I agreed with the writer that there are many other ways to appreciate local citizens who have served their national service (NS) without resorting to giving out monetary incentives.
Of course, the $9,000 payout for those completing their national service will still be well received by many local citizens. It is a small token of appreciation to those who have sweat it out in the army camps for 24 months.
Many local men who served their national service did it out of a sense of pride and loyalty to their nation.
I remembered been sent off at the old CMPB in Tanglin Road as a 18-year-0ld almost 30 years ago when I was conscripted.
No one from my family came to see me off but I was proud to serve my nation as I trembed during the pledge at the flagging off ceremony.
I had a tough time during my BMT and sometimes wished that I had suddenly disappeared during training as I could not cope with the physical demand of the regimental regime.
I ate at the army’s cookhouse daily at my posting camp, more out of necessity than choice due to the pitiance allowance of $180 a month, and cried when it was my last day of service to the nation.
I enjoyed my days serving the nation though there were operational hiccups here and there.
Personally, I find that the compulsory national service period can be further shortened to eighteen months from the current two years. I know that the conscription period was already recently shortened from 2 1/2 years to 2 years for NS men holding the rank of corporal and above.
Many NS men I know merely pass their time in their units during the last six months of their service as they wait for their run-out-date (ROD) to arrive. Moreover, a technologically-advanced army like ours should be able to rely less on manpower and more on technology to function.
In fact, the government should slowly move away from compulsory conscription to an army that is run fully by professionals. Nowadays, wars are usually fought by machines managed by well-trained professionals.
With proper planning and budgetting, I am sure that this can be done in the near future. We are also probably one of the few countries in the world that still has compulsory conscription and a declining birthrate will make this difficult to implement.
A professional army means that people will be able to join the armed forces as salaried personnel and ensure that there will be continuity in the services.
Citizens can still go for army training but it will be more for basic defensive duties than anything else.
Currently, I believe many local citizens will agree with me that they have more issue with their reservist duties than the 2-year national service. It is disruptive to both their career and family to say the least.
More significantly, the current 13-year reservist cycle has deter many employers from employing our local executives. Many local employers will first ask: “Do you still have any reservist liablity?” before considering you for possible employment. Too many choices in the job market has clearly place the reservist-liable local executives at a clear disadvantage.
Inevitably, an employer will rather employ a foreigner using the Employment Pass work permit over our local executive if the pay scale is the same for both. The foreign executive can fully focus on his work without any reservist disruption unlike our local citizens who have to answer to our nation’s call annually.
The foreign executive is free of the inconvenience of having to report for reservist duties sometimes up to twice a year for 20 over days at a stretch. It is certainly disruptive to the work flow and operation if the executive is a key member of that company.
A reservist friend of mine, who is a high-flier in his office, has to keep deferring his reservist call-up as his boss didn’t want to release him. When he quitted and change to another company at the age of 40 years old, he was posted to the civil defence force to serve out his reservist liability.
I remembered having to go abroad to Taiwan thrice, over a 5-year period, for at least 20 days per reservist tour when I was performing my 13-year reservist cycle. It was very disruptive to my work and family though I knew that it was an operational need.
In fact, reservist liability is a major consideration for many small and medium size companies hiring key staff – especially if the headcount is relatively thin. Imagine, having two male executives out serving their reservist duties when the company only has a manpower strength of less than ten! It is thus not surprising to see SMEs hiring more foreigners over our local male executives.
Moreover, foreigners who take up citizenship here are free of any reservist liabilities and employers will have no hesitation hiring them over our locally-bred citizens.
The 13-year reservist liability can also be further reduced to a 7-year cycle with better manpower planning so that there is minimal disruption to the reservist’s work duties.
Let’s hope that over time our government is able to phase out compulsory army conscription so that there is a level playing field for both our locally-bred and converted citizens who are born abroad. If not, local citizens will continue to cry foul even with the current monetary incentive after completing their national service.
PS: This letter mailed to the Straits Times forum on 2 Sep was not published.