Thursday, November 26, 2009

Defending your country? Then pay for your own insurance

Defending your country? Then pay for your own insurance

November 27, 2009 by admin
Filed under Opinion

By Khalil Adis

While the premium for Group Personal Accident Insurance Scheme is affordable, the government should cover the cost since national servicemen are defending the country

I have been serving my national service faithfully for a full two-and-a-half-years and will soon complete my reservist this year, at the end of my ten-year cycle.

At this time of writing, I have just finished doing my duty for the 20th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum held in Singapore.

Throughout my service with the Singapore Police Force, I have kept our streets safe, assisted my commander and senior officers in writing reports, managed the staff suggestion scheme, came up with newsletter for fellow national servicemen and guarded key installations across the island.

I have also endeavoured to pass my physical fitness test (IPPT) with a Silver award almost every year.

However, before I take a final bow from my national service duty, there is one burning question my troop mates and myself have been left wondering – why do we need to pay for our own insurance when we are in fact taking time from our work and family to risk our lives for our country?

Terms of insurance coverage

The Police National Service (PNS) Department last year sent us a letter saying that with effect from 1 April 2008, Home Team NSmen will be automatically covered under the Group Personal Accident Insurance Scheme.

This insurance scheme only covers reservist personnel like myself and not full-time national servicemen

So, unless we choose to opt out, the premiums are deducted from our make-up pay or service allowance.

Most of us have left it as it is as we are just too unaware of its implications or too busy with our duties to even question it.

The insurance is underwritten by American Home Assurance Company Singapore (AIG) and managed by Zuellig Insurance Singapore.

Police national servicemen are covered during their In-Camp Training (ICT) and pre-ICT assessment, mobilisation, IPPT and remedial test, course and other NS activities where the Order to Report for Service has been served.

The sum is not a lot, amounting to $4.85 (inclusive of GST).

The insurance provides coverage of up to 30 days of call-up per work year.

It covers each individual a sum assured of $100, 000 in the event of death and a scale of benefits of up to $150, 000 for permanent disablement arising from an accident.

In addition, there are other benefits, such as claims for accidental partial disability and child education lump sum benefit.

Insurance experts agree that the insurance coverage national servicemen are getting is a good deal.

“If you compare this with a normal personal accident plan, for the same risk level, it costs $360 with $50, 000 sum assured in the event of accidental death and total and permanent disablement. As the insurance for national servicemen covers higher risks, it is value-for-money,” says Hakim Halim, a financial advisor with Promiseland Independent Pte Ltd.

Cost is not the issue

However, the cost and coverage of the insurance is not the issue.

The issue is, despite our service to our country where we constantly have to put our life at risk, the government still makes us pay for our own insurance coverage.

Even the companies that we work for do pay for our insurance in the event any accident happens to us during our course of employment.

So, on behalf of my troop mates, I wrote an email to the Police National Service (PNS) Department early this year, asking them to explain why we have to foot the bill.

It is almost the end of the year and the PNS Department has yet to reply to our query.

Our political leaders have always questioned if Singaporeans would defend the country in times of war.

However, the government’s penny-pinching attitude will only sow the seeds of apathy and discord among existing national service men who have continued putting their lives at risk.

Should future generations feel less than patriotic, the government have only themselves to be blamed for their “money-as a-means-to-an-end” approach.

If the government can allocate $10 million of taxpayers’ money to make permanent residents feel more welcomed and foot the bill to host APEC, surely paying the insurance cost for national servicemen is not too much to ask for, right?

After all, we have paid our dues by helping to keep the country safe and secure.

Despite our grievances, we are grateful for the excellent welfare provided for us at APEC and the senior officers who took time to sit down to listen to the sentiments among national servicemen.

In the meantime, we are waiting with bated breath for the PNS Department’s official reply.

About the Author:

Khalil Adis graduated from Monash University with a Bachelors of Arts (Communications) and was a former editor for Property Report magazine covering Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dumb Answer, Dumb Answer

Dumb Answer, Dumb Answer

By todayinsingapore

When asked how the Government would deal with resentment over new citizens not having to do National Service (NS), Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan gave this non-answer: “I don’t want to get into the technical and operational and security reasons as to why we don’t enlist them for NS, but the point is that their children will do NS and that their children should be indistinguishable from our children in their accents, hopes, aspirations, obligations and duties to our nation.”

This must be the most blatant affront to the people’s expectation of an elected representative – he refuses outright to give a response to a tabled query from a fellow parliamentarian. Oh, we forget, not all parliamentarians are created equal, some are paid more than others. Consider the atrocious excuses he gave for not doing his homework:

Technical reason: Is there a constitutional amendment hidden somewhere we have yet to be enlightened of? That new citizens are exempt from NS in perpetuity? When a bright lawyer once argued successfully in court it was illegal to exact tolls to enter the Central Business District (CBD) since the motorist had already paid taxes for usage of public roads, they simply rewrote the law. That’s the way they take care of a “technicality”.

Operational reason: Are we running out of training grounds? Pilots now have a home in Idaho to wear Tom Cruise sunglasses and fly around in their spanking new F-15s. Even India is providing facilities for our young men to soldier in realistic terrain, unlike our geographically challenged Tekong camp. Too bad the R&R there pales in comparison to the Pei-Toh district of Taiwan.

Security reason: Lee Kuan Yew told Charlie Rose that we have Ukranians serving in NS. So why should we be afraid of a potential Major Nidal Malik Hasan hiding in the ranks? Is he eying Wong Kan Seng’s job (and pay scale)?

Balakrishnan boasts that, over time, “their children should be indistinguishable from our children in their accents, hopes, aspirations, obligations and duties to our nation”. He conveniently skips the missed unemployment opportunities for Singapore men because their career advancement is handicapped by the disruptive in-camp training demands. Meanwhile, their NS obligation-free contemporaries jet around in their high profiled international marketing trips, invaluable exposure that lands them juicy careers like heading a major local bank. Citizenship is not an issue.

Perhaps the Minister chose to be reticent on a hot topic because he doesn’t want to be reminded how he shot his own foot shortly before the Government approved bar-top dancing:

“If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off that bar top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar-top dancing. Not just because they’ve fallen off the bar top, but because it’s usually a young girl with a short skirt who’s dancing on it, who may attract some insults from some other men. The boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die.
Blood will be shed for liberalising the policy.” (Straits Times, 3 Oct 2001)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

20-year-old NSman dies after being found unconscious
Another non-combat death in ship “incident”

November 22, 2009 by admin
Filed under Top News

Written by Our Correspondent

Another full-time national serviceman had died in the course of duty yesterday, three days after he was warded in the intensive care unit.

Lance Corporal Mar Teng Fong, 20, an engineering systems specialist, was on watch duty on Tuesday on the Republic of Singapore Navy’s RSS Persistence.

He was found unconscious on Wednesday morning, trapped between a hydraulic sliding door and the door frame of the ship which was out at sea for training at the time.

He had gone on a routine round to check the engineering systems at 11.40pm. When he did not return after 15 minutes, a fellow ser-viceman went in search of him.

According to the state media, LCP Mar was given immediate medical attention by a doctor on the ship, and was evacuated by helicopter to Singapore General Hospital at 1.15am.

The exact cause of his death was not revealed. LCP Mar’s case is the latest of a series of non-combat death to have hit MINDEF this year.

In July this year, a 21 year old National Serviceman, Second Lieutenant Nicholas Chan Wei Kit died yesterday after a jeep which he was inspecting rolled over and hit him, pinning him under its wheels.

There was at least a gap of about 30 minutes between the time he took over the vehicle and the time a recovery vehicle – located within the grounds of the camp – was dispatched.

In June, an army sergeant, aged 30, was found dead in his bunk in Taiwan.

A month before that, a 53-year-old parachute jump instructor at the Commando Training Institute died in South Africa when his parachute failed to open during a freefall exercise.

The others, which included a recruit and three warrant officers, all died in Singapore in separate incidents.

The circumstances surrounding their deaths were never released to the public. Like the cases before him, LCP Mar’s death will remain forever a mystery.

All Singapore males have to served mandatory National Service for two years followed by more than 10 years of reservist service each year.

The duration of two years is long compared to other countries who maintain a conscription policy such as Taiwan (12 months), Ukraine (12 months) and Germany (9 months).

MINDEF has never revealed the exact figures for non-combat deaths and injuries to Singaporeans. In the case of the latter, it is not known if the victims are adequately compensated by MINDEF.

The case of Corporal Jeremy Tan showed that MINDEF is not always forthcoming in offering compensation to NSFs who suffered injuries during their National Service.

In 2005, Corporal Tan, who was rostered as duty storeman at the Seletar East Camp, was found unconscious at the foot of the building where his bunk was located on the third level.

His head injuries were consistent with a fall from height, but findings by SAF investigators as to how he came to be hurt were inconclusive. Mindef classified his injuries as non-service related and stopped paying for his hospital treatment from March 2007.

Corporal Tan’s parents have to sue MINDEF in High Court in order to seek disability compensation and medical benefits from them.

The Minister of Defence Rear-Admiral Teo Chee Hean is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and a former Chief of the Navy.

There is no political pressure on the ground or opposition in parliament to exert pressure on the government to be more transparent about the figures of non-combat deaths in the armed forces.

No senior MINDEF officers are ever taken to task for the unnecessary deaths of these young men in the prime of their lives.

The “internal” investigations conducted by MINDEF are almost always classified state secrets.

Such sensitive cases are rarely reported in the mainstream media which remains tightly controlled by the ruling party.

Without a free media and an opposition to fight for their interests, Singapore parents must pray that their sons are in safe hands during their two years in National Service.

Related articles:

Our bloated defence budget: what is the perceived threat?

Reduce the duration of National Service

One non-combat death a month: is this acceptable?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Counting the cost of NS

Counting the cost of NS posted an article entitled "Your Citizenship is Worth $4,511 More Than a PR Per Year". I'm not sure how $4511 was derived, but a glance shows the calculation is full of errors. For example, almost every single grant mentioned is for children. Depending on how you see it, almost all sums should be divided by two, or even three if you take the child into account. Not to mention, at the "average" of one child per woman, how does one simultaneously enjoy child care subsidy and subsidized school fees?

Even the $30-40k HDB grant does not go to a single citizen. It is the combined grant of two citizens. If you marry a PR or foreigner, or a citizen who is disqualified due to pay or owning private property, you get half of that.

That sum of $4511 is a gross exaggeration. Then again, it does not take into account measures that only the low income citizens enjoy, like Workfare, one off grants like GST credits and Jobs Credit. Don't count the Utilities Save though. Foreigners get that too.

But how about the costs of a citizenship vs PR?

How much does it cost a Singaporean man to serve NS?

Can we account just by the loss of salary over two (or two and half years for old timers like me)?

How about families that are plunged into financial crisis because their sole breadwinner was called up for NS? It is not as rare as most people who had not served NS think. Better yet, administrative screwups resulting into two breadwinners of a poor family being called up at the same time. I know it has happened because I have seen it myself.

I was paid around $200 per month for my 30 months of NS. No 13th month bonus. No CPF. No OT pay. The pay is much more now, but hardly market competitive.

Because it neither tracked inflation nor market rates, those who served NS in the 70s and early 80s were paid much more, relatively.

Why does a country that boasts of first world status and out of this world ministerial salaries persist in paying our national servicemen poorly? If the country has no money to pay our national servicemen, the ministers should consider a pay cut. But no, they believe in paying themselves first. And they sure track market rates closely.

How about care for servicemen who are disabled due to service injuries? Singapore seems to have no system to care for disabled servicemen. MINDEF's attitude seems to be pay a lump sum up front, discharge the servicemen and run away as quickly as they possibly can.

How do you account for the intangibles? The opportunity costs of our two years in our prime? The inconveniences erected when we turn 11 to prevent us from escaping NS? The continued inconveniences as we have to plan our lives around our reservists obligations?

And how do we account for the letter that threatens to suspend our freedom to travel, when we forget to inform to MINDEF of our overseas travels? Priceless?

What price, to account for the hostile work environment? My superior officer once threatened to kill me, wanted to slam my head against the wall. That, after yelling at me for half an hour. This is a job I cannot resign from. I cannot even apply for a transfer.

I am sure, knowing that my citizenship is worth $4511 over a PR makes me feel better. Right.

Despite the costs, serving NS is worth it, right? It's all about defending Singapore from an invasion of foreigners, right?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No need for women to do NS, says PM Lee

By Dawn Tay

A DIALOGUE between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and around 200 women from various women's organisations yesterday focused on an arguably male-centric issue - national service.

Of the 10 women who spoke, six rose to debate whether NS should be made compulsory for women and children of new citizens and permanent residents, and whether it disadvantaged men, at the People's Association Women's Integration Network Council dialogue.

Asked whether Singapore women are disadvantaged as, unlike men, they do not receive NS allowances as part of their pay, PM Lee assured the mainly female audience that career advancement for men and women alike would depend on the individual's ability.

Allowances for Singapore men who have completed NS are to ensure that they are not left behind when they start work after their two-year army stint and to compensate for their time in reservist training, he said.

NS should not be made compulsory for women for the sake of career advancement, he said.

"The purpose of national service is to have an operationally ready Singapore Armed Forces."

Dialogue participants suggested making NS mandatory for children of PRs to ensure a level playing field for all young people here.

But PM Lee rejected this, saying that doing so would scare away potential citizens. He added that each year, several hundred children of new Singaporeans and PRs elect to serve NS.

Before opening the floor to questions, PM Lee spoke on employment opportunities here and stressed the need for women to return to the workforce after having children.

He urged companies to be more supportive by adopting flexi-work schemes, and husbands to help with housework and bringing up the children.

He also said that the Government hopes to announce in two weeks whether the Jobs Credit Scheme - the $4.5 billion, one-year scheme to help employers retain local workers during the recession - would be extended beyond this year.