: So you will be trained to defend Singapore against potential enemies?Local (in a cynical, albeit jovial tone): If Singapore has a war, I will not be around to protect you. I think you better make your own life raft so that you will be able to jump the Singapore ship and go somewhere safe.
This conversation sums up the deep resentment among NS men towards the open door policy towards foreigners. A typical Singaporean with NS obligations is disadvantaged vis-a-vis his foreign counterparts because of the need to serve yearly in-camp trainings (ICT), which can be up to the maximum of one month. If ICT is not enough, those who fail to pass their physical fitness test (IPPT) have to attend Remedial Training (RT). If the
RT is scheduled on a week day, the NS man has to leave his office early. And there has been feedbacks that employers do ask prospective employees their extent of NS obligations during job interviews. This has happened before in my case, and my peers had the same experience.
Thus, it is not surprising that NS obligations are seen as a form of liability in the face of competition from foreigners who do not have such obligations. I managed to do some catching up with my fellow NS peers when I went back for my annual ICT last week. The news wasn’t that rosy. A good number suffered pay cuts. One got retrenched. On top of ICT, this chap for one reason or another couldn’t pass his IPPT despite the RT training. His work place brought in cheaper foreign workers, and he was unceremoniously told to leave. Now, he is working for a fast food chain, earning $3.50 an hour.
It is not far from the truth to assert that the sight of the SAF100 (an SAF form notifying NS men of their upcoming ICT) is a morale sapper. On the ground, it is not uncommon for NS men to find ways and means to obtain excuse from their NS duties firstly (read MC), and attend to their work committments next.
Ironic, isn’t it? The point of NS is to protect the livelihood of Singaporeans. Except that now it is perceived as a form of threat to livelihood. And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to assert that this question has gone through the heads of a number of our NS men at one point of time or another - what’s the point of doing NS when my livelihood is already threatened (by the open door policy towards foreigners)? For the cynical ones, they are already asking this question - why should I protect foreigners who threaten my livelihood?
The sad thing is that despite the fanfare of the Five Pillars of Defence, the intertwining of NS with the open door policy towards foreigners is surely not doing any favors to our Psychological Defence (one of the five pillars).
With the current fallout from the global financial crisis, the retrenchment exercise will undoubtedly go into overdrive mode. Due to the downsizing of the current work force, employees are saddled with increased workloads and responsibilities. The last thing on their mind is an SAF100 telling them to report for an ICT or a reminder to attend their RT. And for those keeping their fingers crossed in the hope of keeping their jobs, they wouldn’t want their NS liabilities to affect their evaluation.
Surely now would be the time for our Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to exercise some form of flexibility. For starters, Mindef can exercise more leeway in granting deferment, especially in the case of NS men who have to take on additional responsibilities and workload due to the down-sizing of the work force. Ditto for IPPT training where NS men can be given flexibility to select schedules that best fit the interests of their work place instead of sticking to one chosen fixed schedule under the current system. In fact, the system can be made NS men-friendly in allowing them to pick their most convenient dates.
During this period when the economy is in its downward spiral, shouldn’t MINDEF adopt a flexible approach and assist our NS men instead of hindering them during moments of such crisis? Granted that MINDEF can always come up with this arguement that operational readiness will be affected if it adopts a flexible approach, a good rhetorical question would be - would our military want to appear operationally ready on the surface, but with its soldiers already deflated psychologically? What then is the difference between an army of deflated soldiers and a non-existent army?