Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Parliament: SAF Volunteer Corps

Parliament: Committee of Supply 11 March 2013 (MINDEF) – Strengthening the Singaporean Core

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Chairperson, NS has remained the bedrock of nation-building since 1967. With the Government opening the door to large numbers of foreigners in a short space of time over the last decade, foreigners and new citizens have, to varying degrees, been accused of enjoying a security umbrella without the need to do NS. In addition, Government data released through parliamentary questioning reveal that about 25% of all who give up their citizenship each year from 2007 to 2011 were naturalised citizens. These perceptions and realities should prompt us to looking at ways to increase the prospects of integration, at least between Singaporeans and new citizens for nation-building purposes.

The unique role of National Service as a social adhesive boasts a generational track record. So far, the Government’s efforts have been tailored towards putting the contribution of NSmen into distinct relief by sharpening the difference between Singaporeans and foreigners through a monetary approach.

In 2010, the Government announced details of the NS Recognition Award which saw every Singaporean NSman getting up to either $9,000 or $10,500 deposited into their Post-Secondary Education and CPF accounts over 10 years. Even then, the limits of monetary incentives and monetary solutions were aptly put by a Straits Times reporter who addressed the issue succinctly, “money cannot be the only language Singaporeans speak. People want to feel proud of being Singaporean.”

Earlier in 2010, in response to proposals that new citizens should be made to serve some form of National Service, the Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen came out to say that NS was meant to serve a critical national need, not fulfil social goals. Three years later, with a perceptibly strong and negative undercurrent to the Government’s population policies today, a reassessment of NS’ utility as a tool of integration is necessary.

At its heart is the question of public buy-in towards the Government’s immigration policies – buy-in which has so far remained very fitful. As MINDEF takes up the largest chuck of the country’s Budget, it would be worthwhile looking at the role NS can play in the integration of new citizens, especially since it can equally be argued that integration is not just a social objective, but that it serves – especially with the passing of the Population White Paper – a critical national purpose too.

The pace of integration between citizens and new citizens is slow. Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with this, since integration should not be hurried. It is also quite difficult to have an absolute fix on the depth and quality of integration so far, except the visceral outbursts against foreigners that many in this House have come to know of. But integration can be enhanced and deepened by common experiences and shared values – and in this regard, National Service presents itself as a ready platform.

Today, Singaporean males have accepted that they can be called up for NS for up to 40 days a year for 10 years, and that is after they have completed their two-year full-time National Service stint. The point about NS is that Singaporean males do not just serve two years of NS, they serve a 10-year NS training cycle when they enter the workforce as well.

While it may be operationally and bureaucratically inefficient to get new citizens to serve full-time NS for two years, it is not in the realm of imagination to conceive of new citizens up to the age of 30, serving a 10-year NS cycle till they are 40 years old, which is the current statutory age limit of service for many Singaporean NSmen.

Recently, the SAF has raised some battalions specifically for the purposes of protection of key installation duties, with a specific vocation raised for this – the security trooper. These soldiers, amongst other duties, help patrol key installations. Without undermining the importance of such responsibilities, one can conceive the development of a training programme implemented to train new citizens for NS duties over a 10-year National Service training cycle with the first three years set aside to train new citizen soldiers on the rules of engagement, and specific vocational training relevant to the protection of key installations. When deployed, these new citizens can be envisaged to patrol jointly with Singaporean NSmen vocationally trained as security troopers who have completed their two-year cycle, so no distinction is made between new or old citizens as they perform their duties as Singaporeans.

Mdm Chairperson, this is just one example of how the 10-year NS training cycle can be employed to serve both national and social needs. In the event there is concern by some that this requirement would deter foreigners from taking up Singapore citizenship, then an adverse inference should necessarily be drawn against the applicant.

The experience of some European countries with immigration already portends the prospects of a nasty reaction to it. Before Singapore reaches this point, the Government should look towards strategies that can substantively deepen the quality of integration between new citizens and Singaporeans. In my view, NS is the national institution that is uniquely suited to play to this role.

Ng Eng Hen (Defence Minister): Some of you have suggested that we should make (National Service) part of the integration journey for PRs and new citizens, albeit at a reduced level. Mr Pritam Singh mentioned that. Mr Hri Kumar has thought hard on this issue and asked how we can better address those who renounce their PRs such as through higher penalties or taxes. Whether you agree with specific proposals by various MPs or not, it may not be as important as what we can all agree on – that NS is very much a duty and honour for all those who make Singapore our home. That is the starting point…..MPs here have raised many issues. Some of these issues have been raised by public members as well. To respond to this feedback, I have decided to convene a committee to strengthen National Service. It will be called the “Committee to Strengthen National Service”. I will chair the Committee.

Parliament: Committee of Supply 5 March 2014 (MINDEF) – Committee to Strengthen National Service

Mr Pritam Singh: I signed up last year to attend one session of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) in the second half of the year. The session I attended as an NSman was facilitated by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Mr Masagos. Like many of the NSmen in my group, I found the feedback process open and helpful in terms of soliciting feedback from NSmen on how to strengthen National Service.

In fact, one of the more commendable things the Committee did after the feedback session was to publicise the summary of the consultation on the CSNS website. It may not have been possible to accommodate everyone’s inputs as I heard them but the process itself I understand was appreciated, with many of the exchanges quite robust, frank and open. My own interactions with a handful of NSmen found that in spite of the occasional disruptions associated with NS duties with their civilian jobs, for many of them, there was a general appreciation for the institution of National Service and its importance.

I would like to ask the Minister if the Committee to Strengthen the National Service could look into supporting NSmen beyond financial measures such as the civilian utility of skills picked up in the military domain. For example, easier and more facilitative conversion standards from military to civilian licences and equipment with direct civilian applications.

Separately, last year I raised the prospect of new citizens performing some form of National Service. Can the Minister update the House on the plans for the SAF volunteer corps announced last year?

Ng Eng Hen (Defence Minister): The Committee also noted that many Singaporeans supported the idea of more women, first-generation PRs and new citizens volunteering for roles in national defence. The idea of a SAF Volunteer Corps for women, PRs and new citizens has gained wide acceptability. Mr Pritam Singh talked about his own session that he was involved in, and we think that this is a very good idea that we will adopt. Second Minister Chan Chun Sing will speak more on this idea. Minister of State Maliki will also share ideas from the CSNS how we can enhance recognition and benefits for our NSmen.

Written by singapore 2025

31/03/2013 at 6:41 am

Posted in Parliament

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