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NS recommendations could cost Govt S$4.5b: Ng Eng Hen

NSFs could enjoy shorter waiting time before enlistment and the ability to choose vocation should proposals be accepted, the Defence Minister said in Parliament.

SINGAPORE: If accepted, recommendations put forward by the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) will cost the Government about S$4.5 billion over the next decade.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is also chairman of the committee, revealed this in Parliament on Thursday (May 29) during the debate on the President's Address charting out the Government's agenda for the second half of its term.

Some of the proposals that have been submitted to the Government include:

  • Shortening the wait time for pre-enlistees before enlistment
  • Allowing women, first-generation PRs and new citizens to serve in a volunteer corps
  • More financial incentives for NSmen
  • Giving NSmen more time to prepare for the IPPT
  • Enhancing housing as well as medical benefits for NS-Men
  • Accreditation of the skills learnt during Full-time NS


SHORTER WAITING TIME FOR ENLISTMENT

Dr Ng said the shorter wait time for enlistment could be implemented as early as the middle of next year, should the Government accept the CSNS recommendations.

The target is to have up to 90 per cent of pre-enlistees starting NS within four months of finishing their post-secondary education, he said.

"The usual June and September intakes will be brought forward to May and August, respectively, which are mainly Polytechnic graduates. Enlisting them earlier will mean that they will get into the workforce faster. It also means that Polytechnic students, enlisted previously in September, and bound for local universities in August, will not need to be disrupted as they will now complete their full-time NS," said Dr Ng.

"ITE students will also benefit from a shorter wait time. Similarly, A-level graduates will be enlisted a month earlier starting December 2015."

The Defence Minister added: "I will tell you my SAF Commanders are sweating over this because they are juggling it. Each batch is about 5,000 to 7,000 and they are wondering, how do we do this? But they have studied it, and they are confident that they can do it. We give them full support if Government accepts it, we see some changes."

CHOOSE YOUR VOCATION

For the first time, Full-time NSmen will be asked to indicate their preferred vocations.

"Anytime we give choice to everyone, not all will get their first or even second choice, but this must not deter us from moving forward with this recommendation. Choice will allow better matching of aptitudes to vocation," Dr Ng said.

He added that skills learnt during NS will be accredited under the Workforce Skills Qualifications framework.

CONCERNS ABOUT VOLUNTEER CORPS

On concerns raised by Members that enlistees in the Volunteer Corps will be less committed than NSmen, Dr Ng said: "It may be so. But we ought to let this scheme evolve and not judge it prematurely. The volunteers will be trained and meaningfully deployed.”

Volunteers for the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force work alongside the regular officers and National Servicemen and perform similar duties, he added. “I believe the SAF Volunteer Corps can make a similar impact."

THE RACE ISSUE 

The second half of Dr Ng's speech was devoted to the issue of Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) - something that has been raised by several MPs during the four-day debate. Dr Ng said there has been much progress made, with Malays deployed in all services of the SAF, not because of their race, but because of their capabilities.

"To take any action based on race, even if it is an affirmative action, puts us on the path of tokenism. None of us in this House wants this, or calls for it, nor do all my Malay soldiers and commanders who have earned their positions on sheer merit alone,” he said.

Many of these senior Malay Commanders have been asked to become the subjects of profiles because the Malay community is proud of them, Dr Ng said. “But the Malay commanders tell me - Why should I do so? Why should I push myself out? In the SAF, I have been promoted because of what I have accomplished, and what I am capable of, and not because I am Malay.”

“As a Commander, I lead my men. Not Malay, Chinese, or Indian men, but all my men," he continued. "And I am not their Malay, Chinese, or Indian Commander but just their Commander. No one purposely draws attention to my race within the SAF. And these senior Malay Commanders want to keep it that way. I think these words by Malay Commanders spoken in private are the most eloquent public statement of how far we have come and how we must continue to progress."

He said the SAF would continue to expand opportunities to all Singaporeans regardless of race and religion. 

STRIKING A BALANCE

The NS review takes into account the changing profile of new enlistees who are higher educated, have more commitments as family sizes shrink, and who have never experienced Singapore's early struggles. So, motivating NSmen will also have to change, the Defence Minister said.

Dr Ng said the proposals "strike the right balance in responding to the needs of national servicemen and allowing them to contribute more as national servicemen and volunteers".

"The Committee therefore recommends that the Government accept and fully support these recommendations," he said.

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