Essay About National Service Programme In Malaysia
"Switzerland doesn't have an army, it is an army."
So described the American writer John McPhee the Swiss military in his famous reportage La Place de la Concorde Suisse.
For over 200 years, conscripted Swiss men have trained to mobilise to defend the whole country in less than 48 hours. In a referendum last year, an overwhelming 73 per cent of Swiss citizens showed continued support for mandatory conscription.
Singaporeans also believe that full-time national service (NS) is essential for defence, identity building, fitness and other reasons. But like all venerable institutions, NS must evolve with the times to remain relevant to the challenges it is designed to address.
The state has substantial and diverse priorities. These include national defence and internal security, social services, and a desire to stimulate creativity and promote economic growth. Singapore's NS should therefore be broadened to encompass these functions in a way that does not compromise fundamental security needs.
21st century info-states
SINGAPORE and Switzerland are what I have called "info-states". These are societies where data, technology, master planning and alternative scenarios are as critical to governance as democracy. The two countries are often characterised as having inverted political systems, with Switzerland having a "bottom-up" system while Singapore maintains a "top-down" one. But Singapore and Switzerland can also be viewed as being quite similar, not least for their propensity to top many global competitiveness rankings.
A strong military is vital to protecting such small countries that are rich in financial, technical and human capital. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is thus unstinting in its pursuit of military excellence. It must continue to acquire all the assets necessary to deter aggression: military, cyber and economic. But even with razor- sharp defences, info-states fundamentally thrive on connectedness. Their economic and diplomatic footprint will always be far larger than their military one.
A 21st century country must think in 21st century terms about national security. Only two advanced countries still have military-only national service schemes: South Korea and Israel. Arguably they still need it.
But many stable societies in the world also modify their national service requirements to changing circumstances. The decade following the reunification of Germany in 1990 saw a wave of such adjustments. Just as I was leaving high school near Hamburg, all my German contemporaries went off to diverse military or civil service assignments lasting only one year.
If I have a bias in this debate, it is to keep national service a primarily military activity rather than diluting it. My undergraduate concentration was military strategy - known much more by its campus nickname "Guns & Bombs". I also served as an adviser with the United States Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan conducting counter-terrorism missions.
My first book, The Second World, is a geopolitical travelogue covering high-stakes countries from Libya and Ukraine to Venezuela and Kazakhstan. I have worked with the US National Intelligence Council to develop scenarios on major regional conflicts.
Yet what I have learnt from all of these experiences is that someone who is expert in only "security" is missing the big picture.
Malaysia: Shifting dynamics
THE shifting dynamics between Singapore and Malaysia are a key case in point. Across the former British Empire, countries that shunned each other at independence a half-century ago are now sharing currencies, pooling capital, building cross-border infrastructure, and attracting joint investments.
Singapore and Malaysia fit this pattern of post-colonial fraternity. Malaysia has become a major economic opportunity for Singapore. But it is also the source of a variety of micro-threats, such as drugs and illegal immigrants. None of these can be dealt with using primarily military means (as the US has learnt on the Mexican border).
The solution requires more joint investment, job creation, law enforcement, and other tools. In this context, we should ask: How does NS contribute to greater stability in this new regional paradigm?
New model army
THE most fundamental question is how to allocate human resources efficiently. The SAF is a crucial foundation of this strength - but it is not the only one. Nor is it the only one that requires able-bodied citizens to commit time and effort.
Indeed, it is rather odd for a country whose civil service is perhaps the world's most competent and effective to limit formal service requirements to defence alone.
Given Singapore's particular circumstances, NS should become a menu of options across military, civil, commercial and social entities. But it should be managed in a manner that preserves the equity of the programme.
Basic training must remain a universal commitment. But it should be carried out by the SAF, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and police - a distribution that is critical especially if women become integrated into NS so that exercises are more flexibly suited to physical abilities.
Each year, a wide range of places will be available for NS positions across corporate, civil, social and military functions, with dynamic quotas based on positions available and needed each year. Students will indicate their preferences across "hard" and "soft" placements, but with the SAF, SCDF and police having priority to ensure they meet their force adequacy requirements.
Not everyone will get their first choice, but fairness should be built in by requiring each NS-hosting entity to take in a representative cross-section of youth from all backgrounds and education levels to avoid giving unfair career advantages to those in corporate or civil roles rather than military. This is essential to preserve one of the key virtues of national service as it stands today: the integration of all racial groups and income levels.
If choices are unevenly distributed - for example, if too many young people choose the engineering option and not enough choose the educational one - a ballot may be held and some routed to their second or even third choices.
No doubt the allocation process may get a little complicated, but it will not be anything out of the ordinary for Singaporeans used to the posting exercises for admission to secondary schools, polytechnics and universities. The key is to make sure that criteria for deployments are transparent and the process, such as a ballot, is seen as equitable.
Upgrade, not upsize
BUT ensuring the primacy of the military is not a race for numbers. Looking around the world, it is clear that military effectiveness does not correlate with the number of soldiers under arms. America's defence establishment is being forced to consider how to get more value from technology rather than manpower, hence the greater investments in drones and wearable exoskeletons.
With opportunities in hardware innovation and cyber security, Singapore could indeed become even more of a "start-up nation" than Israel, with tighter links between the defence and technology sectors. A professional army with a well-trained and compensated officer corps and more linkages outside the military would also struggle less with career transitions at the age of 50 or 55.
NS provides a captive audience of highly capable youth whose abilities can be leveraged and skills upgraded. NS can be used to train responsible stakeholders, not just in law and order, but also in welfare and productivity.
Formally designating strategic industries as a form of national service is not at all new. During World War II, the US exempted from the draft men working in crucial sectors such as automobile and tank assembly. In Singapore in the 1980s, more than 10,000 servicemen were diverted into the so-called "construction brigade" to accelerate Housing Board public housing development. At the time, Singapore faced a labour shortage. Now, of course, it seeks to cap foreign labour.
Shouldn't some NS men become structural engineers, building next-generation infrastructure at home while developing skills for a lucrative industry Singapore can export? Indeed, as the labour component of manufacturing and its gross domestic product contribution decreases, it is likely that more Singaporeans will have to venture abroad as managers, trainers and investors.
The French system includes rigorous training in public administration as well as work in commercial entities. Singaporeans should similarly become commercial cadets within the many government-linked companies, learning management skills essential for both climbing corporate ladders and running entrepreneurial start-ups. They could even do service projects in neighbouring Asean countries in a Singapore-style peace corps.
Education is as strategic as any other sector. From pre-schools to polytechnics, more educational institutes are mushrooming, each with needs in staffing, administration and training. Many of those who begin with teaching apprenticeships during NS may later choose education as a profession.
Health care, particularly for the elderly, also needs a manpower boost.
Given Singapore's concern about growing ethnic diversity and inequality, another function from the French NS system is instructive: social integration. Providing counselling to new arrivals, marginalised families, and under-skilled individuals will ensure that a more diverse Singapore continues to build a common identity.
Whatever the role, NS members should get similar stipends during their year of service, and return once a year to mentor their successors.
Once NS functions are broadened, there is even more reason to draw from two enormous and untapped pools of labour to ensure that defence and non-defence requirements are fulfilled: women and permanent residents (PRs).
It is clear from the Singapore Conversation dialogues that there is some public sentiment - among men and women alike - for women to play a stronger role in national service. More inter-gender bonding during various NS duties may even lead to earlier marriages and a much-desired boost in the birth rate.
As a country with a large, permanent expatriate population, PRs can also provide necessary talent and manpower while deepening their integration into Singaporean society.
THERE is no underestimating how important NS is to building solidarity, promoting fitness, and boosting long-term volunteerism. But evidence from around the world suggests that there are many ways to achieve social cohesion. Teach for America, a nonprofit organisation founded in 1990, pays graduates meagre stipends to work in inner-city schools, yet jockeys with investment banking and management consulting as the most competitive and desirable first step after college. Employers view it as a true demonstration of character and teamwork.
Broadening NS options taps the latent idealism of youth and channels it into fruitful service for the nation. Rather than being viewed as an opportunity cost, it will provide a platform for youth to develop their interests early on, leading to better focus in universities and polytechnics.
When the time comes, my son will do Singaporean national service whatever form it takes. So the question is not whether to serve, but what service is needed?
The author is an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
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The National Service Training Programme, or Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (PLKN), known locally as the Khidmat Negara ("National Service") is Malaysia's national service program. The conscripts are 18-year-old youths that are selectively drafted. The three-month program, which started in December 2003, began as way to encourage friendship between youths of certain ages from different races and ethnic groups and address concerns that the country's multi-ethnic and multi-cultural groups who were seen of "becoming increasingly isolated from one another". This program was halted for one year in 2015 due to the federal government's efforts to cut spending. The program was reintroduced as PLKN 2.0 in 2016, with participation to be made fully optional by 2019.
The national service program, first proposed in late 2002, came to committee[which?] the following year, and was finally implemented in 2004. Initial proposals envisaged drafting all youths of a certain age, but later lack of resources led to restricting the numbers of the intake. The program, planned around a two-year program, was later reduced[by whom?] to a year, then to six months, and then to its present[update] three-month length.
Conscription has long been a sensitive political issue in Malaysia because of the ethnic divisions of the country. Proponents of National Service promoted bonding the youth of Malaysia together and creating a Malaysian nation, as the problem of racial polarisation was found[by whom?] to pervade educational institutions in Malaysia.
Selection of conscripts
In late December 2003, the names of 85,000 conscripts for the first National Service program was made public. The government announced that these youths were randomly selected out of the roughly 450,000 youths born in 1986, through a computerised process. Conscripts are 18 years of age and picked from a national database that includes all citizens registered with a Malaysian ID card, whether born locally or overseas. Conscripts were informed of their participation in the program by mail at the address listed on their identification card. They are also able to check their status on the program's website, or by SMS. Lists of conscripts names and ID numbers are also published in major newspapers.
Deserters and draft dodgers are subject to punishment of a fine of up to but not exceeding RM 3000, and/or up to six months of jail. Deferrals to a later date are allowed. Exclusion from the program requires that the conscript fall under one of the following ten categories:
Non selected civilians are also allowed to volunteer to enter the program after filling out certain forms in camps. During the first year pilot of the program, three teens from the north, Lee Poa Ting, Nyiau Kean Wei, and Goh Liang Kia expressed disappointment for not being drafted, gaining widespread attention and becoming national news. Since then, a voluntary option to participate was implemented.
- Develop a young generation who are patriotic and with love and devotion for their country
- Enhance unity among the multi-racial communities in the country
- Instill a spirit of caring and volunteerism among society
- Produce an active, intelligent and confident generation
- Develop positive characteristics among the younger generation through good values
- Develop a generation that is obedient and loyal to the government
The program has its own theme song and logo. Conscripts are issued two pairs each of three different types of uniforms: a class uniform, a sports uniform, and a combat uniform. The combat uniform's design is of blue camouflage stripes, made out of light blue, dark blue, white, and black. The general color scheme for the class and sports uniforms is blue, and black. Criticisms[by whom?] against trainees' uniforms are apparent as blue clothes are easily spotted in jungles and verdant vegetation areas except the sky and water.
Ranks in the National Service
Conscripts exhibiting promising leadership capabilities are promoted to rank-holders during the early course of the training. These rank-holders are entrusted with military officer-like responsibilities and authorisations throughout the remaining course of the training. The ranking system however differs slightly among camps throughout the country according to each camp commandant.
Among the ranks available are:
- Chief: Leader of all conscripts in camp. 4 stripes
- Deputy Chief: Assistant to the Chief, usually 2–3 per camp. 3 stripes
- Company Commander (CC): Also known as Squad OC (Officer-in-Command), leader of a company. Usually 1 per gender for each company. 2 stripes
- Assistant Company Commander (ACC): Also known as Company Sergeant, assistant to the CC. Usually 1–2 to each CC. 1 stripes
Other ranks (varies from camp to camp, not all camps have the following officers):
- Public Relations Officer: Normally one for each camp.
- Religious Affairs Officer: Normally one for every major religion in the camp.
- Quarter Master: Normally one for each camp.
- Sports and Recreation Officer: Normally one for each camp.
- Dorm Administrator: One for each dorm.
- Logistics Personnel: One for each camp, as liaison between conscripts and the camp logistics department.
The program is split into four modules:
- Physical Module (Fizikal) – Marching (Kawad), hand-to-hand combat (Tempur Tanpa Senjata, largely similar to taekwondo), ColtM16 usage, obstacle courses (Kembara Halangan), abseilling (Tali Tinggi), Flying Fox, canoeing (Kayak), camping ("Wirajaya") (During Wirajaya, trainees will be also given mock missions such as:Search and rescue, night patrols, perimeter Guard, first aid and at night trainees have to guard their company flag from being stolen by instructors of other companies who would infiltrate their opponent companies' bases) Navigation (Navigasi), survival training and first aid training.
- Nation Building Module (Kenegaraan) – Classroom based. Nation's history, sovereignty and dignity, Malaysia and international affairs, Defence and National Security and Citizen's responsibility to the nation, and loyalty towards the current government, Barisan Nasional. The classes are based on group based training (Latihan Dalam Kumpulan).
- Character Building Module (Pembinaan Karakter) – Classroom based. It comprises 2 modules. The first one, Module A speaks about Bringing Out The Best In Me while the second module, Module B, relates to Bringing Out The Best In Others. This component is experential based and relies on games and activities as the means of teaching. It is about instilling good values and Self-confidence, leadership and self-evaluation.
- Community Service Module (Khidmat Komuniti) – Trainees are sent in groups to places in surrounding areas to give the trainees a chance to serve society. This is about building and restoring public amenities. It also teaches them environmental restoration and protection as well.
In the 2004 program, conscripts (referred to as "trainees" or "Wira" for boys and "Wirawati" for girls) spent 2 months in physical training camp, followed by a final month in a university setting. The program consisted of three separate, overlapping batches. The first batch of 24,000 began in mid-February and ended in the beginning of May, while the second and third batches began in March and ended in June. Trainees were divided among 79 training camps scattered all over the country. Each camp was supposed to contain a good mix of youth from different ethnic groups and locations.
Budget and spending
Trainees were initially given a RM300 allowance by the government. Beginning in January 2008, this amount was raised to RM150/month, or RM450 total. Trainee allowances come in the form of a Sijil Simpanan Premium (Premium Savings Certificate) from Bank Simpanan Nasional, or an account with Agro Bank Malaysia. The accounts with Agro Bank Malaysia have been criticised for taking out RM 20 from each account, for processing and ATM card fees.[by whom?]
According to then-Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop, RM2.37bil has been spent to finance the National Service program since it was introduced in 2004. RM608.6mil was spent in 2004, RM604.8mil in 2005, RM588.2mil in 2006 and RM565mil in 2007. Then-former Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had said earlier that the programme would not exceed RM500mil a year.
|Total (as of 2008)||RM2.37 bil|
List of National Service Training Camps
There are many National Service training camps in every state in Malaysia except the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya.
Initially, the program involved a two-month placement in a rural outdoor camp, followed by one month in an urban setting (a university, or sport facility). Following university complaints of vandalism, the urban setting placement was discontinued after the 2004 program. The canvas tents in the outdoor camps that housed 10 trainees each were replaced with concrete dormitories that housed 20 trainees each. Trainees are now housed at only one location throughout the duration of the program.
The program is staggered into several batches (kumpulan) over the year. Collectively, all batches in a year are known as a series. Batches are known as "Batch X, Series Y". For example, the pilot batch in the pilot series would be referred to as Batch 1 Series 1, while the second batch in the fifth year (2008) series would be Batch 2 Series 5.
In the 2007 program, 100,000 people will be selected out of the country's youths born in 1989. They will be placed in 79 training camps, in three different batches. Each batch will undergo three months of training. However, the 2007 batches will not overlap, as with the previous year's. Instead, the three batches will span a total of nine months. Training of the first batch started on 1 January 2007 and will end at 11 March 2007. There were delays for trainees from the East Coast due to severe flooding in the region.
Including 2008, a total of 339,186 youths have been assigned to National Service since beginning in 2004. The program is run by Jabatan Latihan Khidmat Negara (JLKN) or National Service Department, a department under the Malaysian Ministry of Defence.
See also: Conscription § Arguments against conscription
Despite progress towards ethnic harmony made in Malaysia in recent times it is clear that there are still problems. Outside the Human Rights Charter Contraventions, other problems are also as follows :
After the 2004 pilot batch completed its National Service, the youth wing of the Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysia's largest ethnic Chinese party), on behalf of themselves and 8 other Chinese-based youth organisations, issued a memorandum to the National Service Training Council calling for more non-Malay trainers. They also criticised the lack of counsellors, imbalanced diet for the participants, poor communication among the various secretariats and no code of conduct for camp commandants or directors, trainers, facilitators and supervisors.
Other main controversy issues of Malaysian National Service include the selection system where the government computer database system picks up the trainees randomly without even knowing about their social status. Some cases include poor teenagers who need to work for their living and young mothers with newborn babies who were selected for the program, which are considered as inhumane. However, selected trainees with extraneous circumstances can send a letter of appeal to be exempted from the training, which will usually be approved.
In 2005, concerns were raised in Parliament that youth were being taught to use firearms, namely M16 rifles, in National Service. Then Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, stated that this was merely a pilot project. However, a Democratic Action Party Member of Parliament (MP) claimed that the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service had not been informed of the project. The firearms module is now a module of the program.
Trainees are required to submit a health status declaration form but are not required to seek qualified medical opinion in completing this declaration (unlike, for example, United States Space Camp which requires qualified medical certification of health status). Trainees are required to complete a medical checkup before entering the program, which is provided for free at major government clinics. This medical checkup, however, is not reinforced.
The program has been plagued with claims of poor management right from its inception. There have been a total of 16 trainee deaths.
When pressured by more calls to suspend the program because of a 16th death, Najib responded that it was not feasible to stop the program since "many parties are involved".
- Food poisoning, PDS Resort Camp, Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, on 16 May. 60 trainees and instructors at Pusat Latihan Khidmat Negara, Port Dickson Camp, Negeri Sembilan.
- Lost in jungle, Kem Lagenda Gunung Ledang, Jasin, Malacca, on 30 April. Twenty-three lost their way during a jungle trekking exercise at Asahan Forest Reserve. The instructor in charge of the group was dismissed with immediate effect for negligence.
- High fever, Kem Desaru Gerak Khas, Kota Tinggi, Johor, on 31 May. 58 trainees came down with vomiting and high fever on 31 May, and were admitted to Kota Tinggi Hospital. The incident began when trainees began to fall sick after returning to camp on 28 May, from the Wirajaya module (a two-day jungle trekking exercise).
- Food poisoning, Kem Barracuda, Setiu Agro, Terrenganu, on 23 May. Nine trainees fell ill due to food poisoning, with four trainees being warded at Setiu Hospital. The camp's canteen was closed down.
- Food poisoning, Kem Barracuda, Setiu Agro, Terengganu, on 29 May. 67 trainees developed stomachaches believed to be caused by due to food poisoning on 28 May, barely a week after nine trainees from the same camp suffered the same ailment. Fourteen trainees were warded in the Setiu Hospital, while 53 received outpatient treatment. Four food handlers at the camp also received outpatient treatments at the same hospital. The food was catered from outside, as the camp's canteen had been closed after the 23 May incident when four of the trainees were warded for food poisoning.
- An 18-year-old ethnic Chinese trainee was alleged to have been sexually assaulted by more than 20 unidentified men at Lake Chini Resort Camp, Lake Chini, Pahang, on 23 June while making a call from a phone booth on camp grounds at night. Accompanied by her father, the trainee lodged a police report and underwent a medical check-up the next day and did not return to camp. As of one week later, camp authorities were purportedly pressuring the trainee to return to training.
- A racial brawl involving almost 100 trainees occurred in the canteen of Lake Chini Resort Camp, Lake Chini, Pahang, on 27 June following a misunderstanding arising from trainees "inadvertently [shoving] into each other" while rearranging chairs. Following this incident, 17 trainees were arrested by police and held at Pekan district police lock-up for two days before being released after meeting their parents.
- Harassment, Sri Impian Camp, Sungai Bakap, Penang, in mid January. A Sikh youth woke up discovering his hair was cut by 50 to 60 cm while he was asleep in his dormitory. The incident traumatised the youth because it violated his religious rights (kesh). It is under probe ordered by the Defence Ministry.
- Poor food and damaged facilities, a group of NS trainees from the White Resort camp, Balik Pulau, Penang, protested and threatened to leave the camp over unbearable conditions of the camp such as insufficient food, dirty pillows, clogged sinks and toilets, broken bed frames and broken toilet doors. One of the NS trainees found worms in the food served at the camp.
- S. Theresa Pauline, 17, attached to Kem Karisma, Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. Died on 11 June after being admitted to the hospital on 23 May due to having fits. Her death was attributed to viral meningoencephalitis. Her father, S. Sarimuthu was paid RM 32,000.
- Ili Ameera Azlan, 17, attached to Kem Ayer Keroh, Ayer Keroh, Melaka. Died on 18 January at Malacca Hospital, after suffering breathing difficulties. The parents were paid RM 35,000.
- Prema Elenchelian, 18, attached to Kem Kisana Beach Resort, Pasir Puteh, Kelantan. The trainee from Kajang, Selangor, was found unconscious in a toilet at Jeram Linang (0230 hours) on 1 March. She was taken to the Tengku Anis Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Prema's death brought the number of trainees who have died since the programme began in 2004 to 12.
- Mohd Rafi Ameer, 18, attached to Cheneh Cemerlang Camp, Kemaman, Pahang. Died at 10.30pm on 3 September, after having fever for 1 week. Rafi had previously called his sister and told her that he had a fever, and that his leg had been swollen for nearly a week after he fell during training.
- Too Hui Min, 18, attached to Kem Geo Kosmo, Behrang, Selangor. Died on 7 May at Slim River Hospital, Perak, three days after she started complaining of constipation. The cause of death was later determined as being toxic megacolon – her colon had been swollen and the lining had thinned due to septicaemia. Her death was the 16th National Service death, and was followed by several DAP leaders calling for the suspension or even the scrapping of the National Service programme.
- Afiq Zuhairi Ahmat Rozali, 18, attached to Kem Sentosa, Chenderiang, Perak. Died on 16 April at Teluk Intan Hospital, Perak, after a brief febrile illness. He was treated by camp paramedics several times before finally being transferred to hospital where he died in less than 24 hours.
- Abdul Malik Ishak, 18, attached to Kem Guar Chenderai, Padang Besar, Perlis. Found dead in his bed on 29 June, at Kem Guar Chenderai. He had not reported any problems on his self-reported health declaration form.
- 2 illness-caused deaths 1 coma
- A Sarawakian trainee collapsed and died in a hospital.
- Muhammad Suhaimi Norhamidi, 18, was bludgeoned to death by a blunt object by fellow trainees for allegedly cutting queue during breakfast at the National Service camp in Muadzam Shah, Pahang on 22 September 2013. Police have arrested three other trainees aged 17 to 21.
There have been 22 deaths since the programme started in 2004, with 12 trainees dying in the camps and five more during breaks or within days of completing the program.
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