Monday, August 31, 2009
NS Issue Revisited
Now that I have calmed down. I decided to revisit the NS issue and write a less emotional analysis of the compensation report.
To understand the issue of NS, we need to first examine the root cause of unhappiness over NS. There are three separate issues which are related but not technically the same. The first is the issue of forced conscription. The second issue is the issue of inequality of treatment. The third is the issue of compensation for service.
Conscription is akin to slavery not service. It is wrong to force a fellow human being to work against his will. Most people (in the street) would agree with this view of forced conscription. We know that from a survey on Tan Kin Lian's blog that given a choice, a staggering 81% of respondents would not do NS. Strangely, most of the remarks about NS on the online forums, do not talk much about the illegitimacy of forced servitude but more on the second issue- the inequality of treatment.
This has been a hot topic on the online forums. It used to be rantings about gender discrimination- how male citizens had to serve while female citizens did not. Over the past decade, the issue of inequality has taken over an added dimension- that of foreigners. Adding up the numbers, it seemed that only a minority of the people living in Singapore have to pay a price for living on the Island. Looking at the statistics, only 32.65% of the people are liable for National Service. (Calculated by assuming 32.65% female citizens, 34.7% foreigners[numbers from this post]) The inequality of treatment is the one which evokes the most emotional response. Because it is in human nature to compare ourselves with others. Skeptic suspects that if everyone on the Island suffered the same fate, the resentment towards NS would be reduced significantly.
Finally, there is the issue of compensation for those who serve NS. Given the fact that there is a huge opportunity cost towards earning money and career advancement, the allowance and compensation for NSF and NSmen is a joke.
Okay so let us see whether the compensation report can address these sources of resentment. The illegitimacy of forced servitude? No. The inequality of treatment to male citizens? No. The compensation for the lost of opportunity? It tries to but it is still inadequate.
That is why, Skeptic finds it strange that the PM in his NDP rally 'promised' a lot of goodies in the compensation report. That is the PAP for you. They have been Promising And Promising for the past decade. But the truth is they have failed to deliver the goods since the mid-nineties.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
See also, discussion on http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/showthread.php?t=2038383
National Service, or army conscription in Singapore, was first introduced in 1967 due to pressing issues such as national security after Singapore's "forced" independence in 1965. In 1971, the British completely pulled out of Singapore. It has been 41 years since the introduction of NS.
Since then the world and Asia has changed significantly in terms of security and economic arrangements. But has Singapore's conscription policy kept up with these changes to reflect and cope with the new geopolitical landscape?
First let us review the service that all able-bodied 18-year-old male Singaporeans have to undergo. Basic Military Training, or BMT, is the "boot camp" for all new recruits. This lasts for three months whereupon the soldier then gets posted out to other units for further specialised training.
The conscripts then serve the remainder of their two-year stint polishing up their combat skills. Following the two years of full-time service, NSmen are required (for up to 40 days a year) to serve in a part-tme capacity until they are 50 years old for commissioned officers and 40 for others.
Reduce the two-year full-time service
In an age where warfare has turned to "smart" technology, is it still logical and necessary for Singapore to insist that its National Servicemen undergo 24 months months of active, full-time service? Such a policy is rare among countries that maintain a conscription policy. Below is a list of countries with periods of full-time conscript service:
1.Austria (6 months)
2.Bolivia (12 months)
3.Brazil (9-12 months)
4.Denmark (4-12 months)
5.Estonia (8-11 months)
6.Finland (6-12 months)
7.Germany (9 months)
8.Greece (12 months)
9.Guatemala (12-24 months)
10.Moldavia (12 months)
11.Mongolia (12 months)
12.Paraguay (12-24 months)
13.Poland (9-12 months)
14.Serbia (6 months)
15.Switzerland (18-21 weeks)
16.Taiwan (12 months)
17.Tunisia (12 months)
18.Turkey (12 months)
19.Ukraine (12 months_
20.Uzbekistan (12 months)
From the above data, it can be seen that for all intents and purposes a conscript army training programme need not be as long as the one we have in Singapore. The more advance countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, and Switzerland all have full-time services limited to one year and less.
Even Taiwan, which has an identifiable enemy in the form of China, limits its active service to 12 months. Only countries like South Korea and Israel have conscription periods that are longer than Singapore's. These countries are, however, in a state of war.
Given the situation in Singapore there is no reason why we cannot employ more efficient training methods and reduce full-time NS from the present two-years to twelve months or less.
The current period of reserve training for NS men of up to 40 years old is also a burden on the servicemen and, by extension, the economy. Not only does the serviceman have to contend with the influx of foreigners, they are disadvantaged in terms of employment, remuneration and promotion when employers compare local men who have to be away for weeks in anyone year with foreign workers who have no such obligation.
The span of a serviceman's reservist training should not go beyond 30 years of age. Men tend to settle down and start families around this age and job stability and carreer prospects are essential during this period. Unfair competition from foreign nationals would handicap local males and add to their already stressful lifestyles.
In addition, the human body goes into a physical decline after the age of 30. To keep our military personnel in top condition, it makes little sense in keeping men over the age of 30 in the frontline if military conflict does indeed breakout.
