National Service: Stop giving confusing statements and embark on a national consultation process to produce the best formula

Press Statement
Loke Siew Fook

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): In the last two days, three Barisan Nasional leaders had given different statements on the national service program and add more confusion to the general public. The government had all along stressed that the proposed national service program will be implemented beginning next year involving all youth above 18 years old who completed their SPM examinations, the program will last for 6 months and the module will not emphasize on military training. Although there are still a lot debates about the merits and demerits of these proposals, the government has given the impression that this will be the basis of the national service program.

However, on Monday, 25th March, the Deputy Defense Minister Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal said that the Ministry will consider reviewing the national service module to increase the military training content should the need arise although he later clarified that there is no necessity at the time being.

After addressing the Parliament yesterday, the Defense Minister who is also the Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on National Service, Datuk Seri Najib Razak told reporters that an independent council will be set up by the Defense Ministry to come up with the selection criteria for youths for the National Service program. He said that it would be too costly to absorb the nearly 450,000 youths aged 18 and above in 2004 into the program. However, the Minister said “This does not mean that there are some who will not get an opportunity to serve; all with get a fair chance”.

The statement by Najib is very contradicting as he mentioned about a selection system to participate in the national service but stressed that all those who fall into the age group will be involved. What does this mean? Is it meaning that the youths will go to the national service at different ages? Some will participate at the age of 18 after their SPM, and some will come back to do their national service at the age 19, 20 or 21 when some of these youths will be already in their varsity years. This sounds ridiculous and most unworkable!

To make the matter worse, another Barisan Nasional leader said something which is totally contradicting with what Najib said in the Parliament lobby. The Secretary-General of MCA Youth Liow Tiong Lai who is also the MP for Bentong said from a discussion he had with Datuk Seri Najib, the national service may be scaled down. Liow was speaking on a seminar on National Service and Multiculturalism jointly organized by the Malaysian Strategic Research Center and Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.

Liow quoted as saying that “He (Najib) said they are looking at between 50,000 and 100,000 participants and the duration would be reduced from the proposed six months to three months”. He reasoned that the cost to train 450,000 youths as scheduled would cost the government RM5 billion. According to Liow, Najib had also said participants would be on a voluntary basis and those who obtained jobs or intended to continue their studies would be exempted.

From the three different statements from the three BN leaders, it is clear that the whole proposal for the national service is now in a mess. It is very contradicting and a lot of confusions to the general public now. It is not clear whether the program will be a compulsory one or on voluntarily basis. If there is a selection system based on criteria set by the Council, then will it be voluntarily?

The Minister has stressed that the details will announced to the public by end of May after getting the approval from the Cabinet. The Cabinet Committee has technically less than two months from now to finalize the national service proposal to present to the Cabinet. With so much confusions and unclear mechanism to implement the program, the Committee will only give the public an impression that it will bulldoze the proposal without proper consultation, thinking, planning and consideration if they insist to get the Cabinet approval in May.

In view of the short time frame left and with so much confusions on the mechanism of the national service program, DAPSY would like to urge the Cabinet Committee on National Service to defer the plan to submit to Cabinet and start a fresh consultation process by setting up a National Consultation Committee on National Service involving experts and specialists from different fields to rethink, restudy and propose a fresh proposal to come out with the best formula to implement the national service program. In the process, the Committee must engage and get the views from all segments of the society as widest possible.

DAPSY National Secretariat will initiate a series of weekly discussion groups in different places throughout the country to articulate the views and suggestions by different youth groups on the national service beginning the month of April.


* Loke Siew Fook, DAPSY National Secretary