Scrap the 2004 implementation date for national service, postpone the National Service Training Bill to Parliament in mid-June and make public the four Cabinet sub-committee reports on the proposal to allow for a minimum of six-month public debate
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Monday): At the DAP Teluk Intan anniversary dinner on Saturday, I had said that it was scandalous and an outrage that Malaysians have to read about the Cabinet decision last Wednesday about national service from the foreign press – the Singapore Straits Times - as not a word had been reported in the local media, and I called on the government to immediately release all details of the national service plan.
At the last parliamentary meeting, the Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak promised to announce details of the National Service scheme in May, which had come and gone. The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim had also said in March that the National Service Training Bill would be tabled this month for implementation next year.
Although Najib told Parliament in March that results from a survey conducted among 6,000 15- and 16-year-olds showed that 81 per cent supported the implementation of the National Service programme and 72 per cent supported the decision to make it mandatory for both girls and boys, the credibility and veracity of the survey is highly questionable as nobody up to now knows the details of the national service programme or its real objective. Such a survey will only be meaningful when the full details of the national service programme had been made public – or it will be putting the cart before the horse and the results of the earlier survey unscientific, unprofessional and unreliable.
Najib told MPs that the three main objectives of the national service were to
encourage patriotic spirit among the younger generation, foster national and racial integration, and positive character-building through good values.
The ongoing controversy over the remarks by the Minister for Culture, Arts and Tourism, Datuk Kadir bin Haji Sheikh Fadzir, questioning the loyalty and patriotism of the Malaysian Chinese, and equating patriotism with the flying and waving of flags, has brought to the fore the misconceptions and misunderstandings of the meaning of patriotism even among top national leaders, including Cabinet Ministers.
Shouldn’t Kadir be the first to be roped in to be sent to undergo a “national service” programme to get a proper understanding of the meaning of patriotism in plural Malaysia, one fundamental prerequisite is not to pretend to have a monopoly to question the patriotism of others.
In the United States, because of the anti-war protests, there is currently a debate as to what is the meaning of patriotism – whether it means unthinking flag-waving support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq or the right to dissent in the best interests of the nation.
A well-known American historian and social critic Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. recently offered this definition of patriotism:
“True patriotism, I propose, consists of living up to the nation's highest ideals. Carl Schurz, a German emigrant who became an influential figure in 19th-century America, defined the true meaning of patriotism when he said: ‘Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.’”
This debate about the meaning of patriotism is relevant to Malaysia, when we are deliberating on a national service programme to foster patriotism, especially as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should be more sympathetic with the definition of patriotism of the anti-war protesters in Bush America!
It is precisely because the definition of patriotism is so controversial that DAP had called for the establishment of an all-party-cum-NGOs commission to ensure that the national service to be introduced in Malaysia does not degenerate into a “national disservice” or “Barisan Nasional service”.
The second question to be asked is whether a six-month national service programme for the country’s 18-year-olds can succeed in promoting national integration and good values of discipline when 11 years of schooling had failed to achieve these objectives?
The Singapore Straits Times reported on Friday that the Cabinet had approved plans to launch the country's national service programme next year but decided to scale down the number of youths involved to cap the cost of the programme.
About 100,000 young men would be involved in the programme - a sharp drop from the 450,000 young Malaysians who were originally expected to be enlisted.
The sole reason for the scaling down of the national service scheme was the prohibitive cost of a programme involving 450,000 youths, estimated to cost some RM5 billion, which would be “difficult to justify at a time when uncertain global economic conditions have slowed growth in the country”.
Will this be a new and fertile breeding ground for corruption, arising from efforts to avoid enlistment for the national service for 100,000 places from among 450,000 potential 18-year-olds a year?
There are many aspects of the national service proposal which have to discussed in depth before a National Service Training Bill is presented to Parliament for rubber-stamp approval and implemented next year – including its objectives and guiding philosophy which must be acceptable to all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.
For this reason, the 2004 implementation date for national service programme should be scrapped and the National Service Training Bill to Parliament in mid-June postponed. Instead, the four Cabinet sub-committee reports on the national service proposal - the curriculum, logistics, finance and the law – should be made public to allow for a minimum of six-month public debate to decide whether there is national consensus for the proposal to be proceeded to implementation.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman