The “national service” programme should start off by being voluntary and the National Service Training Bill drop the six-month jail sanction as if the young generation of Malaysians have to be threatened with imprisonment to undergo training in national unity and patriotism
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak yesterday revealed for the first time that there would be four or five national service intakes a year, as the general public had been under the impression that there would be only one intake annually.
In fact, this is not only the impression of the general public, but also of the Barisan Nasional leaders, which was why the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon had suggested that the national service programme be held immediately after the SPM examination, saying it would be a waste of time if fresh school-leavers were made to wait until February for the programme to commence.
This release of information about the government’s “national service” programme in dribs and drabs instead of giving all available information to the general public highlights another basic flaw of the “national service” programme – the total lack of transparency in drafting the scheme.
Other basic flaws of the “national service” programme are:
The National Service Training Bill was presented to the Dewan Rakyat for first reading this morning, but from the dribs and drabs of information, it is clear that it is afflicted with fundamental flaws which may make it the source of national disunity rather than national unity.
The government should not just depend on its two-thirds parliamentary majority to rubber-stamp the Bill but must strive for a national consensus that its three-month “national service” programme for 18-year-olds is good for the country and the youths themselves, and have the confidence that it could get warm and positive response from the youths and their parents for the programme without having to resort to criminal sanctions to implement it.
For this reason, the “national service” programme should start off by being a voluntary one, especially as the government is only aiming for 20 per cent of the age cohort. The National Service Training Bill should drop the six-month jail sanction as if the young generation of Malaysians have to be threatened with imprisonment to undergo training in national unity and patriotism.
There should be no rush to legislate the National Service Training Bill this month, as it should be referred to an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee after its first reading to conduct nation-wide public hearings, both from students and their parents as well as the civil society, as to what is the best way to instil national unity, patriotism and discipline among the young generation of Malaysians – without expanding the frontiers of criminality threatening to send 18-year-olds to jail for something which has nothing to do with crime whatsoever.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman