It has been intriguing to read a number of letters – including those penned by Mr. Ivan Goh and Mr. Leonard Loo Kok Swee over the past week – discussing pertinent issues concerning National Service (NS) in Singapore. But what happens next after a few brief moments of contemplation for contributors and readers? These articles have brought about two observations that I would like to posit: first, there are national servicemen who have a strong desire to voice their opinions about our military establishment after two years of intensive service; second, there is a possible dearth of feedback channels provided by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to consolidate the former. Hence, I strongly assert that it is time to open up effective feedback channels for national servicemen.
More Effective Feedback Channels
I did send an email (April 9, 2012) to MINDEF’s feedback unit querying about my aforementioned concerns, and was subsequently assured – through a reply (April 24, 2012) – that there were ample platforms for the articulation of perspectives. Unfortunately, when I sent another email (May 13, 2012) postulating the plausibility of long-term memorial initiatives for fallen soldiers (here and here), I did not get a response. A follow-up message weeks later (June 7, 2012) also yielded no response whatsoever. I sincerely understand that the suggestions – submitted on a daily basis – could be overwhelming, and that lapses are thus inevitable; but to me, it makes good sense to render the present mechanism more efficient and effective.
We – as servicemen – are not just here to consistently reinforce criticisms or to petulantly demand for change to be introduced without question (we are cognisant that difficulties are always present); neither do we provide recommendations for the mere sake of doing so. Instead, we want to be part of a movement that recognises that there can be improvements to the status quo, that corresponding enhancements will bring about benefits, and we want to do so in a constructive manner. MINDEF should perceive us as partners in this process, and developing established channels for these would be incredibly beneficial.
The Benefits Of Dialogue And Discourse
Dialogue and discourse are integral for the institution of NS. Our national servicemen have the experience and on-the-ground exposure, and these are competitive advantages that their regular counterparts do not possess (and can thus be harnessed). During these discussions, participants and policymakers may not necessarily see eye-to-eye, but the sessions allow individuals to appreciate policy trade-offs, and would spur them to think of more innovative –and feasible – proposals to address predicaments or circumstances.
Take for instance the contentions over remuneration. Proponents are idealistically committed to the concept of conscription, and staunchly believe that NS is a form of inevitable sacrifice by male Singaporeans; opponents contend pragmatically that the opportunity costs of NS are significant, and these associated disadvantages – financially especially – are becoming more evident vis-à-vis the trend of immigration. This complication is unprecedented, since the massive influx of foreigners within our midst, in school and in the workplace, is a relatively new development. Should be then incentivise NS through higher allowances and welfare benefits, or are there other methodologies that could be contemplated by the administration (here)? Find a middle-ground we shall; ignore the arguments we shall not.
Assuming all these undertakings is not a tall order for MINDEF. If done competently and sincerely, the possibilities are genuinely endless.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.