11 September 2006

Rethinking NS - Part 2

UPDATE 14 September 2006: I've been informed that this post (or an earlier version of it) has been forwarded to Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean via the Government Feedback Unit. Or something like that.

NS is a provocative issue. So is foreign talent. Link the two, as I did here, and what we get is a passionate flurry of readers' responses. All good and well, but as in all passionate debates, people can get a little hasty and muddle up their own thinking.

So I begin by explaining my basic premises again. It is an ongoing policy objective for MINDEF "to make our NSmen feel appreciated for their contributions to National Defence". That policy objective came into existence long before "foreign talent" ever became topical. The question is how well MINDEF is succeeding with its policy objective today.

The new and major challenge for this old MINDEF objective is the foreign talent policy. Increasingly, Singaporeans are angry and dissatisfied because:

1. NS compels them to make heavy personal sacrifices;
2. foreigners in Singapore enjoy the benefits of these sacrifices;
3. foreigners in Singapore do not have to make such sacrifices themselves;
4. there are, and will be, more and more foreigners in Singapore; and
5. NSmen, in their civilian lives, are disadvantaged by having to compete with these foreigners who need not make these sacrifices.

Next, we need to make some basic assumptions to simplify the matter. We assume that:

(A) NS is necessary;
(B) Singapore needs its foreigners;
(C) the government cares about Singaporeans' inequitable situation;
(D) the government wants to manage Singaporeans' dissatisfaction.

All four assumptions are questionable. But since I am a blogger, not an author of thick books, I make these assumptions and move on. Some suggestions I have to improve the situation are:

Increase NSFs' pay. Following the fine example of our ministers and their salaries, NSFs salaries should be pegged to market rates. While the exact salary of an NSF would vary with his rank and vocation, NSF salaries in general should be pegged to the salaries they would be drawing, if they were not serving NS.

For example, assuming that the majority of NSFs are polytechnic grads, NSF salaries could be pegged to the starting salary of fresh polytechnic grads. Depending on the defence budget, the NSF's pay could be pegged to, say, 100%, 85% or 65% of a poly grad's pay.

The obvious argument against this suggestion is that the cost is too high. However, what we must recognise is that the loss already exists. Each year, about 36,000 NSFs (my estimate) and their families are already suffering financial loss. The loss is the money that the NSFs would be earning, if they were not serving NS.

The question then arises - who should bear the loss? Under our current system, the NSFs (and their families) bear the loss. However, the benefits of NS are for the entire state. Thus my view is that the loss should be transferred to the government, and indirectly to all taxpayers (instead of being borne by the NSFs themselves).

NS for University Admission. In recent years, universities in Singapore have broadened their selection criteria beyond academic grades. For example, in deciding whether to admit an applicant, the university may give consideration to his achievements in non-scholastic areas, such as sports or music or volunteer work.

I think that MINDEF should encourage local universities to give similar recognition to NSFs' military performance. As things currently stand, the university will favour the applications of students who, in junior college:

(1) learned to fire an air rifle at static target boards;
(2) were class chairmen; or
(3) organised the college fun fair;
(3) went overseas to Taiwan for language immersion programmes.

It seems ridiculous that the university would not similarly favour the applications of NSFs who, during NS:

(1) learned to fire missiles to destroy enemy naval vessels;
(2) were section or platoon commanders;
(3) organised a 500-man combat mission; or
(3) went overseas to Taiwan for full-scale live-firing military exercises.

SAF personnel administrative systems need to change such that NSFs leave the SAF with a Certificate of Service which does not merely say that they aren't liable for AWOL offences any more. Like a "School Leaving Certificate", the SAF Certificate of Service should properly reflect what the NSF had been doing in the past two years.

(And if the girls complain of unfairness, then they, like the boys, can take two years off from pursuing their studies, and go spend those two years pursuing achievements in sports or music or volunteer work.)

Insurance Benefits. I have heard stories about how the SAF compensates the family with a few thousand dollars, when an NSF dies in a training accident. That's like an insult. I cannot substantiate these stories - they are more hearsay and rumour than anything else. But I think few of us would really be surprised to learn that the SAF pays little, if an NSF suffers death or serious injury as a result of military training.

Singapore forces its young men into military service, which in turn necessarily entails some degree of risk of death or injury. It is bizarre to me that the SAF has no standard insurance plan in place for NSFs. I think that it is only reasonable that the SAF buys life, disability and personal accident insurance for NSFs (at least for those in combat vocations, and for something significantly more than a few thousand dollars). In fact, the coverage should extend to active NSmen as well. As a fringe benefit, NSmen should have the option of continuing with the coverage (and paying for it themselves), when their NS liability is completed.

These measures would show that the SAF has the welfare of NSmen and NSFs at heart (I have to make that assumption, of course) and also serves the very real purpose of protecting the individual financially. The other significant side benefit is that the SAF will have an added incentive to maintain high safety standards (otherwise the occurrence of training accidents will drive insurance premiums upwards over time - costing MINDEF more money). Personally, I have a poor impression of the SAF's safety record.

Making NS a Worthwhile Experience. Many Singaporeans feel that NS was a heavy personal sacrifice, because they got little out of it. A common perception is that NS was basically a waste of their time - it was not a meaningful experience. What's meaningful will vary from individual from individual. But to quote a real-life individual, Victor, as one example:
"I am a 100% true blue Singaporean;
I wanted to serve, but they didn't want me the way I wanted it to be;
I wanted to pull the trigger of a rifle, but they made me push a pen instead;
I wanted to march with soldiers, but I ended up fraternizing with CMPB SAF girls instead.

- From a 50-year old who was base-employed not by choice. (But I guess it is still better than moving flower pots.)"
Some Singaporeans would be delighted to get a desk job in NS. But it is also easy to understand why some other people who spent two years of their lives filing documents, typing letters and making coffee for their superiors in the SAF might regard their NS experience as meaningless. Victor is grateful for at least one thing - things could have been worse. His fate could have been as an SAF flower-pot mover for events like the IMF/World Bank conference.

What if things were different? What if more Singaporeans found their NS experience to be meaningful, exciting, interesting, rewarding, personally fulfilling ....? I feel that it is important that the SAF make some attempt at channelling NSFs into vocations that:

(1) they are likely to enjoy (or at least to hate less);
(2) they may possibly acquire some relevant working experience;
(3) tap their individual strengths and abilities.

The process is straightforward. At the pre-enlistment stage, or in the early months of NS, the SAF can provide NSFs with basic information about different types of vocations. NSFs can then rank their preferences, and briefly state why they have such preferences. Wherever feasible, they are posted to their preferred vocations.

This would be heavily subject to operational requirements, of course. NS is to fulfill the nation's defence needs, not the individual's preferences. On the other hand, if individuals get to go where they want to go in the SAF, then overall, they are likely to find their NS a more worthwhile experience, and the SAF is more likely to benefit from having more motivated servicemen.

Currently, in some very limited ways, the SAF does take into account NSFs' preferences and strengths. NSFs with prior training in karate are, for example, often selected to be instructors in unarmed combat. BMT recruits are specifically asked if they would like to go to OCS. But overall, these ways of tapping NSFs and NSmen are still very limited.

I would suggest a system which is much more broadly based. Some Singaporeans do long for the challenge of the really gruelling vocations like the Commandos - if that is what they want, why not let them do it. Singaporeans who aspire to work in the healthcare industry may be interested to be medics; Singaporeans who studied mechanical engineering in poly may have a preference for vocations involving heavy military equipment like artillery or tanks. From the SAF perspective, if you already have a motorcycle licence, it is more sensible to make you a scout than a sniper; if you already have a Diploma in Nautical Studies from the Singapore Polytechnic, it would be more sensible to send you to the Navy than the Air Force. These are just some examples.

Yes, there are operational constraints in giving everyone what they want. But if out of 18,000 recruits a year, 3,000 get to go where they want to go, then I think we have achieved great success.

That's all I have, for Part 2. I will share more ideas in "Rethinking NS - Part 3".

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Soulgroove said...

Great suggestions Mr Wang! However, I would like to make some small refinement to your suggestion of pegging of NSFs' pay.

Contrary to what you wrote, I am extremely doubtful of your claim that the majority of NS enlistees are poly graduates, simply due to the fact that there are no actual statistics available. ITEs and people who don't further their studies make up a really big bunch too.

Also, with my experience in the army (worked with struggling NSFs), the issue is really about loss of income relative to the financial situation of the family. A private may earn something between $300 to $500 a month, which could work 2 ways.
(1)Too much money as the family is middle-income/high-income hence they can "afford" the loss. Parents even give money to their kids when they have not enough.
(2)Too little money as the family is of very poor background, with broken families and/or pregnant girlfriends.

Situation (2) is extremely real because I've known quite a few cases throughout the course of my work and it is in my opinion that this group should be helped the most. They struggle a lot trying to balance army and outside life. How they do it, I do not know.

Currently, for most NSFs, my personal impression (again due to no statistics) is that the current salary structure is quite adequate. Some even have money left over.

Anonymous said...

For starters, the govt should pay NSmen market pay. When I served NS, I had a pitiful allowance even though I was an officer. The contract NCOs would laugh at it.

I never realised how big a sacrfice NS was, until several years ago. My uni classmate is a Malaysian, with a S'pore PR. He is 2 years younger than I but he enjoys a salary & compensation that even some of our peers do not get. He enjoys the benefits of S'pore without paying the price. Now he is based in HK & he tells me he will never return to S'pore to work because the world is his oyster.

The 2.5years that I gave up was not just my prime time. It was worth a lot in dollar terms. Not every NS man will have a fruitful time during his NS. Paying him a market rate for his time will help to mitigate that loss.

This issue is serious & people will begin to question the current practices. Especially with the impending influx of foreigners. More S'poreans will begin to feel the liability of being a citizen & more middle class will seek greener pastures.

Anonymous said...

Also, it would be nice to get a further reduction in the duration of NS, both NSF and reservist.

Full-time NS will be cut to one or one and a half years. Reservist cycle of 5 years. Each ICT cannot exceed 10 days excluding weekends. People aged 30 and above are exempted from ICT-call ups and IPPT/RT.

You can increase the pay and benefits as much as you please or can afford to, but if the duration is not cut drastically, resentment will not cease.

Conscripts are not in the military by choice and not in the military for career advancements. The constant and tiresome appeals to patriotism and maintaining the need for 'Operational Readiness'(at a cheap price no less) will just piss most of the conscripts off.

Anonymous said...

excellent. why can't we have people like you in govt?

Anonymous said...

Clap clap.

Bravo Mr Wang.

Enlightening and interesting.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people have asked me what enimies Singapore has that necessitates such a large conscript (and regular) army, and I really have no satisfactory answer to that. Though I know that Mr. Wang has decided to work within the assumptions A-D, personally, I would prefer to review assumption A.

But I definitely agree that a major sticking point is the pitiful NSF allowance. It's because it's so low that many people moonlight or go AWOL so that they can earn enough to support themselves, and in many cases, their girlfriends and families too. And instead of helping these very people, they get sent to DB.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to focus on 2 areas: 1)'disadvantaged' start compared to girls; and 2)PR's and FT's (I lump them together only because they don't need to do NS - at least 1st generation)
Paying up with allowance adjustment does not necessary address the head start girls have over the boys' sacrifice. Also means a much higher Tax for all. A blunt knife albeit will cut PR's and FT's. Compared to current 'costs' borne by the boys themselves, their parents and sometimes their girlfriends to subsidise their pitiful allowances.
Fairness against PR's and FT's - this is perhaps the most emotional and little/enough has been done to address I feel. Make them do Civil Defense (we keep on advertising on Total Defense?)
Why wait a generation for the PR's boy to Chose to do or not do NS when their parents can contribute to Total Defense now? Afterall, locals endure Reservist 'liability' till 40?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Unfairness to the ladies - this issue I plan to tackle in "Rethinking NS - Part 4". Maybe "Part 5".

Unfairness vis a viz the FTs - this I will address in "Rethinking NS - Part 3".

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous poster who asked why people like Mr Wang can't be in Govt, I only wish to tell you that if say a young Mr Wang had been chosen to be a scholar, and had returned from university eager with all these ideas that he'd like to suggest, he'd be silenced by his superiors. People who do not toe the official line are sidelined and gotten rid of. This is why they usually choose scholars who already toe the official line, or who show abilities in being able to take the "right" side as needed.

After a while, the system works so well in their favour, why would anyone want to change it?

Which MINDEF official would have the guts to propose raising the pay of NSF? WHAT? and prove that our previous Ministers got it wrong?!?! It just doesn't work that way. Not unless the Ministers of the PS himself decides that the pay isn't high enough.

Believe me, I know what it's like. ;)

As to why Mr Wang can't be a Minister, well, who knows? Maybe he's one in real life. :)

And to respond to the OP, I like your suggestions, but I disagree with your assumption that the Govt cares, thereby rendering your suggestions somewhat pointless in my opinion. Why would the govt care about NSmen and the situation they're in? As the ruling party, they haven't cared for such a long time, yet they continue to get voted in. Why fix what's not broken?

Because, ultimately what matters to a politician? Staying in power or caring for the people? If he could stay in power without caring for the people, would he?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang and bloggers, you may be interested in the following two passages quoted from Wikipedia:

"On the other hand, non-Arab Israelis argue that the mandatory three-year (20 months for women) military service puts them at a disadvantage, as they effectively lose three years of their life through their service in the IDF, while the Arab Israelis are able to start right into their jobs after school, or study at a university. In fact,the most frequently heard argument whenever the subject of the discrimination of Arabs comes up - whether on the Knesset floor, in the media or among ordinary citizens - is that the Arabs' "non fulfilment of military duty" justifies thier exclusion from some or all the benefits of citizenship."

"Although still available to be called up in times of crisis, most Israeli men, and virtually all women, do not actually perform reserve service in any given year. Units do not always call up all of their reservists every year, and a variety of exemptions are available if called for regular reserve service."

So one way of looking at the issue is: how to make Singapore citizenship so overwhelmingly compelling that people are willing to be Singapore citizens and do NS?

My suggestions:

i) Free university education for Singapore males who have served NS (if the girls want to serve, it'll be free for them too).

ii) For poly students not going to uni, their poly course fees will be fully reimbursed after they've served their NS.

iii) If you're not exam smart, not to worry, the govt will give you $10,000 to give you a headstart in the workplace.

iv) $50,000 govt grant for NSmen only when applying for their 1st HDB flat.

v) Up to 2 years of claimable unemployment benefits (amount to be determined) per lifetime for each NSman in event of unemployment.

vi) Total of $20,000 claimable per NSman for certain medical expenses incurred in Singapore.

vii) No tax on capital gains for NSmen (what we have now) but capital gains tax for PRs and EPs to be introduced.

With these benefits, I think more FTs would be 'nudged' to take up Singapore citizenship and do NS.

I have another radical suggestion. Allow Singapore citizens the "retro" option to "downgrade" to PR, thus releasing them from NS obligation if they so desire but also disqualifying them from the citizenship benefits.

Fox said...

I'm wary of calls for free university education or free HDB subsidies.

The problem is that not everyone goes to college after NS or is a HDB owner. It's like the SAFRA golf course which only benefits a minority of NSmen. It is unfair to most people.

An equitable solution that I have suggested is that everyone who has gone through NS gets a gratuity deposited into his CPF, which can help to pay for Medishield, Medisave, etc.

One additional benefit is that people can use this money to help pay for their HDB flats when they get married. Hence, Singaporeans can start their family earlier.

And please, let's use some common sense. No foreigner is going to do NS just because of the benefits. However, such benefits will ameliorate the disincentives they have for taking up citizenship and letting their sons do NS.

Anonymous said...

After having prepared more than 500 copies of COS in my time as a docu clerk, i would say that most of them are pretty useless. Sometimes a serviceman would ask me for a testimonial, which officially I am not allowed to give. I can only tell the serviceman to go back to his direct commander and ask him to write.

As such, there is already insufficient recognition for NSmen, due to the bureaucratic nature in which such admin affairs are done in the saf. I sincerely believe that performance ranking should be used for NSF as well, and the results be tied to benefits and perks like extra leave for example. Currently, the only differentiation is rank pay and we know that some slackers can become LTA and get much higher pay than the clerk who works 12 hr days. Do something to show that we reward hard work not just by giving the person more work to do

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang, may I be so bold as to suggest linking NS to yet another problem we're facing? Late marriage, high divorce rates & subsequently, low birth rates.
I've alway been very disturbed by the fact that no one (in gov) seems to draw any links between these 2 vital problems (yes, NS IS A PROBLEM).
Besides the obvious financial setbacks that the guys endured which delayed their abilities to set up a family (almost all my male friends who married early are army regulars or have a rich dad), there's also the social problems of having to catch up with the girls of similar age.
I personally had a hard time trying to have a meaningful date with girls who're talking about the real world, how successful their supervisors are & how aimless & lost you seemed. This problem will persisted from the time guys are enlisted till at least 2 years after they ORD'ed, when they start becoming the "sucessful guys" the next batch of young girls will talk about (if they're lucky).
Which brings me to my next point; NS cost us our teenage relationships.
How often do you hear of girls who dump/cheat on/put down their boy friends who're serving NS? NS guys are famous for depressions, killing themselves, going AWOL over their girlfriends & for good reasons.
Not many gals can endure that 2 (2.5) yrs with an NS guy, who's almost permanently poor, tired & full of NS stories.
One can argue that we can simply date younger gals then, after ORD.
This is where I say that the vicious part begins. The clock starts ticking & many couples get rushed into marriage without the benefit of years of dating. The guy feels age catching on while the girl feels her bio-clock counting down. These are the ones with a high risk of divorce, marrying for the sake of marrying. Others simply waited, & waited, & waited, for the right person, for career to take off or for someone who can replace their lost love. Late marriage materials in the making.
Its a flawed arguement, but I feel that losing a potentially good teenage relationship & then losing another 2-3 yrs of dating opportunities during the prime times of courtships due to NS is the NUMBER ONE reason for late marriages, high divorce rates & declining birth rates.
We're HUMANS, not figures & head counts. Marrying & having babies is NOT just about money (or the lack thereof), although NS made sure that our bank accounts suffer as well.
Lastly, I would like to clarify that I'm from the generation that fetched only $255 per month as a recruit & $440 by the time I ORD'ed as a Spec. I'm glad to see some long overdued increments for NSFs over the last few years, but the damage on population growths & marriage would not be undone since it is my generation (mid to late 20's) that is now facing the marriage & birth crisis.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to add that as an NSmen, I felt that payment benefits should exceed what we normally make – if the government wants to go beyond lip service about how much they care and value the NSmen..

In overseas exercises, reservist stints are usually 7 days a week and in some cases with plenty of 'overtime'. In my last reservist the preparation phase went 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, to up to 23 hour shifts during the actually exercise.

The last day’s R&R is complete bollocks – take away the time it takes to actually get out of the exercise area back to the nearest civilization and we barely get back 1 full day of recreation after 10-15 days of abuse.

As an NSmen I get zero compensation for long inhumane hours, getting only my basic 9-6 pay, while I see the regulars getting off and overseas allowances.

Local stints usually represent a loss of income from transport costs as most military camps are located at very remote areas.

NSmen are expected to foot the travel expenses - worse still are those that need to rush back to their families. Or to their businesses, with no one above them to claim the expenses from.

Before the cab fare increases I already need to pay $20+ cab fares unless I choose to wake up at 530am to try the public transport. After the increase I predict a 30+ cab fare if I cannot hitch a ride with a fellow NSmen.

While the SAF leadership can say that all these losses are required sacrifices in the name of national service, I don’t see the generals and colonels getting shitty pay or benefits at all. Best still their rice bowls are completely protected from the competitive threat of foreign workers.

And speaking of foreigners, with PM Lee signaling that more and more of such are coming in, the question that Singaporean males will ask will be - what’s the point of being a Singaporean?

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with the first assumption:

(A) NS is necessary;

We can well afford a professional army.

le radical galoisien said...

The issue is not so much as wages as numbers, I would think, or involving the totality of society.

For that matter, I would support drafting females as well.

Anonymous said...

I was in a 'air' level company full of scholars, so I didn't make it to OCS, even though I begged to go. I was best trainee in my vocation course, but didn't make it to OCS, even though I begged to go. I was number 5 in my entire sispec cohort but didn't make it to OCS, even though I begged to go (only number 1 and 2 went during my time). I got into the uni and begged to sign on, but the recruitment officer 'lost' my papers. I went to sign on the day I graduated to go to OCS, but was told, 6 months later, that I did not qualify because I had knee surgery during my last year in uni. I even asked if I could sign on as a specialist, but was told that they don't allow degree holders to do so. I wrote a letter to my mp, but didn't get a reply. All I've wanted to do was become a soldier and while I don't agree with the government's policies, I love my country and I want to defend it. I'm one of those few who enjoyed my 2.5 years of NS, my 13 years of reservist, and I get chills down my spine when I see the army adverts on TV. Yet, when I offered myself I was turned down.
Ironic isn't it?

Anonymous said...

The 'problem' with National Service is not only about NSFs. NSmen are also part of it. A lot of us (dare are say most) don't see the value of having to go for 'training' each year and for 10 cycles.

When you have to be called back at least 2 weeks a year to do your 'national duty', you work suffers. I know I and a number of Singaporean men who have not been promoted because there were either a FT or a female who was just as qualified. How many of us were passed off for promotions because our employer don't see the point in promoting someone who will not be around for at least 2 weeks a year and when that is, it is anyone's guess.

This is terrible in any part of your working career but it is worse when you are in middle management (i.e. about 30+) and you still are being called up.

Someone suggested to reduce the number of cycles and lower the age. I agree, when you are about 32/33, your career would usually take off, and it is not a time which you want to be called away from your job. And with more FT coming in, what would the prospects of Singaporean males for getting a promotion in the prime of their career? How fast will they able to climb the corporate ladder if their companies see their absence once a year (at least) as a liability?

This is happening even though the gahmen might deny it. So what if there is a law saying companies cannot do this? I can think of a thousand and one excuses not to promote someone without touching the NS issue, even though that can be the major reason why a Singaporean male is not promoted.

The gahmen thinks that the private sector works like the civil sector. People who do well in ICTs get promoted in the civil sector but most of us working in the private sector and we know very well that ICTs mean squat to our companies.

Even though I have finished my 13 cycles, I still think NSmen liabilities should be reduced from 10 to 8 cycles and the age limit reduced to 35. At age this age, one’s career and advancement is the only thing we should be worried about and it would be easier to advance without the ‘baggage’ of having to be called up.

In fact, I know a lot of guys who actually work out of the country until the age of 40 because they want to concentrate on their careers and not let anything get in the way. Aren’t we losing our local talent in this way? If liabilities are reduced to 8 cycles and to age 35 (or lower if possible), these people might either 1) don’t see the need to go aboard to work or 2) return much earlier to contribute to Singapore. This is already happening and a major reason why Singaporean males are working overseas. The gahmen/MINDEF might refute it but we on the ground know.

Whispers from the heart said...

It is even harder when you run you own business.

It is tough to have to compete regionally for business and tougher when one is subject to rigid NS liabilities.

Getting last minute deferment is almost impossible no matter how much is at stake for your struggling outfit.

And the government wants Singaporeans to be entrepreneurs...

Lam Chun See said...

Mr Wang, I must commend you for the effort that you have put into writing this series of articles about NS; and garnering so much response.

1) It had helped a naive 'lau peng' like me to realise that there is still a lot of unhappiness over the NS issue.

2) It also gave me an opportunity to share my thots with such a big group of young people. Although my post about duty, honour and country may sound shamelessly like govt propaganda, I believe there are many Sporeans who share this sentiment, but are too shy to articulate it. I was genuinely concerned that all the emotions about the FT problem may cloud our understanding of what I felt were the fundamental issues about NS.

3) You have proven to the government that bloggers don't simply criticize and do not offer serious, constructive suggestions. I hope they will get together some able people and take another look at this serious problem.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

NS is about nation building, men who sacrifice.....their weekends at the national stadium organising the national day parade..

Anonymous said...

If people like Mr Wang join the Govt, he will end up like Vivian BloodyChristNun, without a brain and without a blog.

And he wouldn't be baking. And he'll think only of his million dollar salary.

Jt said...

Imagine the chief of defence force or MINDEF is reading Mr Wang blog...what will they be thinking?
(A)mmm...this is interesting..we should give it more thoughts
(B)another rant from a blogger...
(D)none of the above

Anonymous said...

I am ex-poly.

I signed-on because MOs are brain-dead. They have one-track-view that, if you are not dead, then you must be mealingering. And I actually got leg problem (which is quite serious now because of being in the army). BMT was 7 weeks if I signed-on. But you think the garhmen feels for me? Fuck the SAF.

NS for the garhmen is actually general duty man. You're dreaming if you hope garhmen will pay market rate.

Even for us regulars, we were treated as highly paid GD men than professionals. When LHL's helicopter flew over (but did not land), we had to clear the garden of leaves (even in the rain) in case it obstructed his helicopter vision.

For Gurmit Singh, NS was song and dance, I'm told. For others, it was torture pushing paper. For countless others, it was body half-bent running with a missile on his back. For even countless others, it was life spent shoe polishing. For others, it was reporting at the game-room, tea-break, game-room, lunch, game-room, buang-off. The last example is if you happen to be in the company of white horses.

How I would like to have the FTs do it.

Anonymous said...

It is the biggest civil service around. Mr Wang, but the time your kids grow up, maybe one or those suggestions will be implemented. Can you imagine the difficulties the generals will face implementing these. There must be studies conducted first, what to do with the spare barracks if service time were cut, what to do with all the excess regulars, who to pack the NDP bags, set up benches, flowers, chairs, - like they say....wait long long.

Joseph Chiang said...

when i was serving my NS and reserve training, never once did i complain of being underpaid even though my family is not rich at all. i was glad with whatever i got every month so that i could spend the money on the music cassette tapes or records that i liked. more importantly, i was glad to be given a chance to do something for my nation even though i didn't agree with the ways the army was run most of the time. i was not athletically-inclined but i always did my best. i was always more interested to ask myself what i could do for my country than what the country can pay me. before you get the wrong idea, i was one of those that voted for the opposition party during the last election.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I was actually analysing my own ideas about NS and I've realised why:

(a) most NSFs are not more unhappy about their pay; and

(b) why we generally cannot allow males to do their Uni before they do their NS.

The reasons are connected. Most NSFs are not so unhappy because they never really used to earn any significant salary at all - prior to NS, they were students. Thus they have no real sense of their market value, say, as fresh poly grads. If they did, they would be VERY unhappy about their NSF salary.

As for (b), we cannot allow people to do Uni first, because they would be VERY unhappy in NS, to be getting $200 during BMT when actually their market value as fresh grads is $2,000.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Underpaid, by 10 times!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Moral of the story - enlist them while they're still young & foolish!

Anonymous said...

Your post has thrown up several ideas. Whether they are feasible or not, at least a forum or study ought to be conducted.

The government trumpets about how it wants to engage the citizens of this country. I think Mr. Wang provides an excellent opportunity for them to do so. However, they seem to shy away as I've never seen a response from the government in this blog.

At the end of the day, all this debate and discussion will be for nought if its just lost in the internet. There must be a way to put this to the government and force them, somehow, to at least consider these ideas...even if it's an academic exercise like the casino decision.

As for me, I work in an off-shore law firm and work closely with FTs. I have learnt loads from them and the fact remains that without them, I wouldn't have this great job. At the same time, they are absolutely certain that they have ZERO intention of settling down here, let alone allow their sons to serve NS.

Thus, the crux of the issue will be how the government can make NS more palatable for its citizens.

Thanks Mr. Wang, I only hope there's a minister in the PAP who has enough guts to post a comment on this matter.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, your ideas; these comments/suggestions, deserve a bigger forum.

Join WP or form a new party Mr Wang. Nobody will habour the suspicion that you entered politics for the "peanut" salary.

Joseph Chiang said...

should we even think of being 'paid' to do national service? and to be paid 'market rate'?

how come nobody think that we should pay 'market rate' for our education from primary school till poly or pre-u?

Anonymous said...

Been reading Mr Wang for some time but this is my first time posting.

Nice article and meaningful suggestions.

However, I think that the article stands on 2 very shaky legs (assumptions (c) and (d) out of the four). Assumptions c and d hold in cases where it benefits the ruling party to do so.

Personally I feel that National Defense and a healthy Economy is necessary for a small state like Singapore. Whether this translates to NS being essential and foreigners being inevitable is up for debate but for convenience let's assume they are. NS - for the appearance of combat competency (after the last non-NS generation dies out, theoretically all Singaporean men can handle an M-16?). Foreigners - perhaps a necessary boost to our population as a quick fix to create a critical mass to support businesses and markets.

I have found my NS experience to be meaningful, if carefully scrutinized. I believe I have grown in several ways (social, leadership, philosophical etc, except perhaps for intellectual) so I try not to view it a total loss.

Now, 2 years into the workforce, I am questioning this view as I see the gap between myself and fellow colleagues who did not have to go through NS. The opportunity costs in terms of salary, career advancement, relationship building are tremendous. As an example, a large foreign shipping company places an age limit of 25 years (as of Aug) for its management trainees; this cancels male applicants doing 4-year degrees born before Aug.

1) Increasing NSF pay - An issue with this is how do we decide what is the market rate? Are we going to pay an A-level enlistee a wage different from an O-level enlistee? Also some Regulars are perhaps A-level qualified only, so if we pay so-called 100% market rate to the enlistees, will the Regulars think it unfair?

As someone suggested above, I like the idea of the foreigners and PR bearing the cost of increased NS wages. A couple of percentage points increase in taxes (to bear the costs of NS wages, of course) seems fair. Afterall, they came to our country and are protected as well, they should help pay for it.

I've heard that companies pay males a higher starting salary to offset for their NS contribution, however, this does not appear to be mandatory. Perhaps this can be enforced? However, this would lower the competitive value of the male applicant versus a female, all other things being equal. Maybe that's why it is called NS LIABILITY, because that's what it is to the individual.

2) NS for University Admission - This appears to be a feasible idea. While I feel that every person be he storeman, pioneer, medic, specialist etc plays a role, it is likely that perhaps only Officers and Specialists get an advantage in University Admission and from my experience, the Army seems to have this skewed view that grades equal military competence and it is generally the better qualified (academically) enlistees that get to OCS and SISPEC and these guys are generally (not all, I know) the more likely ones to get into University.

Another point is this, I do not think that overseas universities view this as a valuable experience, or do they? Perhaps if it is "packaged" nicely in the application.

3) Insurance Benefits - Excellent. I was in Combat Engineers previously and the night before my first Live Firing exercise for explosives my OC asked us if we had any insurance coverage. The same thoughts struck me then, why isn't NS providing some sort of insurance coverage.

I also have something to add about the "young and foolish" point made by Mr Wang in Comments. I think that's how the Army bamboozles alot of enlistees into signing on. Most enlistees, midway out of school, have little idea on how the working world is like and the available opportunities. The SAF paints a beautiful (it appears) picture of signing on (better pay, salary during studies, secure job, prestige, reduction of NS liability, sort of...etc). Many often sign on only regret later in life especially in university when they realize that the world has much more to offer.

Anonymous said...

"... how come nobody think that we should pay 'market rate' for our education from primary school till poly or pre-u? ..."


The goverment might agree with you. In fact, that must be why they give Indian and China nationals FREE education in our universities.

I pity Singaporeans - they are such suckers.

Anonymous said...


i would gladly backpay the market rate for my education if the saf will backpay me market rate for my 2.5 years in ns.

Joseph Chiang said...

anon, are you sure? you might need to pay from your own pocket after off-setting everything. that's 12-13 years of subsidised education vs 2.5 years of ns.

anyway, that's not the point. my point is we should be more concerned of what we could do for our country rather than to always asking for more from it.

think about it, the money (if every NS man is to be paid market rate) is going to come from somewhere, where do you think it will come from? i'm sure you're smart enough to figure that out.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Heheh. Some things are getting lost in the equation, so maybe I should remind everyone why we want FTs.

They're talents, remember? They generate jobs, revenue, profits for us, just by being here.

If that is true, surely a little of the extra income tax IRAS gets from them can go towards covering NSFs' losses.

Joseph Chiang said...

i'd rather we pay the ministers less and give the money to NSFs.

Anonymous said...

Cannot lah. They pay themselves market rates. Furthermore they define their own idea of "market rates" and then they peg their salaries to it.

Ooooh, and it's a nice fat definition.

Anonymous said...

I meant the MINISTERS, of course. Not the nsfs.

Anonymous said...

There is an assumption locals are made to swallow is it? That all new immigrants that are allowed in are TALENTS. Far from the the truth. Some YES, most definitely. There's always a bell curve somewhere. This FT term is just so de-meaning to the very people who erh.. 'Voted' them in.
Are we to understand they just need to earn S$30k per annum to qualify to come roost here?
IF so, this are inexperienced, not-that-qualified new entrants to the workforce OK! Nothing much more than a fresh graduate. Works out to be just S$2308 per month on a 13 month payroll year. Talent? Can these entry level FT's create jobs? Or take away?
You Go Figure.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,

Yes true i agree the Singapore government should give better medical and also compensation to NSF or NS man.

I suggest that an incentive for the NSman would be to grant free medical to the NS singaporean for a person's entire life due to the sacrifice which we give for our nation.

Remember it is 730 days of NSF services and at least 14 days out of 13 years NSman reservist training.

It is the least the government could do instead of tax rebates which for the low income earning less than S$2500.00 a month whom do not pay income taxes at all would benefit. Or another form of rebate in utility fees or a reduction in the interest rates of HDB housing loans.

I really love your Blog.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,

i wonder what are the implications if all 18 year old singapore citizens, male and female, served NS, and have NS cut to one year due to the larger pool of people available?

If NS was about getting us prepared so as to defend our country, this suggestion would allow around twice the amount of people available to be trained while the total monetary cost to the nation would roughly remain the same.

I believe that this would most probably not be a popular idea as not many females would be happy to waste one year of their life in NS.

However, in terms of equity, I think that it would be more fair for everyone to have to serve one year than just the males serve two full two years.

I believe that the male citizens would benefit the nation more if they were allowed to harness their potential to the fullest in their respective careers by entering university or the workforce one year earlier.

Hope you will think through this suggestion.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Mr wang wrote: "I have heard stories about how the SAF compensates the family with a few thousand dollars, when an NSF dies in a training accident. That's like an insult. I cannot substantiate these stories - they are more hearsay and rumour than anything else"

I can tell all you pple here umambigously: "it is NOT hearsay or rumour. I know. At my time (meaning ard your time), getting a hand blown away by grenade, for eg, will entitle one to a compensation of $2000".

THink abt it. Your (writing) hand is worth only $2000 in the eye of SAF!!!

Anonymous said...

my story..

i was going to be retrench by a US company due to they closing down business here.. so i apply for a job from a local monopoly wholly owned by Temesek..

its down to 2 choose 1 ... i was told...

they choose a FT instead of me... (That FT was holding a job now and i gonna be out of job in a couple of mths time)...

to add to the insult... they slamed me with a 22 day ICT.. so i will lost 1 mth looking for a job to support my aging parent...

i wrote to mindef to defer this ICT... and all i get is some arrogant response from them...

so much so of servicing my country.. and i still looking for a job now.. and after my saving run out taking care of my aging parent.. well.. *speechless..

Anonymous said...

I got off the bus at Beach Road more than 12 years ago.

No country is perfect, but for me the pros here out-weigh the cons. The other day I even married a local girl, so it looks like my roots are settling.

My daughters are Singaporean, as my son will be, should I ever have one. Having said this, I would really prefer him not to have to serve NS. My wife tells me it's a huge life experience, but I think 2.5 years is just too long to spend learning it. The problem is really the time lost to your peers in the work force.

I work in the banking sector, where a junior hire could easily wind up reporting to someone younger, be sent to get the morning coffees, and then receive a public shelling because he got someone a cappucino instead of a latte. Then he's got to swallow his pride and try to learn the job from the guy who just blasted him. That's not going to be any fun.

I have no statistics, but a professional volunteer army should be cheaper and more efficient than a conscripted army of reluctant warriors (which is the sense I am picking up here).

This country has built itself up from a mosquito infested swamp to the pride of SE Asia by being mercilessly efficient and by attracting the most aggressive and talented people it could. It's ironic that the NS system doesn't match.

le radical galoisien said...

National service prevents a coup d'etat like what we have just seen, than say, having a mercenary (in the money sense of the term) standing army.

The idea is to make it voluntary civics, rather than a drafted one.

I don't think 2 and a half years is a long time, but in the US military, they will fit someone's military career to his passions and interests such in a way that when they emerge into the workforce, they have an advantage.

The way I perceive it currently is that they currently treat recruits like dirt as an excuse for discipline.

Anonymous said...

Reinforcing your views by simple maths. Why (because of NS) employers prefer NOT to hire male Singaporeans.


Kenneth said...

I strongly agree with Mr Wang. Im run my own company, i find going back to reservist is really a waste of time and energy.

Furthermore, we still need to go for IPPT and if we fail it, we still need to go for RT.

RT timing is so unflexible, i have to make time for it. If we dont go for RT, then we are charged. Not many people are so free to go for RT.

How much opportunity cost am i missing when i go for my reservist/IPPT/RT?

I definitely want to lower the number of years i need to go. Do without the IPPT and RT.