Increase volunteer, professional army
To compensate for the decrease in the number of active and reservist NSmen, the Singapore Armed Forces should expand volunteer army recruitment to complement the reduction in the number of conscripts.
In fact, the number of countries that have scrapped conscription are on the rise: Argentina (1994), Belgium (1994), Czech Republic (2004), France (1996), Hungary (2004), Italy (2004), Netherlands (1996), New Zealand (1972), Portugal (2004), and Spain (2001).
While Singapore may not be ready to follow suit, it would be prudent for us to reduce NSmen in favour of a professional military outfit
At the moment, NSmen are exploited for their services to glorify the PAP during National Day parades. The energy and time of these men can be put to more productive use than as entertainment for the PAP regime.
What about people who do not believe that it is right for them to do military service due to moral, religious or ethical grounds? At the moment such conscientious objectors are charged and imprisoned for the length of their service.
In some of the countries that have compulsory military service, there is also a provision for conscientious objectors to serve in non-combat roles. There is an argument that this would open the flood gates for men to opt for non-combat positions. Such a loophole can be plugged by increasing the length of active service by, say, six months. The experiences of other countries like Germany and Sweden have not been negative in this aspect where males try to avoid combat service by claiming to be conscientious objectors.
Tranparency and openness
Obligation in Singapore seems to be a one-way street. While the Government holds the people accountable for their NS liabilities, the Ministry of Defence remains non-transparent and non-accountable in their dealings with the public.
The recent deaths of National Servicemen have opened a can of worms on training safety. In addition, the number of training fatalities and injuries are not made known to the public as a matter-of-course. The Government which compels the people to give their lives for the country are obliged to be absolutely transparent with information pertaining to safety issues. Compensation for deaths and injuries must also be reviewed and revised upwards.
The Government must also not exploit NSmen as cheap labour during major events such as the WB-IMF meeting or, possibly, the upcoming Youth Olympics. In must be remembered that the Enlistment Act was enacted for a specific purpose and any detraction from that purpose must be shunned.
When citizens are forced to serve in the military with the possibility of being killed if called to war, it is imperative that the government is a democratic one where citizens can hold the government accountable for its decisions and actions. Otherwise we may end up in a situation where wars are waged for the ruling elite rather than for the security and sovereignty of the nation.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
"Looking back, I am glad I went through NS. Because of NS, it forced me to work harder, seek opportunities abroad and settle down overseas. I met a friend of mine who once commented that Singaporeans have a high tolerance for abuse by the government. It is like someone hits you, you complain but you take more beatings and after a while, you get used to it. The issue is not about the 'privilege' of being a Singaporean, but that many Singaporeans lack the courage to do something about it." -John
This is a comment from John regarding a recent post about NS. Skeptic wonders if it is the same commentor who talked about finding a job overseas. Anyway, what he said stirred up my own personal bad memories of NS.
To be honest, I wasn't so keen on leaving Singapore until I myself suffered 2.5 years of NS. Up till then, I had experienced many bad things growing up but it seemed that NS was the tipping point. This makes me wonder whether, for some of us, NS makes us less patriotic rather than more.
Like the commentator, the pain and humiliation I suffered in NS made me more resolute in seeking my future away from Singapore. So if you are right now suffering under the system, my advice to you is to channel your resentment and anger towards something more productive. Use that energy to develop skills that would make you valuable outside of Singapore. Pretend to love the PAP system but plot to leave. Develop your abilities and resources so that you can one day become a productive citizen in another country.
I suppose the best phrase to describe it is the Chinese idiom 卧薪尝胆 which means 'steeling oneself for bitter revenge'. The best form of revenge is to lead a successful life abroad and deprive the PAP system of your abilities.
Friday, August 7, 2009
SUNDAY'S reports, 'Mah urges new citizens to adapt to local ways' and 'Be mindful of racial, religious fault lines', bring to mind two measures that may encourage meaningful integration of naturalised citizens with 'true-blue Singaporeans'.
National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, in calling on new citizens to make an effort to become 'true-blue Singaporeans', said he noticed that some new citizens appear to make no conscious effort to integrate or learn spoken English.
This prompts the question: Why are we giving citizenship to people who cannot communicate in Singapore's lingua franca?
Most naturalised citizens come from China. While they can converse in one official language, they are not equipped to have any meaningful interaction with minority Singaporeans and Chinese Singaporeans who do not speak Mandarin.
Not surprisingly, Mr Mah is concerned about new citizens forming cliques in their own communities.
To reduce the likelihood of ethnic enclaves becoming a problem, the Government should require future citizenship applicants to pass an English language test.
Pointing out the threat of racial and religious disharmony to Singapore's stability, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said the Government's key approach to managing race and religion matters is to build common spaces in schools, communities, workplaces and national service.
However, national service is one area in which adult new citizens currently do not participate, and the Government should introduce a modified, shortened form for adult new citizens under the age of 40.
While it is true that they did not enjoy the benefits of citizenship during their childhood, they will enjoy these benefits for the rest of their lives.
They could learn the basics of army combat, policing or civil defence over a predetermined number of weekends, a practical compromise given work commitments.
Besides helping them integrate better with their new compatriots, the modified national service stint will also empower them to play an active role in Singapore's national defence or internal security.
After all, the enemy's bullet or bomb does not distinguish between naturalised and native-born Singaporeans.