Marking NS55: A Call for Fairness

National Service (NS) is an important glue for our nation and has helped to build our national identity. The importance of NS cannot be overstated. The commitment of citizens to defend their country is far more important than any amount of defence spending or advanced weaponry.

Apart from exceptions like health problems, male Singaporeans serve two years as full-time National Servicemen (NSF) upon reaching the age of 18, followed by 10 years as Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen).

This year marks 55 years of National Service and today is SAF Day. It is a day to celebrate the contributions made by all Singaporeans, men and women, past and present, to the defence of our nation.

I am proud to be one of the thousands of Singaporean men who will be receiving the NS55 Recognition Package this year. It brings back many good memories of my full-time National Service and reservist days which I still share with my army mates in our regular meetups till today.

But since the late 1990s, Singapore took a different socio-economic development path, prompting questions on whether the nation’s defence burden has been shared fairly among all citizens. Given our 4G leader Lawrence Wong has launched a national dialogue on a new social compact, we think NS should be included in the dialogue.

On this SAF Day, I wish NS could be reviewed from three angles – fairness, talent development and recognition.

1.​Fairness – the defence burden must be shared equally by all Singaporeans. However, as Singapore’s population grows through immigration, there is now a sizeable number of male citizens in the country who have not done NS.

Singaporeans who serve NS have to sacrifice two precious years and forgone significant income during the full-time NS period. As NSmen, they have to go for annual in-camp training putting them at a big disadvantage in the workplace where competition from non-Singaporean workers has intensified.

Hence, it is only fair that all permanent residents (PRs) who want to become citizens must do NS. They should serve the two years of full-time NS service and ten years of reservist service like male Singapore citizens.

2.​Talent Development – can we be more open to allowing our top talent easier deferment or even exemption from NS? Is it fair that we forfeit our local talents their chances of developing their talents while many new male citizens do not need to do NS?

To date, we have granted deferment to a few top sportsmen and performing artists, but more can be done. The sentiment expressed recently by Joseph Schooling, Singapore’s only Olympic gold medalist, together with many of his fellow athletes should be taken seriously.

As talent must be developed from a young age in sports and the arts, we should grant talented Singaporeans who can perform at the world level NS deferment perhaps until 30 years of age.

One thing we can be sure is that without allowing talented Singaporean footballers to defer NS and gain experience playing with international professional clubs, we will have little hope of getting close to qualifying for the World Cup.

3.​Recognition – the recognition of Singaporean’s NS contribution should be enhanced. The current approach of recognizing NS with occasional handouts like the NS55 $100 cash credit per person is inadequate.

More recognition for NS should be given upfront. Firstly, the allowance for full-time NS should be increased to the minimum living wage recommended by PSP at $2,000 per month for the rank of a private. How can one defend his country if he cannot support himself financially. From the $2,000 level, the allowances for higher ranks can be adjusted accordingly.

Secondly, the best recognition for the NSF is to give them voting rights upon enlistment. One who is ready to defend his country should be allowed to vote on the future of his country. At the same time, voting rights should be given to our women upon reaching the age of 18 as they too are ready to defend Singapore when they are called upon to do so.

Singaporeans can do better.

For Country for People.

Share This :