SINGAPORE: From Mar 1, full-time and operationally ready national servicemen (NSF and NSmen) across all ranks will get an increase of S$70 to S$120 in their NS allowance each month, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How announced in Parliament on Monday (Mar 2).
Mr Heng was speaking during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate.
The raise includes increments in both rank and vocation allowance components. As part of the revision, all national servicemen will get a vocation allowance of at least S$50 a month. Those who currently receive combat or operational allowance will get up to S$100 more.
This means that an NSF holding the rank of Recruit or Trainee will get S$630 a month, up from the current S$560.
A Singapore Armed Forces NSF naval diver, Singapore Police Force NSF Police Tactical Trooper, or Singapore Civil Defence Force firefighter holding the rank of Corporal will get S$1,050, up from the current S$930.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said the allowance supports national servicemen in their “basic personal upkeep” and is reviewed periodically, with Mr Heng saying the raise acknowledged the “contributions” of servicemen.
Mr Heng also announced other measures to improve the NS experience for every servicemen, as he stressed that the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) “greatest asset” is its people.
One measure is extending the PreEnlistees Exercise Programme for National Service (PREP4NS) trial, which gives future national servicemen a free one-year SAFRA EnergyOne gym membership, to ActiveSG gyms.
PREP4NS was announced last October to prepare future servicemen for their pre-enlistee Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and the physical demands of NS.
MINDEF said more than 6,000 have signed up for the membership since its launch last November, adding that it is working with Sport Singapore to extend the trial to 24 ActiveSG gyms. Registration for the trial ends on Apr 30.
Still on the topic of pre-enlistees, Mr Heng said MINDEF has partnered with the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence to appoint dedicated NS coordinators to assist pre-enlistees from diverse backgrounds with their questions on NS.
These coordinators will come from Foreign System Schools and Privately Funded Institutions, he said, adding that some pre-enlistees are new citizens and permanent residents who might not have family or friends who have undergone NS.
“The inaugural NS Coordinator engagement session in May 2019 was organised by the United World College (South East Asia), to facilitate mutual learning and exchange of best practices among the NS Coordinators,” MINDEF said.
Moving on to improvements during NS, Mr Heng said MINDEF will fully subsidise Electronic Pre-Release Employment Programme (E-PREP) course fees, instead of the up to 90 per cent subsidy currently
NSFs can choose from more than 4,000 courses with the National University of Singapore and Institute of Technical Education coming on board, an increase from the 3,000 courses currently.
“NSFs devote two full years to serving the nation,” Mr Heng said. “It is therefore incumbent upon us as stewards of their time and talents to make sure that we support their aspirations."
Mr Heng said MINDEF is also using technology to make various aspects of NS, like administration, training and healthcare, more seamless.
For instance, the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) is trialling a real-time queue management system and facial recognition technology to cut waiting times during the pre-enlistment process.
In June, it will implement improved eServices, like a single online transaction for bond and exit permit applications, so future servicemen can complete most transactions online.
“Once the Smart CMPB initiative is fully implemented, pre-enlistees will be notified of their pre-enlistment application outcomes, for example deferment and exit permit, up to 40 per cent more quickly,” MINDEF said.
On top of that, virtual consultations at SAF medical centres and telemedicine devices like digital stethoscopes will allow quicker and more convenient access to medical services.
MINDEF said trials conducted in 2019 at two medical centres found that the digital consultations were “effective and efficient”, with Mr Heng saying it allows SAF medical officers to remotely provide safe and effective treatment for soldiers with common ailments.
“Through whole-of-society commitment to our defence, we will demonstrate our will and resolve to protect Singapore's freedom and sovereignty come what may,” Mr Heng said.
Beyond just improving the NS experience, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman said strong family and societal support for national servicemen “will motivate them to give their best when performing their duties”.
To recognise and strengthen this support, Dr Maliki announced that MINDEF and the Ministry of Home Affairs will launch the SAFRA Family Scheme and HomeTeamNS Family Scheme this year.
Under the schemes, NSmen can sign up for a family package for himself and his dependants regardless of the size of his family, Mr Maliki said, allowing “significant cost savings” as servicemen no longer need to pay individual membership fees for each dependant.
“We hope this will encourage more families to visit SAFRA and HomeTeamNS clubhouses, enjoy the facilities, and spend more quality time together,” he said, adding that the two will announce more details in the middle of the year.
Dr Maliki also revealed that MINDEF will conduct engagement sessions in the second half of this year to hear from Singaporeans on how Total Defence can be strengthened and better put into action.
“This will also allow younger Singaporeans to reflect on what Total Defence is to them and operationalise this as we respond to future threats and challenges,” he added.
“With a strong Total Defence, we have every reason to have confidence and a sense of hope for Singapore's future.”