National Service programme spawning an empire of red-tape against Abdullah’s call to slash bureaucracy – call for general rule exempting 18-year-olds, whether in public or private institutions, so as not to disrupt their education or educational plans

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangThursday): The Defence Minister and Chairman of the National Service Training Council, Datuk Seri  Najib Tun Razak  should end the confusion galore and announce without delay a flexible,  fair and general rule exempting or rescheduling 18-year-olds from the first-year 85,000 National Service intake whose education  or educational plans would be disrupted by the three-month programme. 

The first-year intake of 85,000 National Service trainees will be divided into three batches of 28,350 each, according to zones, with the first batch reporting on Feb. 16 while the  second and third batches will start simultaneously on March 22. 

Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad said after the Cabinet meeting yesterday that next year’s matriculation and Lower Six students who are in the second and third batches of national service trainees will have to leave the programme early and resume it in 2005, as the academic year will start on May 10 and 15 respectively while the training for these two batches will only end on June 13. 

He said the Ministry had adjusted the entry dates for pre-university programmes to accommodate the first batch of the national service trainees, but the trainees in the second and third batches entering Lower Six and matriculation classes would not be able to complete the three-month programme in one stretch. 

Musa said that those affected among the 56,700 recruits in the second and third batches of the National Service training programme would have to appeal for permission to leave the programme midway and resume it a year later and that all appeals must be directed to the Defence Ministry and not the Education Ministry. 

This is most unsatisfactory and even irresponsible. Having pointed out the problems faced by next year’s matriculation and Lower Six students who have been selected for the second and third batches of the  National Service Training programme and  that they cannot complete the three-month course without disrupting their studies, Musa should have secured Cabinet approval for a fair and flexible rule to exempt or reschedule 18-year-olds from the national service programme whose education  or educational plans would be disrupted by the three-month programme. 

Why can’t the Cabinet Ministers accept their collective responsibility  and adopt such  a flexible and fair ruling giving topmost priority to education in keeping with Malaysia’s quest for an Information Society and Knowledge-based Economy to enhance the country’s competitiveness in the face of the millennial challenges of globalization, instead of forcing thousands or even tens of thousands of students to go through the rigmarole of individually  having to apply to leave the three-month national service programme midway? 

The new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called for the cutting down of unnecessary red-tape and bureaucracy, but this message does not seem to have reached the Cabinet as Ministers have not shown the  visionary leadership and imagination to respond to this call and are spawning a new empire of red tape with the National Service training programme. 

Furthermore, the  fair and flexible rule  that the three-month national service training programme should not disrupt education or education plans should be a general one which applies to all  students, whether in public or private educational institutions, pursuing studies inside or outside the country – whether the thousands of  students preparing for the South Australian and Western Australian  Matriculation examinations starting in the first week of January, the  thousands of students in  the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools in the final year of their secondary education, the tens of thousands of students in  national secondary schools in Form V as they had done an extra year in Remove Class or other educational  categories. 

It is most regrettable that Musa seems to have forgotten that he is Education Minister for all Malaysians and Malaysian students, and not just students in public institutions. 

Musa said private college students enrolled in Australian pre-university programmes with only one intake a year such as the South Australian Matriculation and Western Australian Matriculation would have to take up the matter with the Defence Ministry to appeal for determent of their national service training or start their pre-university course a year later. 

Musa should not wash his hands of responsibility to look after the educational welfare of the private students and should also intercede with the Cabinet or Defence Ministry to ensure that there is a general, flexible and fair rule applying to all 18-year-olds, whether in public or private educational institutions, exempting or rescheduling their  National Service programme to ensure no disruption of their education or educational plans.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman