Strengthening NS – deal with the negatives

The blandly-named Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS)’s recommendations were debated in parliament last week and are estimated to cost S$4.5b over the next ten years to implement, should they be accepted.

Although most reports focused on the monetary aspects of the recommendations, including enhanced IPPT awards and a proposed NS HOME (Housing, Medical and Education) Awards to replace the National Service Recognition Award, the new measures proposed are in fact far more extensive.

The measures range from simple things like providing life and personal accident insurance coverage, others like the establishment of a SAF Volunteer Corps for women, new citizens and first generation PRs are significant and will alter the standing of National Servicemen in our society, for better or worse.

Many of these measures have been suggested by NSmen and NSFs on the ground over the years but, buried so deep in the chain of command, these ideas were often lost and forgotten in the pursuit of more immediate operational goals. In this sense, the CSNS represents an effective listening ear, and should continue to gather feedback and make proposals to parliament at regular intervals.

The CSNS may have built up the positives, but it did nothing to tackle the negatives.

What CSNS should also have addressed are concrete measures to remove de-motivational elements from our society – ignorant criticism of uniformed personnel (such as STOMP posts insisting that they not be allowed to sit in public transport), the gulf in the importance placed on NS (an IPS survey showed that only 43 per cent of new citizens thought NS was important for national identity, compared to 69 per cent for local-born citizens), and outright disrespect for the service rendered by Singaporean Sons (such as this legendary insult by “Heather Chua”, a 22-year-old Singaporean man) to name a few.

Disappointingly, the CSNS also chose not to make any recommendations on the hot topic of PRs serving NS. Some have questioned the relevance of having PRs serve NS, while others have criticized the high rate of second generations PRs giving up their PR status to avoid NS when they turn 18 (the Defence Minister revealed in 2012 that one third of them did so). Would we be better served by making NS more exclusive by restricting it to citizens only – to enhance the level of commitment and make the identity of fellow servicemen much more concrete?

During the parliamentary debate, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the proposal would ensure that NS would be “responsive and relevant to a new generation of Millenial national servicemen who will defend Singapore.” As a result, he said, “motivating national servicemen will also have to change. Especially when this new generation of national servicemen has no direct experience of our early struggles.”

Sons of Singapore born in the 70s (and who would have already completed the entire 13 year cycle by now) would already have completely missed the tangible effects of Konfrontasi and Singapore’s early days of civil unrest. The ‘disconnect’ of the Millenials is not new, although it is nonetheless urgent.

Ultimately, the majority of us know that National Service in one form or another is necessary for Singapore’s survival, and that it is our duty as citizens and Singaporean Sons to make sacrifices for our home. That, at the end of the day, should be the foundation of our motivation, and the strength behind our will to serve.







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