Friday, July 15, 2011

Irresistible Defense: Out of Tekong into the tragicomedy of Singapore

Irresistible Defense: Out of Tekong into the tragicomedy of Singapore

The report that an SAF recruit had tried to swim out of Pulau Tekong has stirred some interest and much amusement even though there is something decidedly macabre about the whole episode and something truly disturbing in the way few people are disturbed by the state’s power in conscript which too many Singaporeans have come to respect as natural, normal and thoroughly acceptable.

If we were to simply look at the situation a little more closely and see what the main concerns the authorities have, we would see that the key individual, the human person involved, is sidelined in place of the power of the system. The absolute power of the state is what matters to the authorities (and for all likelihood, most people under the control of the authorities). It has been said that the young person (perhaps we should refrain from calling him a recruit—surely there’s more to him than an empty identity foisted upon him by the repressive state apparatus of conscription) may have problems coping. Perhaps he was not adjusting well to dehumanization renamed as regimentation and military discipline. Perhaps he was simply not able to cope with the physical demands. But he does not matter.

All matters to the state is that its power must not be compromised even in the symbolic terms of a soldier attempting to run away (or, more literally, swim away). In the article, “Recruit tried to swim out of Tekong camp,” The Straits Times (July 13 2011) reports that “Colonel Tan [the Mindef spokesperson] would only say that the recruit has been ‘disciplinarily dealt with’.” We must be aware of at least two problems.

The first problem that comes to mind is how the immediate concern of Mindef (and I dare say it is the sole concern, in the short- or long-term) is discipline. Not only is Mindef concerned about punishing the soldier, discipline is the only issue Mindef is willing to address in public. It is presumptuous in telling the public that disciplinary action has been taken. It is shaping the mindset of the public by imposing discipline as a concern they should have when it could well have addressed the public by saying that measures have been taken to help the soldier adjust (especially given that he is a very new recruit).

The next significant problem is the media. The de facto state newspaper cum PAP newsletter appears to be consciously aligning its report to downplaying of maladjusted soldiers. From the article, one realizes that the attempt to swim out of Tekong took place in December 2010. It is not July 2011. It is unclear how such a matter goes unreported for more than half a year and why it is suddenly reported. But the length of time is significant to us—clearly, Mindef and Colonel Tan could have said more about the issue after seven months—for the sake of accountability if nothing else. But the paper is not interested in pursuing this. If it did pose Colonel Tan questions about how Mindef treats enlistees who cannot take the ridiculous oppression of enlistment which he declined to answer, these are not mentioned in its report.

Are Singaporeans not disturbed by the possibility that a forcibly conscripted soldier (I find the tautology here necessary in order to emphasize the point to a Singaporean readership) who takes the rather drastic measure of swimming out of Tekong because he is unable to cope? Are Singaporeans, instead, disturbed by how military discipline and control could possibly be compromised? Have we gotten our priorities totally wrong or is the state-controlled media deliberately portraying and shaping our focus in a way that would facilitate the forgetting of the fact that we are dealing with a human being, only eighteen years old, who has no choice but to be enlisted? (Of course I may be holding certain flawed assumptions. Perhaps he holds a foreign citizenship and enlisted so that he can be a Singapore citizen. But the same concerns about conscription should remain.)

What The Straits Times would rather do, though, is to end on an odious note, quoting former military psychologist, Stanley Chua. First, it reports that Chua “said he hoped this incident would not spark talk that today’s enlistees are softer or that national service (NS) is easier than before.” I am inclined to agree with this simply because I do not believe anyone should expect eighteen-year-old teenagers to be “tough” (whatever it might mean) simply because there is NS for them. Neither do I think that anyone should say that NS is easier simply because that is not the issue anyone should raise when a recruit tries to escape. (It is totally illogical to go, “A recruit can’t take anymore and swims out of Tekong! NS must be so much easier now!”) However the final paragraph is to me tantamount to manslaughter:

He [Stanley]added that it is not the Singapore Armed Forces’ job to prepare young men for NS: ‘The BMT commanders and buddies will only know the recruit for a few weeks… The onus is on parents, who have brought up their sons and should know better how they cope with difficulties or stress.’

No, Stanley (or ST?). If I have a son and I know how he copes with stress, what can I possibly do if I know that he is unable to cope with the sort of stress that NS comes with? You may say that it is not the SAF’s job to prepare young men for NS and help the organization disavow any responsibility or obligation. But, from another perspective, why should it be anyone’s responsibility to prepare their children or themselves for NS? It is as good as telling people, “I’m going to throw shit on your face. You had better prepared to lick the shit. It’s not my job to do anything to prepare you. And no, you are not allowed to run away.” The problem? No one should be throwing shit on anyone’s face. And it is perfectly understandable if the victim does not accept shit being dumped on his face; to “prepare” for the terrible act is to accept it indirectly. Should a person not have the right to resist when someone wants to treat him as a toilet bowl?

Of course, the analogy above would be shitty to most Singaporeans, always charmed by the seductive rhetoric of defense as a masculinity-endowing necessity, who will definitely say that NS is not shit and how it is important and necessary.

Is basic human freedom not equally or more important and necessary?

We want defense to protect a nation. And nations are made of human beings. If in the process of national defense, human beings are dehumanized, is defense itself not anti-human and anti-defense? But we would rather indulge in self-defeating militarism, turning defending subjects into objects of defense.

True inescapability is when people no longer recognize their entrapment. This is the epitome of the debilitating Singaporean condition that goes beyond NS to the heart of post-independence Singaporean milieu.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rope in women, new citizens for health-care 'NS'

Equal misery for all sexes or Nation Building? Or further exploitation of 'cheap' NS labor under the guise of 'Nation' building?

Jun 14, 2011

Rope in women, new citizens for health-care 'NS'

IT IS heartening to learn that the Ministry of Health is looking into the manpower needs of the health-care industry ('Industry weighs in on nursing home review'; yesterday).

Given that health care and long-term care of our elderly are two important issues our country is facing, perhaps we should accord them the same importance as our nation's defence.

We could consider introducing national service in the public health sector for our women and for new citizens who are beyond the age of military service. They could then take on auxiliary nursing and health-care roles.

We could have a health-care sector modelled after our military, with regulars who are full-time professionals providing the expertise and leadership, and the rest making up the bulk of the 'caring' force.

This will provide a long-term solution to the industry's manpower needs, reduce our reliance on foreign labour, potentially lead to lower costs, and allow women to contribute to the nation's Total Defence.

Lim Pei Qin

Monday, April 18, 2011

National Service being insulted

National Service being insulted

In a brief few days, the national institution of NS has been insulted over and over again by people who are pleasantly disposed to FTs and new citizens. And this hurts, it hurts very badly to all NS men and ex NS men. The years of sacrifice that they gave to the country now seems meaningless. In just a few days, NS is no longer as important as it was. The rite of passage for all young Singaporeans is being brushed aside as something lesser, as little as any economic activity.

For a start, a doctor claimed that his role as a doctor to treat his patients is as good as doing national service. This has infuriated many Singaporeans, especially the doctors that served as MOs. They must be wondering why are they so stupid when by the nature of their job, they are now doing national service. So what the heck, to don on the uniform for 2 to 3 years, and with reservist liabilities for another 20 plus years, when they don’t really need to? And for new citizens who have not don on the uniform, they can be found to be more deserving to be political masters of the country. Is that insulting?

Now another one is saying that all kinds of activities in the country that benefits the country is as good as doing NS. Foreigners/PRs/new citizens who are contributing to the economy of the country, never mind if they did or did not serve NS, also can. I think he got a point. Our forefathers were immigrants and did not do NS also. So new talents, do or no do NS, same as our forefathers, immigrants. Immigrants have privileges too. Citizens?

As an ex NS man, I am pissed off by the degrading of National Service as something as common as any economic activity. The amount of trouble and inconveniences to the NS men and their families, and their careers, are now being pooh pooh as just another mundane economic activity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reform Party’s Guest spot: National Service

Reform Party’s Guest spot: National Service

Recently someone sent me a link to a funny video on politics entitled, ” Sex Appeal and Jokes …..So this is our humble attempt at getting the first time voters to be actively involved in the local political scene.

The link is here,
Whilst very funny it also contained a VOX POP segment interviewing real youth on the streets who identified several concerns, including National Service. National Service is an area where we should not be afraid to debate the issues openly and hear everyone’s opinions. RP Policy on National service says that we aim to reduce NS to 18 months initially followed by a further reduction to one year. This is covered under Point 13 of our election manifesto which can be found here. (
I was sent this set of proposals Written by a Gordon Lee, an undergraduate at The University of Warwick currently studying Economics, Politics and International Studies. I don’t know the author and he is not an RP member but guest spot is all about turning the blog over to guest authors and opening up a space for debate. So here goes!
Proposal for the Reform of National Service Facts (according to CIA world factbook, amongst others):
The Singapore Armed Forces is a conscript-based military that has an active size of 60,500 which is supported by 312,500 reserves. Military spending is 4.9% of GDP, and ranked according to spending as part of GDP, Singapore ranks 20th in the world. Singapore also has one of the longest military service periods in the world at 24 months, with a reserve obligation to age 40 or 50, depending on rank.

“The government’s stand since independence is that conscription is necessary for Singapore’s national defence because the country is unable to afford a fully professional force. Over the years, it has also marketed National Service as being an opportune time to “bond” male Singaporeans together, regardless of their respective backgrounds.

Conscription takes away two years of a citizen’s freedom in the name of “national interests”. Unfortunately, in the case of Singapore, where tensions are cool, these “national” or “security” interests do not outweigh two years of the lives of every male citizen. Even though the government often compares Singapore with Israel, South Korea and Taiwan as being small vulnerable states, the fact is, they live in much tenser situations and have fought wars with their neighbours in their recent history. It is also to be noted that Taiwan intends to end conscription by decreasing the number of conscripts by 10% each year from 2011, and replacing them with professional soldiers.

In addition, conscription is also systemically biased against males, as females do not need to serve in the military (or to contribute in any department of the government). This creates a situation where males are disadvantaged as compared to their female peers, by two years.

The government’s pro-foreigner policy (under which many foreigners have entered Singapore such that the citizen population is just 63.6% of the total population) also causes citizens who serve NS to be penalised not just in the job markets because they lack two years of experience, but also by employers because of the NS reservist liability which includes yearly call-ups and in-camp trainings. There have been cases of employers openly discriminating against Singaporeans through their advertisements of job vacancies.

Whilst the lack of affordability of a fully professional force may have been a problem in the early days, it is hard to imagine that the same problem still exists today. Even when corrected for inflation, the IMF estimates Singapore GDP to be 25,117 million dollars in 1980, and some 235,632 million dollars in 2008. That is a ten-fold increase from 1980, and the affordability problem was mentioned during 1967, when the NS (Amendment) Act was passed. Imagine how much more Singapore is able to afford a professional force now, compared to then! If anything, a conscript army based on the problem of affordability is a serious anachronism that does not stand true today.

Whilst there is certain “bonding” that takes place during NS, my experience fails to show me, contrary to what is claimed, that NS improves feelings of loyalty to the country, nor that the “bonding” that takes place during NS cannot be achieved outside of NS. If anything, Singaporeans are just further trained to blindly obey instructions from their superiors – which would probably also be to the benefit of the government. This culture is detrimental to society as a whole, and seems to affect creativity in the society, which is important for the spirit of free enterprise and global corporations. Surely two years of a person’s life is more important than this “bonding” that presumably takes place?

The active size of Singapore’s military of 60,500 compares with Australia’s 55,000, the Netherlands’ 53,000, Cuba’s 46,000, Austria’s 35,000, Lao’s 29,000, New Zealand’s 9,000 and Brunei’s 7,000. Singapore’s total military force (active, reserve and para-military) of 470,000 compares with Philippines’ 403,000, Japan’s 297,000, Malaysia’s 172,000, Canada’s 112,000 and Australia’s 81,000. The size of Singapore’s military is clearly too large, but we should not allow ourselves to be deceived by the government’s rhetoric that it is either this number or nothing at all. My proposal will be set out later on.

Only a fixed number of personnel is needed to defend Singapore effectively, regardless of GDP or the population, since military strategy largely revolves around covering land – the area of which is a constant. As one of the wealthiest states in the region, having this professional force will be easily affordable. On the contrary, having a conscript army instead increases the costs of running the army because the larger the population (which grows over time), the more conscripts there are, and the more money has to be spent on their allowance, on training facilities, training equipment, and many other miscellaneous expenses – not to forget the hidden economic costs of not having them otherwise contributing to the economy.

27,000 males enlist annually, making that a total of 54,000 males serving their two years of NS annually. Assuming that they all get a recruit’s allowance of $420 per month, that works out to $272 million a year. Not only does the government spend that amount, but by the government’s own statistic of $53,192 as being GDP per capita, these 54,000 males could have otherwise contributed some $2.8 billion per year. That puts the total economic cost of the labour required for the conscript system at over $3 billion per year, even before considering all other expenses that concerns the training and administration of these 54,000 males. Government revenue (mainly through taxes) is currently just above 10% of GDP, in other words, the almost $3 billion increase in GDP from having these people in the workforce can also increase government revenue by almost $300 million. This money can then be better spent on healthcare, education or supporting the needy.

Yes, the size of Singapore’s military is artificially huge because of the number of conscripts on which it is overly reliant. Singaporeans just need to ask around for anecdotal evidence on training standards, training alongside foreign troops and the incidence of malingering to get an idea of the true quality of the troops disguised behind a number.


I propose that conscription be gradually phased out over a period of a few years, and the $272 million of allowances, and hundreds of millions more from training and administration costs be used instead of increase the salary of regular personnel (whose wages are depressed by the influx of conscripts), and with this higher salary, the SAF can afford to hire more and better regular soldiers than it currently has. From the savings from allowances alone, the SAF can afford to hire an additional 5,500 regular soldiers at an average monthly wage of $4,000.

With better salary, and also with training and equipment funds used on a smaller pool of soldiers, the SAF can be more selective on recruitment for the force, and will also be able to provide the force with better equipment and better training. Leftover funds from training facilities, administration and equipment can also be channelled to hire more soldiers, or to purchase more strategic weapons like long-ranged missiles, which do not generally cost more than $100,000 each, and serve an equally strong, if not stronger, deterrent. These equipment are much quicker to mobilise and attack, making this deterrent even more effective, and less labour-intensive.

In addition to having a larger professional force, the SAF should also have a military reserve force not from conscription, but as part of a contract – just like the United States and the United Kingdom. This military reserve force will also be leaner than our current 300,000 (which is clearly excessive), but also better trained as they are contracted. This works by offering potential recruits a generous pay package for a period of military training (just like the current National Service term), after which they can go on to fulfil their civilian role and take on a job, whilst still going for monthly military trainings on weekends during their bond period.

This dual system of bulking up the professional force in numbers and quality, whilst reducing the number of reserves (but improving their training) will go a long way in addressing the problems and injustice identified with the current system, and also make the military more effective and efficient – spending money wisely and having a larger workforce contributing to the economy.

I recognise that citizens who have served National Service might have certain reservations over this proposal either out of nostalgia or injustice (that they were forced to serve, but future generations need not). I put it to them that the conscript system is a seriously flawed system especially in the modern Singapore context, and that this degenerate system should not be allowed to perpetuate and continue to harm future generations, the economy and our society. I hope that even after decades of spewing propaganda about the absolute necessity of National Service, the government will have the political courage to recognise that it is no longer relevant, and take actions to correct this harmful policy.

I welcome any corrections on figures, and for information on figures which I do not currently have.”


Gordon Lee

The writer is a student of University of Warwick currently studying Economics, Politics and International Studies

The article below first appeared at

See also:

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Fertility and Defence

On Fertility and Defence

Kelvin Teo

Photo courtesy of An Honorable German, Flickr

The figures for Singapore’s fertility rate is at a low of 1.23, far below the population cut-off of 2.1 that is required population renewal. This would have obvious implications and one of them would be manpower for our national defense. Singapore is currently among the countries with compulsory military conscription together with Turkey, Switzerland, Taiwan, Israel and others.

The duration of service in the Singapore Armed Forces used to be dependent on rank – corporals and above used to serve 2 years and 6 months before 2004, whilst Lance-corporals and below served 2 years. After 2004, everyone regardless of rank are required to serve for two years.

Now, with our population renewal below the desired level, maintaining defense manpower at current levels will be difficult in the near future, assuming Singapore sticks with compulsory conscription. Questions regarding the decreasing numbers of renewal by future cohorts and its implications will be raised: 1) Will the length of national service be increased from the current duration of two years to make up for reduced numbers of renewal? 2) Will the length of reservist term, frequency of reservist call-ups and duration of reservist service during call-up increase?

Increasing the term of national service, prolonging reservist term, increasing frequency and duration of reservist call-ups are mere treatment to the symptoms of decline in renewing manpower. There is another popular measure, something which some male counterparts have always raised in the spirit of ‘gender equality’ – requiring females to serve in the military. Female conscription is practised in Israel for instance. Females do not necessarily have to play a combat role; they can play a supportive role. That being said. all the aforementioned measures go against popular sentiments, and supporting plus implementing them will lead to mass disapproval and unhappiness. It is also disruptive to firms to have their employees reporting for reservist call-ups at greater frequencies and for longer durations. It will be even more disruptive to have both male and female employees reporting for their reservist cycles.

Thus, what other alternatives are there? One popular alternative is to modernise our defense force in a way that our military capability is projected with a smaller manpower base. Coincidentally, our ASEAN neighbours also embarked on a goal to modernise their defense forces as far back as the past decade under the perception of a common threat from China and apprehension of its intentions, according to a document from RAND corporation, a global policy think-tank on defense issues.

It goes without saying that the modernisation of our defense forces will require an increased defense expenditure, which means we may possibly have to maintain our defense budget at current levels or even expand on it if we were to modernise our defense forces.

Besides the alternative of modernising our defense forces, there is another option we can pursue – a military alliance with our ASEAN neighbours. The advantage of a military alliance is the achievement of economies of scale in the provision of defense, i.e. lower defense expenditure per capita is required to achieve the same level of protection. The prospects of an ASEAN military alliance materialising becomes a possibility when just recently, Indonesia called for increased synergy of ASEAN defense forces chiefs in order to respond to various challenges and threats to regional stability. The issue of synergy was one of the topics of focus at the 8th ASEAN Chief of Defense Forces Informal Meeting from March 30 to April 1 2011 in Indonesia.

“Defense forces chiefs must be more synergic and productive to be able to respond to various challenges and threats that could endanger regional security.”

“Based on monitoring security in the South China Sea is now escalating following a shift of issue to the region.”

- Indonesia’s defense forces commander Admiral Agus Suhartono in a meeting with defense attaches of ASEAN countries

Although scholars maintain that Singapore plans its defense strategies on the basis that Malaysia and Indonesia are its primary sources of threat, the recent developments in the South China Sea with respect to China may be the stimulus for the formation of an ASEAN military alliance. The source of conflict with China lie in the multiple overlapping claims to the South China Sea. China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan have asserted claims to some of the islands in the sea. The 3.5 square kilometres body of water is resource-rich with minerals, oil and natural gas reserves, especially the Spratly and Paracel chains of Islands. Besides being a potential source of oil and natural gas, the islands are a source of valuable fishing grounds and straddle shipping lanes.

How possible is an ASEAN military alliance and what would be its consequence? According to the aforementioned RAND document, there have been increased mutual use of military training facilities and joint military exercises among ASEAN nations with a focus on air and naval operations in maritime scenarios, even going back as far beyond the past decade. Excerpts of examples of military cooperation between ASEAN nations are appended below:

The Thai and Singapore air forces train together in the Philippines, and Singapore has also had access to excellent training facilities in Brunei.

Malaysia and the Philippines have a bilateral defense cooperation agreement that provides for regular joint military exercises, military information exchanges, and the possible use of each other’s military facilities for maintenance and repair.

Singapore cultivated defense ties with Indonesia and reached agreements that allow Singapore to conduct naval exercises in Indonesian waters and to use air combat ranges in Sumatra.

- The Role of Southeast Asia in U.S. Strategy Toward China, RAND

The consequences of an ASEAN military alliance is a belligerent response from China. As far back as March 2010, Beijing declared the South China Sea a “core national interest” which in diplomatic parlance is tantamount to the use of military means to defend it. It has already established a base in Hainan Island that will place its fleet closer to the South China Sea. It is also currently developing a new missile, the Dong Feng 21D, designed to hit an aircraft carrier from a distance of 1500 kilometres.

That being said, a belligerent response can be mitigated with diplomatic overtures or confidence-building measures with Beijing. Such a point is not lost on Beijing as it has used economic enhancements to improve ties with ASEAN especially in its proposal of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and its subsequent materialisation, making the former ASEAN’s largest trading partner. Under the auspices of the FTA, tariffs for imported goods from various product categories will be reduced to zero, in effect, it means a reduction in tariffs of ASEAN goods sold in China and that of Chinese goods sole in ASEAN.

Thus, in conclusion, the issue facing Singapore’s below expected rate of population renewal would have implications on the manpower of its future defense forces. Extending the duration of full-time national service, increasing frequency of reservist call-ups and duration of reservist training or even enforcing mandatory female conscription are temporary measures to make up for the lack of manpower but such will not go down well with populist sentiments among locals. Therefore, one alternative will be to modernise our armed forces to the extent that the same military capability can be projected with a smaller manpower. However, modernising our armed forces will mean a possible increase in our defense budget. The other option we can pursue is the possibility of a military alliance with our ASEAN neighbours, that allows us to achieve the same defense capability with lower expenditure, with the benefits of preserving regional security. Such a move may not be perceived in a positive light by our Chinese counterparts, but can be circumvented with ASEAN-Chinese diplomatic overtures for instance, in facilitating greater economic cooperation. After all, trade is the most rational preference over conflict where parties involved stand to gain economically.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Modern NS Experience.

The Modern NS Experience.


The last couple of days, the big hooha making the facebook rounds is the picture of the NSF making his maid carry his fullpack for him.

As usual, there’s a big fuss on facebook and stomp carrying on and on about the end of civilization as we know it.

Everyone just need to calm the fuck down.

Look, its nothing to be proud of that’s for sure. But then again, I don’t think most NS men wear that uniform with pride anyway. Most people would just prefer not to do NS at all and if they had to do it, most would prefer to do the whole SAF thing which is “Serve.And.Fuckoff”.

And you can’t really blame the prevalent attitude these days because NS seems nothing more than an unfortunate burden reserved for the luckless males of singapore. Its NS for citizens, jobs for FTs. The SAF itself already don’t treat the average NS man with much respect, so it is not surprising that the NS man will not wear the uniform with much pride and self respect. Mess boy, carpark attendant, usher, I’ve done it all. And that is as a red beret wearing- supposedly elite soldier. Fuck, if a so-called member of a supposedly elite branch of the army can be treated in such a shameful manner, than I don’t see how wearing this uniform means much or if anything at all for the average grunt. For the soldier to treat the uniform with respect, he first have to be treated with respect. You treat the soldier like shit, the soldier will treat the uniform like shit.

Hell, just look at Janil Puthucheary- parachuted by PAP to represent singaporeans enjoying all the rights and privileges without ever serving a day of NS. If Janil is dead serious about serving singapore, why not donate the generous MP allowance to charity and collect the monthly paycheck of a chow recruit- that is if he ever gets elected.

Anyway, I digress.

For people who thinks this is embarrassing, for a soldier, how is this any more embarrassing than any one of the majors or colonels that makes their runner carry their shit for them whenever they go on exercise. If a an NS man carry a major’s fullpack, than a maid carry an NS man’s fullpack. If anything, a maid may make more money as a maid than what a private will make as a grunt in the infantry. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander I’d say.

Fact is, I have personally witness a major strutting around the jungle like a king with his runner carrying his field chair behind him. And whenever the major stopped, the runner had to unfold the field chair so that major can rest his precious golden backside without ever touching the muddy jungle floor. Picture this in your mind if you will- how is this anymore embarrassing than the picture above.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Male Citizens Can Aspire to Political Office Without NS

New Male Citizens Can Aspire to Political Office Without NS

The first official batch of PAP candidates to be unveiled included Dr. Janil Puthucheary which became a citizen in 2008. According to media reports, he settled in Singapore in 2001, presumably got his PR sometime between 2001 and 2008 before being sworn in as a newly minted Singapore citizen.

This is not new, the Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan is also a ex-Malaysian who became a Singapore citizen and is now in the cabinet.

It is interesting to note that in Singapore, it appears not to be a liability to standing for political office if you have not served your country in the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force or the Singapore Civil Defence Force as many of us born and bred Singaporean male citizens have.

In the US, previous President George W Bush was in the National Guard. President John F Kennedy served in a patrol boat in Vietnam and Senator McCain who was the Republican nominee for the US Presidential elections in 2008. US politicians who have served their countries military typically have in their campaign publicity materials trumpeting this fact as evidence of their record in serving the country.

We currently have many ex-SAF generals/admirals in the likes of Foreign Minster George Yeo, DPM Teo Chee Hean etc.

Only in Singapore do we have aspiring politicians who gun for public office not worrying too much that they have never served their country under its mandatory conscription policy. In US, many who volunteer to serve in the US military do so in order to obtain citizenship. Over here, you can aspire for political office under the auspices of the PAP even if your citizenship tenure is shorter than the average 10 years served in reservist plus 2 to 2.5 years in full-time national service by most Singaporean male citizens.

Majullah Singapura.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ICT make-up pay: Part-time workers shortchanged?

Source: Cyberpioneer

Full-time workers who are called up for In-camp training get their full make-up pay, including the employer’s CPF contribution of 15.5 per cent.

However, I have seen part-time workers who do not get the employer’s CPF contribution, in their make-up pay.

Discrimination against part-time workers?

Why is there a difference for full-time and part-time workers?

Why are part-time workers short-changed, when they do their In-camp training?

According to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) labour reports, the definition of a part-time worker, is one who works for less than 35 hours in a week.

Some workers who are working part-time may be doing so not by choice, but because they can’t get a full-time job.

Also, of the 176,700 part-time workers, according to the latest MOM data, many may be
lower-income workers, as their median wage is only $700.

No CPF make-up pay – how to pay mortgage?

By depriving them of their employer’s CPF contribution of 15.5 per cent, the outcome may be more financial stress as they may direly need their CPF to pay for their monthly home mortgage repayments.

I would like to suggest that the Ministry of Defence and MOM look into this discrimination against part-time workers, when they serve the nation as National Servicemen.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

I read the news report on the Straits Times that the Second Minister for Defence says that there's, "no operational needs to justify drafting women for National Service".

The Minister was further reported by the Straits Times, "Dr Ng also said national service is based on the three fundamental principles: National security and survival, universality and equity. And to impose conscription unnecessarily on a large segment of the population would dilute its purpose."

I am amazed at how the Minister can claim mandatory conscription as being equal and universal when it only applies to male citizens and second generation male permanent residents (PR)? Female citizens and permanent residents as well as first generation male permanent residents are not subject to national service. Can we say something is equal when it is not applied universally regardless of sex and to some extent, nationality or residency status?

Mind you, national service is MANDATORY for male citizens and 2nd generation male PRs. There is no such thing as conscientious objection and serving in another capacity. If you do that you will be charged under the Enlistment Act and jailed for three years using Jehovah Witnesses' detainees in Kranji Detention Barracks as the "market" for the penalties for not complying with the Enlistment Act.

What universality are we talking about in a system that forcibly conscripts 18 to 20 year olds male citizens (and 2nd generation male PRs) into service into the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Singapore Police Force?

What equality are we talking about when male citizens have to go through 2 years (previously up to 2.5 years) of full-time national service followed by 10 year (previous 13 years) reservist obligations that requires one to:

  1. Take and pass annual individual physical proficiency tests (or be subject to remedial training regime) and also risk dying from running the 2.4 km (a soldier from my reservist unit died during in-camp IPPT).
  2. Be away from work or business ranging from 2 days to 3 weeks for annual in-camp training which does not help your career or business when competing against foreigners who compete with you for your job.
  3. Join the workforce or go for further studies in the university two years later than your female peers and foreign peers.
  4. Report to Mindef Notification Centre every time you leave Singapore for more than 24 hours.
  5. Subject to annual operations manning and have half to three-quarters of a weekend burned to report for mobilisation exercises.
  6. Waste 2-2.5 years in national service doing fatigue (i.e. odd jobs) in the camp such as area cleaning, weeding, cleaning drains, manholes, washing staircases, cleaning the cookhouse in between training exercises and actual soldiering.
Let's call a spade a spade. Conscription is forced upon male citizens and 2nd generation male PRs. It sucks but many of us male citizens have fulfilled our obligations to duty, honour and country. I personally have served my full 2.5 years in operational combat units plus 10 years in a reservist battalion that did two tours of operational duties. I never deferred any of my annual ICT training (even when they changed the dates giving us less than the required 3-6 months notice) and cleared all my IPPT obligations.

There is no EQUALITY and UNIVERSALITY to speak of in NS. It only applies to some extent within those of us who are male citizens and 2nd generation PRs. And this group is closer to 25-30% of the population given that only 60+% are citizens and half are male. Effectively, only 1 in 3 serve for protect the rest of Singapore.

That is why many NSmen are asking the fundamental question that has been festering in our minds since our first reservist ICT to the last before we were transferred to Mindef Reserve.

What are we fighting for?

What equality does the Minister speak of in a system where the rights and responsibilities are skewed AGAINST the male citizen. We bear the brunt of national service obligations and duty but are not granted any really significant privileges. The recent election budget only doles out an additional $100 for the Growth Dividends. Do you think it is worth risking your life for the system that doles out that little $100 extra (during election years)? When the reality in the workplace is that 1st generation PR or foreigner on employment pass is competing in your face without any of the obligations of national service to take him away from the job for 2 days-3 weeks? (Update: I note that the Government will give $9,000 to NSFs and NSmen depending on their NS cycle but this only applies to those who have not finished their operationally-ready national service cycle. Those of us "old" NSmen who are in Mindef Reserve or demobilised are not entitled to this CPF top-up of $9,000).

Let's ask the families of those NSFs/NSmen who died in their service to duty, honour and country. Would they think NS in its current form is based on equality and universality?

Majullah Singapura.

Source: The Straits Times (3 March 2011)

NS for women? No need, says minister

Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said there were no operational needs to justify drafting women for National Service.

THE Singapore Armed Forces will not draft women for national service because there are no operational needs to justify doing so, said Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

Dr Ng also said national service is based on the three fundamental principles: National security and survival, universality and equity. And to impose conscription unnecessarily on a large segment of the population would dilute its purpose.

'From time to time, there have been calls to extend NS beyond this remit, to fulfil social objectives or otherwise. While these objectives are laudable, we must not dilute the restriction of NS only to critical needs of national security and survival, and base it on the three fundamental principles.

'At present, there are no operational needs that justify imposing upon women to serve NS,' he said.

Dr Ng was responding to Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan's call to let women volunteer for NS. Mr Viswa described such a move as a 'meaningful gesture' that would 'send a potent signal'.

'The numbers may not be large, but I am confident we have a critical mass of Singaporeans who will step forward,' he said during the debate on the budget of the Defence Ministry.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Indefensible costs of military one-upmanship

Indefensible costs of military one-upmanship

I was recently surprised to learn that Singapore has 72,500 troops on active duty and plans to double the number of “combat-ready aircraft” to more than 200. It also plans to have 10 more submarines to add to the four it has today. Or so the Wall Street
Journal reported (“Asia’s New Arms Race,” Feb. 12-13).

In fact, Singapore has “one of Asia’s most modern armed forces,” according to a U.S. military site proudly announcing the country’s purchase of 12 more F-15 fighter jets for $1 billion (October 2007).

The island nation is smaller than New York City (90 percent in land and 60 percent in population). Yet its annual military expenditure of $9 billion is 3.4 times as large as that of Vietnam (population 18 times as big) and 70 percent larger than that of Indonesia (population 50 times bigger).

All this was a surprise to me, because the proud and prosperous Lion City strikes me as eminently indefensible in any serious military confrontation. I do not have to bring up the Japanese Army overrunning the British Empire’s “impregnable fortress in the Far East” in six days, back in early 1942, with a troop size less than half that of the defenders. Imagine New York City as an independent nation having to defend itself from surrounding enemies.

I do not mean to advance any argument on geopolitics or regional military strategy. It’s simply that when the WSJ article came out, I had just read Andrew Bacevich’s essay, “The Tyranny of Defense Inc.” (The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2011). I was also thinking about Yukio Mishima’s novel “Silk and Insight” that I translated a dozen years ago.

Bacevich, a retired army colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University, for some years now has been highly critical of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the military field, writing books such as “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism?” (2008) and “America’s Path to Permanent War?”(2010), to name only the latest two.

In the Atlantic article, he revisits President Dwight Eisenhower and his warnings on the military running amok “in the councils of government.” It is of course his famous farewell speech, in which he said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

But Bacevich also discusses Eisenhower’s speech eight years earlier, the one he gave soon after he became president. The speech, before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, shows the military commander’s thinking did not change over the years. It is particularly notable for the concrete examples illustrating the high costs of military

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities,” Eisenhower said. “It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

Direct cost comparisons between six decades ago and today may be difficult to make, but let me try.

Each B-2 “Stealth Bomber” costs $1.01 billion. The “flyaway cost” — the whole cost minus research and development — of each F-35, the product of “the most expensive arms program” of the U.S. ever and for now the source of congressional hubbub, is somewhere between $89 million to $200 million.

The CIA’s World Factbook puts the 2010 U.S. per capita income at $47,400. This means a total of 21,300 people — men, women, children — must work one whole year to produce a single B-2, and that 1,900 to 4,200 people must work just as long to produce a single F-35. Japan, whose per capita income is way below that of Singapore, plans to buy 100 F-35s.

The biggest issue in education in New York City now is Mayor Bloomberg’s threat to “eliminate” 6,000 teaching jobs because of a budget shortfall. These teachers are new hires, so suppose their average salary is $30,000. The elimination of a single F-35 at the higher cost estimate should make the firing of those 6,000 teachers unnecessary.

St. Vincent’s, the most valuable hospital in my neighborhood, shut down last year because of a monthly deficit of $7 million to $10 million, according to the New York Times. To maintain a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan just one year costs “a cool one million dollars,” Bacevich puts it. The U.S. now has 100,000 troops, at the monthly cost
of $8.4 billion.

The main purpose of the U.S. invasion and destruction of Afghanistan is now obscure, but if it is to force its own idea of government on it, it goes against Eisenhower’s observation: “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.”

As for Yukio Mishima’s 1964 novel “Silk and Insight,” it was based on Japan’s “first human rights strike” at a textile manufacturer 10 years earlier, in 1954. Mishima does not seem to have explained it, but the puzzling title he gave to the novel harked back to the phrase “silk and warships” that dated from the Russo-Japanese War.

For decades before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, silk was Japan’s principal export product, so it was silk that enabled the country to buy and build warships, hence the phrase. But the Yamato, the greatest battleship Japan ever built, and its twin, the Musashi, were both sunk ignominiously before engaging in any worthy battle. Of the two, the Yamato was sunk in the country’s biggest and, yes, “stupidest,” suicide sortie.

What was the cost of building the Yamato? As I have remembered it since my junior high school days, the same amount would have enabled Japan to electrify its entire railway system at the time, in 1940.

Has any of the expensive weapons systems, many of which Japan has been buying from the U.S. since it was coerced into rearmament despite the “no-war clause” of “the MacArthur Constitution,” served any real purpose in defending the country? I don’t know.

I do know that F-86s were used for years to slaughter Steller sea lions. They ate too many fish near the Japanese coast. Partly as a result of that operation perhaps, their number has dropped from 20,000 in the 1960s to 5,000 today.


by Hiroaki Sato

* This article first appeared on The Japan Times: Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Singapore's Defence Budget FY 2011/12

Singapore's Defence Budget FY 2011/12

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The record amount of $12.08 billion (US$9.5 billion, RM 28.8 billion, Rp 84 trillion) earmarked for Singapore's defence this coming financial year provides much food for thought for Singapore watchers.

For military buffs, the proposed FY2011/12 defence budget is likely to trigger spirited debates over the type and number of war machines on the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) shopping list.

For government critics, the largest slice of the planned Budget provides ammunition to attack the spending plans of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Singaporean journalists from the mainstream media are likely to churn out arguments defending MINDEF's war chest. And while some reports may build up a case along the lines of "how much is enough", just wait for the "but" in the story for the usual catch phrases and predictable quotes to kick in. *yawns*

With a General Election looming as early as the April-May 2011 timeframe, such arguments better be good.

To skeptical tax payers, painting a doomsday scenario of an underfunded Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) falling victim to threats unseen, unexpected and unfriendly towards Singapore may not sit well with the voting public. They have heard this tune replayed for the past 45 years and the rehashed public relations (PR) script is looking far too predictable.

What Singaporeans need to hear is how the SAF is earning its keep.

And this, in my opinion, is an area MINDEF's spin masters from the Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) have to work hard to excel at. Spending more than S$100,000 on expen$ive media offensives to carpet bomb Singaporeans with Total Defence messages and televised sing sings is not the way to win hearts and minds.

As Singaporean parliamentarians gear up for the Committee of Supply (COS) debates in March'11, one would hope PAFF would be more creative in selling the SAF's story.

The cookie cutter approach to churning out MINDEF/SAF-friendly media reports based on a rigid PR stylebook and predictable punchlines may not work as threat-weary Singaporeans and carefree Gen Ys throw caution to the wind. Add left-leaning Singaporean politicians into the mix, plus sweet talking politicians north and south of the Lion City and PAFF's storyline may border on paranoia.

It would be tragic for the Republic's defence and security posture if money assigned to protect its national interests ends up triggering voter discontent. Restive voters and a complacent attitude towards national security could undermine the political system that pencilled in that amount for the FY2011/12 spending in the first place, thus contributing to the freak election result theory.

Explaining what makes up operating expenditure should take Singaporean readers and viewers behind the fencelines of vital installations. This way, the media can help citizens see and understand what Island Defence is all about. Such operations, carried out 24/7, have kept the SAF at a high operational tempo since the 9/11 attacks a decade ago.

The security threats are real. Question is: Are heartlanders convinced?

Operating expenditure also embraces SAF missions overseas. Singaporeans need to know why sons of Singapore put their lives on the line on foreign soil and on the high seas far from Singapore's shores. I bet many do not realise what is at stake.

At the same time, MINDEF/SAF must show citizen soldiers that the defence system uses its soldiers' time and commitment prudently. It must also demonstrate that the system is financially prudent and astutely managed. Damage is done whenever citizen soldiers see, sense or experience wastage in terms of their time (through administrative cock ups) or poorly executed military training. Stir coffee with any operationally ready national servicemen and each would have his own stock of stories about the SAF's infamous hurry up and wait culture.

The development expenditure side of the story could provide a tantalising glimpse into the SAF's 3rd Generation transformation effort. Many defence systems and platforms take years to develop, and then some, before the new acquisition attains Initial Operational Capability.

A lot of work also takes place behind the scenes so that SAF war machines can meet its specific operational requirements. Such vital work accounts for part of defence spending and tax payers ought to know more about what they are paying for.

In doing so, one need not give MINDEF/SAF censors a heart attack by revealing trade secrets. PAFF can cherry pick the list of retired SAF war machines for compelling examples - and there are many - of MINDEF's concept-to-retirement approach in defence development. Along the way, introduce the defence engineers, scientists and SAF warfighters who were involved in everything from Project Almond to Project Archer to Project Zebra to make the story come alive. This way, even the Singaporean layperson can appreciate the amount of effort in Ops Tech integration needed to sharpen and maintain the SAF's defence readiness.

Such stories would probably amaze young Singaporeans, many of whom know more about foreign soccer teams than their own country's armed forces.

The PAP's critics have already got their defence themed counter arguments prepared. Red button topics include the need for and duration of National Service, as well as the amount of money spent on defence... with no enemy in sight. When told by a natural orator in front of a crowd hungry for political entertainment, such defence themed jibes are likely to stir listeners into a frenzy because they touch on issues every Singaporean son can relate to.

Such political entertainment comes at a price and a dip in yardsticks used to measure fuzzy concepts like commitment to defence (C2D) is the least of the problems MINDEF/SAF planners need to worry about.

The real worry comes when vigilance fatigue extracts a price in blood from Singaporeans - whatever their age, skin colour or political persuasion.

The FY 2011/12 budget estimates for MINDEF/SAF are a done deal. This is the reality of a one party system. The green light to spend will not mark the end of the story. The real action starts when various political parties hit the campaign trail to woo voters to their camp.

Record defence spending may be needed to make Singapore more secure. At the same time, the billions of dollars proposed for MINDEF/SAF make the system more vulnerable to barbs from its critics.

Such is the irony of politics.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Safety Certified But Not Satisfied

Safety Certified But Not Satisfied

5 tonnes of crushing steel
When Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Teo Chee Hean responded to parliament members who questioned the SAF's safety measures after recent incidents involving reversing army vehicles, Teo didn't exactly provide a wealth of details so that future NSmen can learn from the mishaps and know when to duck. As in avoiding the killer machines, not embarrassing questions.

All DPM Teo would enlighten the house was that the army's Safety System was certified in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS). A system that allows for a Motor Transport Officer to be run over by a Land Rover (July 2009) and then a Lance Corporal to be rear ended by a truck (January 2011). In both accidents only two men were present at the stationary vehicles. Dead men do not provide eye-witness testimony.

What the parliamentarians heard was that the army truck reversed into Lance Corporal Eugin Wee Yong Choon, a Signal Operator who was somehow tasked to unload stores from the back of a military transport. And they were satisfied with that minimalist report. The parliamentarians never bothered to quiz Teo what stores were being delivered that necessitated the requisition of a 5-tonne military vehicle. Assuming the item was larger and heavier than a six-pack of Heinekens, why didn't the driver lend a hand to LCP Wee in the manual discharge of the cargo? The tailgate is a hefty piece of heavy metal. If the army's safety procedures were fundamentally sound as Teo claimed, why didn't the driver switch off the engine and engage the manual brakes before allowing Wee to alight for the unloading operation? Since Second Lieutenant (2LT) Chan was also crushed by a standing vehicle that was supposed to be securely parked, one wonders if the OHSAS covers this aspect of safety. Unlike the downing of the Apache helicopter due to a missing instruction in the maintenance manual, the loss of innocent lives in two similar occurrences apparently did not faze Teo sufficiently to warrant a re-write of the Standard Operation Procedures.

The only logical conclusion to make out of Teo's lackadaisical attitude to the human tragedy is that another round of musical chairs will be played out after the elections. Let the next Defence Minister deal with the crap. The safety lesson here seems to be - 官官相护 (guān guān xiāng hù) - bureaucrats shield each other.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NSF dies after SAF truck reverses into him

NSF dies after SAF truck reverses into him
Fri, Jan 28, 2011

SINGAPORE - A full-time National Serviceman (NSF) died this morning after he was hit by a truck driven by another serviceman.

The accident took place in Jurong Camp 1 at about 7.00am today.

According to a press statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, Lance Corporal (LCP) Wee Yong Choon Eugin, a Signal Operator, was about to unload stores from the back of a truck when it reversed into him.

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) medic attended to LCP Wee immediately. At 7.05am, an ambulance was activated to evacuate LCP Wee to the National University Hospital (NUH). He was sent to the hospital at 7.15am and arrived at NUH at about 7.45am. He was pronounced dead at 7.59am.

The Ministry of Defence is investigating the incident.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Prime Minister Lee on those who serve NS at 30, 40 and 50

Prime Minister Lee on those who serve NS at 30, 40 and 50.

Serving NS at 30

"If we make it a requirement, we would not get the people we wanted. Secondly, if they did serve NS at 30, 40 or 50 years old, I would not like to be their platoon commander." - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long

Source: They are spice in the S'pore mix (

- PM Lee “would not like” to be your platoon commander if you’re 30, 40, 50 years old (
- Ungrateful Platoon Commander, Insensitive Leeder

If you read the response of the online community, you'll understand exactly why PM Lee would not like to be their platoon commander. Just look at all the negative comments and complaints. In this case, he probably won't want to be their platoon commander regardless of their age.

Anyone who has served NS, especially those reservist units, will know the attitude of older soldiers. They have other commitments in life other than NS so the lack of focus on serving NS is only natural, hence the difficulty being their platoon commander.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Zealand’s defense model: An example for Singapore?

by Ajax Copperwater

In May 2010, I wrote about Costa Rica, a country that has maintained its sovereignty without a military since the beginning of the Cold War. However, Costa Rica is not a model for Singapore. The latter needs a military presence as it is situated beside the world’s most important waterway for world trade and thus, it has a vital duty of protecting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

As the population of Singapore is greying and more prone to illness, government health care spending increases as this trend continues. However, not enough public money, with only about 3% of GDP, is poured into the health sector. To increase more of the money for health care, the government can either raise taxes, cut spending from other programmes or both. Since raising taxes can worsen the living standards of the people, especially its bottom 20%, cutting spending is therefore the more sensible approach. Hence, I have always advocated the transition from conscription to an all-volunteer service, as this approach save taxpayers’ money, boosting a leaner and more professional military and provide better health care to especially those who struggle with their bills.

There are many countries in the world that gave up conscription so as to provide more support to its population from their national budget. New Zealand is one good example of such a country that maintained a professional military since 1972 and practises universal health care.

Why did I choose to showcase New Zealand? Before elaborating further in the article, the table below shows the difference between Singapore and New Zealand in terms of population size, land area, GDP and expenditure. This table might give you a preview of what this article is about.


New Zealand Defence Force has a total headcount of 14,843 as of 1 April 2010, including regulars, reserve and civilians. Its defence expenditure for 2009/2010 was about NZ$2.3 billion whereas Singapore’s defence expenditure for 2010 is estimated to be S$11.46 billion.

Though its military is small, New Zealand has sent troops to Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, Egypt, Middle East, Iraq, Solomon Islands, South Korea and Sudan, totalling 404 personnel as of 13 December 2010. Its troops have been active participants in peacekeeping missions.

New Zealand is part of a free association with Niue and Cook Islands. This means that New Zealand acts on behalf of these states on matters of foreign affairs and defence, only with the advices and consents of the latter. Do note that citizens of Niue and Cook Islands are also citizens of New Zealand, which means having New Zealand citizens’ privilege and usage of its passports , but not vice versa

The New Zealand Army is infantry-heavy, and consists of light armoured vehicles and artilleries. The Royal New Zealand Air Force demobilized its air combat capabilities in 2001. That left the air force with transport planes and patrol helicopters. The Royal New Zealand Navy has two Anzac class frigates, three support vessels, six patrol vessels and a surveillance vessel.

New Zealand bars the entry of nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered warships into its water and airspace. Its laws prohibit the procession, purchase or manufacture of nuclear explosive device by any New Zealand citizen or resident.

Health Care

Health care in New Zealand is largely funded by public money, though services are provided by both private and public providers. Public hospitals provide free treatments, including x-rays and accident & emergency treatments. Under certain conditions, visits to General Practitioners (GPs) and specialists are subsided. So are some prescription items and some medicine. Under public health, maternity care is provided free.

The District Health Boards(DHBs) fund and provide the provision of health and disability services in each geographical regions of New Zealand. One of the objectives of DHB is to promote health improvement and reduce health disparity among all population groups. Each DHB receive public funding based on the demography the population within the region. 7 of 11 DHB board members are elected by the public during local government elections, whilst other members are appointed by the Minister of Health. Board members oversee the financial responsibility and governance of each DHB, but do not have executive roles in the DHB.

The main pillar of New Zealand’s public health care is the Accidental Compensation Corporation (ACC). This agency provides support to New Zealanders suffering from injuries be they from leisure, work, abuse or medical error. It also covers recently-injured residents returning from overseas and visitors who wounded themselves while in New Zealand. If sufferers were unable to work due to injuries, ACC may provide up to 80% of pre-tax weekly income during the sufferers’ recovery period. If a sufferer becomes permanently physically disabled, he or she will receive a lump sum payment.

However, it must be noted that benefactors of ACC are barred from suing anyone for compensatory damages. Beside injuries claims, ACC is involved in injuries prevention by working closely with governmental agencies, businesses and community services.

What can Singapore learn from New Zealand?

I’m not suggesting Singapore should adopt New Zealand’s example completely for New Zealand’s defence needs is different from ours. New Zealand has an ally in its neighbour, Australia, and is not situated in a heavily-militarized region as Singapore does.

Nevertheless, if New Zealand can meet its defence needs with less than 15,000 personnel, surely Singapore can do with less than 100,000? I believe it can do even lesser than this number. Many would disagree with me. They might feel every soldier is critical to an army’s defence. That is true to a certain extent. Having a large army is counter-effective as the North Korea has shown. What good is an impressive army when its people have to shoulder the burden of military expenditure with poverty and poor health?

A huge army might be a good deterrent against an imaginary invasion, but there are more credible threat threatening Singapore: diseases. The less well-off would skip medical attention, believing they can get well on their own, to avoid the cost for treatment. That is a very dangerous act that could lead to death. According to MOH, pneumonia is third leading cause of death, 15.3% of case, in Singapore as of 2009. Early treatment in some cases of pneumonia can prevent death.

I feel Singapore can implement a system similar to New Zealand’s District Health Boards. Though Singapore is a city-state and does not have land area the size of New Zealand, its population size is larger. Each region of Singapore are different demographically and better needs of its residents can be met if overseen by a health board. A regional health board can provide a transparency in health expenditure and services dispensed. If the health board members are also members of Parliament or members of the public, perhaps the people can have a larger say in decision making and the health services they want.

As the climate changes for the worse, cases of new contagious and virulent diseases will rise. Is Singapore more prepared for something as deadly as SARS? Perhaps, but won’t it be better if Singapore spend more money on health care, more than 3.1% of its GDP, to safeguard better the health of Singaporeans? What’s stopping Singapore from at least providing free health care service to our youngest, our oldest and our most vulnerable? Won’t you rather have granny access to free health care whenever she needs it and whatever her affliction?