20140204 Times have changed, NS status quo must go

Male Singaporeans are required to serve full time National Service (NS) for 2 years. This is followed by another 10 “work years” up to the age of 40/50 depending on one’s rank. In today’s harsh economic environment, NS obligations work against the personal interests of male Singaporeans. These have already been discussed on social media.

However, the repeated calls for change in NS obligations appear to have fallen on deaf ears of our government.

The government had abandoned reason during the 20th century and always used fear mongering tactics to justify its policies. It is now unable to reason with an educated youth of the 21st century.

Scrapping NS makes sense or at least the duration of conscription should be reduced to, perhaps, half a year with reservist obligation up to age 30. The cost of maintaining an NSF through his reservist obligation includes the provision of food, uniform, weapons, training, medical care, administration, private sector pay during reservist, etc which runs into billions of dollars every year. Assuming a very conservative figure of $2 billion, this cost saving could be channeled to employ a professional army.

An army with 10,000 career soldiers with an annual starting pay package of say $60,000 will cost the government only $600 million. Throw in a good career path where experience counts more than classroom achievement, there will be queues forming outside the CMPB awaiting registration. An incentivised professional soldier could easily replace a number of conscripts. The attitude of many conscripts leaves much to be desired but can anyone fault them for the disproportionate sacrifice?

With a professional fighting force, MC kings would also cease to exist.

Original photo @ ClipartHeaven.com

If the objective of maintaining a costly army is to deter aggression, then one has to ask who the potential threat is. From its original 5 member states in 1967, ASEAN has increased its membership to 10. Trade and travel within ASEAN countries have been increasing every year. The number of citizens marrying foreigners within Asean countries has also been increasing. We are now inextricably connected and every neighbouring country has a vested interest in regional peace.

Where/what is the threat to justify conscription?
ASEAN countries.

Source: http://www.asean.org/asean/asean-member-states

Technology is also supposed to have improved productivity but our reliance on manpower has remained unchanged! This is a similar situation in the private sector which the government has belatedly acknowledged. Do we really need to keep half a million reservists link on their toes, disregarding their family commitments, health and work discrimination concerns?

“The NS (Amendment) act was passed on 14 March 1967, as the Singapore government felt that it was necessary to build a substantial military force”. Apparently, this substantial military force has been built to an oversupply and now shares its excess manpower with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Does the government intend to abuse conscripts for other non military purposes?

The SPF and SCDF should only hire career professionals instead of using NSFs. There may be some cost savings but a lowered standard is to be expected with NS conscripts.

It’s becoming more apparent that the whole idea of conscription has now become a form of cheap labour. Let’s take a look at the economic value of a 19 year old starting work in the private sector. Assuming the average wage of a diploma graduate to be $1,900 and an NSF’s allowance of $600, the opportunity cost amounts to more about $24,000 if he has to serve only 6 months. More if conscription is scrapped. This cost does not even include the pre enlistment loafing time, time wasted before entering the university and intangible social costs.

The sacrifice is just too huge to be justified by the peanuts government grants given for NS obligations.

Likely reasons for NS status quo to remain are:

– Resistant to change in the civil service. A change of this magnitude would require the revamp of entire IT departments and presents a logistical nightmare. Politicians and parachuted civil servants are well known to be seat warmers. Planning is no longer their forte, as evidenced by tonnes of infrastructural issues from housing to health care.

– A reduction in the duration of NSFs and NSmen obligations will lead to thousands of regulars being retrenched. Besides becoming a taxi driver or real estate agent, there are extremely few job vacancies for ex military personnel in the private sector.

– The PAP is also a party which will try to not lose face at all costs. It does not want to be seen bowing to pressure. (A recent example would be the issue of minimum wage which PAP MPs publicly rejected but privately embraced. Subsequently, NTUC’s minimum wage model was implemented under another name and only in selected industries to differentiate its ‘superior’ model from the rest of the world. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/basic-wage-levels-to-be/946604.html)

A male Singaporean with NS obligation to discharge competes on an unlevel playing field at work with foreigners. With a minimum 2 year delay in setting up a family, he is also expected to discharge another national duty ie increase the TFR. The government cannot have the cake and eat it. Throwing money at solutions has already failed.

The government is not unaware of the unhappiness of NSFs, NSmen and parents. It defies logic to maintain the NS status quo.

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6 Responses to 20140204 Times have changed, NS status quo must go

  1. Tay Guan Seng says:

    You put up several reasons and commentaries on why NS should be shortened or worse..be removed. Let us not forget what the primary purpose of NS is – to defend the sovereignty of Singapore. This is a premise on which our economic success relies heavily upon. Yes, many things can be improved about NS no doubt. Yes, there are a multitude of social issues that comes with NS, but we wouldn’t have a lot of what we have now if not for NS. Time to get out of your comfy hole and stop complaining about NS.

    • phillip ang says:

      You have not recognised the need to change. Ng Eng Hen does and said in budget 2014 that NS could be shortened by a few weeks. http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/singapore-budget-2014-ns-could-be-shortened-few-weeks-says-dr-ng-eng-h
      The political and economic landscape has changed beyond recognition. NS must change in tandem but there are too many seat warmers in the civil service who prefer not to take risks as there may be screw ups. The civil service is as efficient as what the media makes them out to be. By maintaining the status quo, civil servants have zero fault. Why rock the boat?
      But efficiency is evident where there is revenue/increased reserves for the government eg. CPF changes, ERP, COE,etc.
      There will be more changes to come for NS. The government will act only when all the noise has subsided. It will credit itself for taking the initiative instead of being pressured to do so.
      I have been through NS, have 3 children and understand our security concerns.

  2. Jason says:

    Excellent Article, Philip Ang! I agree that NS should be scrapped- any lame excuses against it such as lack of volunteer recruit can be augmented with foreign hires- ie Gurkha, and the foreign legion.
    That’s what we have been doing when we have a shortage of manpower in private sectors such as cleaning and f&b. The notion that mercenaries are unreliable is untrue- for every example of unreliable mercenaries we have examples of conscript soldiers running in the face of battle as well- afterall, soldiers are humans too.. what matters is training of espirit de corps within the ranks and right leadership.
    Examples of successful use of mercenaries- Imperial Rome, Napolean (most of his million strong army attack Russia consist of foreign troops), France during WW2 (read about foreign legion being active even after fall of France), Italy and Venice during the renaissance… the list is long. And all this evidence takes a shit on the PAP’s belief that conscript army is better and foreign soldiers is crap propaganda without firm evidence.
    We still can keep conscription similar to the American selective service style.

  3. Jason says:

    By the way, there are many Nepalis eager to join armed forces.. check this out- “training to be a gurkha” more proof that mercenaries are unreliable -all the time (never reliable)- is unfounded, and video also shows there are pools of foreign manpower to tap on should our manpower be insufficient.

    • phillip ang says:

      There will be Singaporeans who are cut out to be regulars in the military. Coupled with professionals from other countries, their numbers would be sufficient for our 716 sq km little red dot. If the 500,000 reservists are activated, this works out to about 700 soldiers per square km. Madness! The aggressor could simply drop a few bombs in highly populated areas and it will be game over. The PAP is maintaining a large army for political reasons known only to itself.

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