Cabinet next Wednesday should review national service programme if National Service Training Council on Monday cannot come out with a general rule to exclude deserving cases without bogging down the national service programme, educational institutions, trainees and their parents with avoidable hassle because of the bureaucratic and ad hoc mentality demanding case-by-case applications by hundreds or thousands for deferment
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): The Defence Minister and Chairman of the National Service Training Council, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak should review and reconsider his stand that students seeking to defer their national service training next year to complete their studies will have to apply to the National Service Training Council which will give consideration on a case-by-case basis.
Najib and the National Service Training Council must be capable of strategic thinking to anticipate emerging issues and introduce flexible general rules instead of bogging down everyone, whether the National Service Training programme, the educational institutions, the trainees and their parents with avoidable hassle and problems as a result of a bureaucratic and ad hoc mentality demanding case-by-case applications for deferment.
Najib said the Defence Ministry had identified two categories of trainees who would be seeking deferment – students who had attended remove class as well as those from religious and Chinese Independent schools as they required an additional year to complete their SPM or equivalent examinations and those planning to further their studies overseas.
He insists however that all applications must be made to the National Service Training Council through the National Service Training Department for the council to “deliberate on the matter before informing the applicants”.
What is there for the National Service Training Council to “deliberate” in these cases when their deferment is fully legitimate and why must it insist that the thousands of affected students must send in their individual applications for a case-by-case consideration, involving a totally unnecessary waste of time, expenses and effort when the most sensible thing to do is to come out with a general rule to exempt, reschedule or exclude them from the national service programme?
Najib even said that in the absence of an arrangement with the Education Ministry, next year’s matriculation and Lower Six students in the second or third batches of trainees would not be automatically allowed to leave the programme early as suggested by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad because of the clash with the start of the new academic year, which had already been adjusted to accommodate the first batch of national service trainees.
In publicly thumbing at the nose of his Cabinet colleague, the Education Minister, Najib was probably highlighting the fact that as far as the national service programme is concerned, it is the National Service Training Council headed by him which has the “prerogative to decide on any deferment, exemption and adjustment”.
However, such a “prerogative” must be exercised intelligently, responsibly and with accountability, especially bearing in mind the call by the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for an end to unnecessary red-tape and bureaucracy - which must mean an end to unnecessary resort to individual case-by-case considerations if there could be a general rule exempting or excluding 18-year-olds, whether in public or private instiutions, so as not to disrupt their education or educational plans.
Najib has said that the national service training programme will be a “fun programme and don’t have the impression that it will be a burden”. If so, why is he talking about six months’ jail and fine for defaulters? This was one of the major DAP critiques of the National Service Training Bill, as to why a three-month “fun” programme is studded with so many criminal sanctions and heavy custodial offences even as high as a 10-year jail sentence!
Najib said appeals for exemption or exclusion could only be made after the candidates has received their letters, notifying them that they had been selected for the programme. This is itself the cause of widespread unhappiness and hair-tearing by the students and their parents, as illustrated by the following email which I had received:
“My son was also on the list for National Service. When we learnt that his name was on the list, we were devastated as we had made plans a few years back to have him attend the South Australian Matriculation immediately after SPM and subsequent complete his tertiary education in Australia. With the 3 month national service, this effectively defers his educational plans by 1 year.
“My son has already been accepted by a local college and will be commencing his SAM studies in early January 2004. From the little information that is reported in the newspapers, we are told that we cannot yet submit any appeals until after we receive the official notification which will be sometime after Dec 16. Add a few days for administrative delays, postal delays, impending Christmas and New Year Holidays, plus the government red tape, there is no way that the appeals can be processed and affirmed by early January 2004. We are now in a dilemma - should we wait for the appeal to be approved before we admit him or do we go ahead and let him start although there might also be the possibility of not just merely the delay but an outright rejection of the appeal, in which case, if he had already commenced his studies, we will not be able to obtain a refund for the fees and he has to wait another year which is most unfair.”
The National Service Training Council at its first meeting on Monday should be able to give a definitive answer to all such queries. It should apply strategic thinking and come out with a general rule to exclude deserving cases – in particular to exempt or exclude 18-year-olds, whether in public or private instiutions, so as not to disrupt their education or educational plans - without bogging down the national service programme, educational institutions, trainees and their parents with avoidable hassle because of the bureaucratic and ad hoc mentality demanding case-by-case applications by hundreds or thousands for deferment.
If the National Service Training Council cannot put all these queries and uncertainties to rest at its first meeting on Monday, the Cabinet on Wednesday should review the issue and come out with the proper directives in keeping with the new Prime Minister’s clarion call for an end to red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman