Recently, I had lunch with a lawyer. A foreigner who has been working for some years in Singapore. He has PR status now and has been offered citizenship a few times. He also has a very young son, about three years old. During lunch, he asked me point-blank to explain the NS system and how he could avoid his son having to do NS. The man is looking 15 years down the road and calculating his options.
This would anger many Singaporeans. But I think that the anger is misdirected. Everyone wants to do the best thing for himself and his family. Given the choice, 99% of Singaporeans would avoid NS too. So the FTs aren't doing anything that you wouldn't do, if you could. If you feel angry, blaming the government seems more logical than blaming the FTs.
The state is not the individual. The individual is not the state. That seems too obvious to require stating. Yet the speeches of our politicians regularly conflate the two and confuse the masses. "This is for the good of Singapore," our leaders say, announcing some new awful policy. Three questions arise. One - if it's good for Singapore, does it mean it's good for you? Two - if it's good for Singapore but bad for you, shouldn't you be concerned? Three - what on earth is this abstract notion called Singapore, anyway?
Question 3 isn't a daft question. It's pretty profound, actually. Is a nation - any nation - worth loving? Today, however, I have no mood for existential meanderings and so I'll just leave you with a link - here. Back in 2002, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's children were probably too young to be dishonest.
Back to my lawyer friend. What was my reply? I said: "It's useless to think too much about it now. Between now and then, the government's NS policies will probably change again." Fifteen years, after all, is a long time. Last year alone, we saw two big changes in NS policy - full-time NS liability being reduced, and in-camp training also getting cut. Who knows what the future brings?
If I had to guess, I would say that NS liability will be further reduced in the future. But it won't vanish tomorrow. In the meantime, the government presses ahead with its foreign talent imports, and Singaporeans continue to be angry and disadvantaged. NS is the single largest cause of Singaporeans' anger with the government's FT policies (and for good reason). If I were the government (and actually cared), what would I do?
I would implement ideas and policies to reduce the disadvantages of NS. No, being Mr Wang, I wouldn't stop there. I would implement ideas and policies to make serving NS advantageous. This is the most direct way of managing Singaporeans' dissatisfaction with NS. It is certainly a more concrete and more sincere approach than just pulling the revered MM Lee out to make pretty speeches every now and then about the wonders of FT (see today's Straits Times, for example).
If the government can spare $1,000,000,000 to build two durians (the Esplanade) to make life in Singapore more interesting for foreign talents, I don't see why they can't afford to make NS a worthwhile experience for Singaporeans. In a subsequent post, I will make some concrete suggestions as to how this could be done.
Technorati: Singapore; foreign talent; NS.