“National Service” a misnomer as it is neither national service nor national and unlikely to foster national unity and  patriotism – the National Service Training Bill  should be renamed and referred to an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee to report back in six months after first reading

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangSunday):  The “national service” programme announced by the  Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib  Razak to be implemented next year for 100,000  boys and girls aged 18 years, is clearly  a misnomer as it is neither national service nor “national” covering only 20 per cent of the youth in the age group and is unlikely  to foster national unity and  patriotism with a three-month stint. 

Najib was in fact making a mistake which Confucius had advised against 2,500 years ago when he said:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. hence, there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.” 

There can be no dispute about the “national service” programme being a misnomer as  Najib himself admitted that  Malaysia’s  “national service” programme is different from those implemented in other countries because its main trust thrust is to promote national unity and not for national defence. 

The first thing Najib should do is to rectify the term and give it a proper name, and the National Service Training Bill which is to be presented to Parliament when it meets tomorrow should be corrected as it would be more appropriately termed “National Youth Service Training Bill”.

On Friday, Najib gave  details of the RM500 million  compulsory National Service programme, with the 100,000  youths to be selected randomly by computer out of 480,000 youths.  Those who fail to attend the three-month programme after being selected could face a fine of up to RM3,000 or be jailed up to six months, or both. 

Najib’s announcement  of the “national service” programme had elicited a medley of responses and questions, such as: 

  • Why had the national education system with six years primary and five years secondary schooling  failed to foster national integration and patriotism?
  • Can a three-month RM500 million programme for 20 per cent of the 18-year-olds succeed in fostering national unity and patriotism when 11 years of education involving an astronomical expenditure of at least RM12 billion for primary and secondary schooling  (or 24 times the cost of the proposed national service programme) had failed in these objectives?
  • Will the RM500 million programme provide new opportunities for corruption, malpractices and abuses of power – if some 10 per cent of this allocation is lost or misdirected as a result?
  • Will the “random” selection by computer of 20 per cent or 100,000 of the 480,000 18-year-olds create new openings for corruption, malpractices and abuses of power?
  • What is the “national unity” and “patriotism” which will be fostered in the three-month National Service programme?  Is patriotism equated to blind loyalty to  the Barisan Nasional government as distinct from the Malaysian nation?

Recently,  Minister for Culture, Arts and Tourism, Datuk Kadir bin Haji Sheikh Fadzir, questioned the  loyalty and patriotism of the Malaysian Chinese, when he  equated patriotism with the flying and waving of flags.  There should be a national consensus on “patriotism” before RM500 million is spent to foster it. 

In the United States, because of the anti-war protests, there is an ongoing  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. 

Is Malaysia prepared to endorse the definition of patriotism recently offered by a well-known American historian and social critic Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who said that “True patriotism …consists of living up to the nation's highest ideals - ‘Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.’”?

  • Why the National Service Training Bill is being rushed through Parliament to be rubber-stamped and implemented next year without giving MPs and the nation at least six months to study and debate and the  development of  a national consensus on the subject – especially  when the four Cabinet sub-committee reports for the programme, viz the curriculum, logistics, finance and the law, have not been made public and  remained an official secret to the civil society?

Instead of demanding that Parliament should rubber-stamp the National Serivce Training Bill, it should be referred to an all-party  Parliamentary Select Committee after the first reading of the Bill to seek and study public representations and to submit its recommendations within  six months.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman