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

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangTuesday):  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: 

  • It is a misnomer as it is neither national service nor “national” covering only 20 per cent of the youth in the age cohort, and most  unlikely  to foster national unity and  patriotism with a three-month stint.  Najib had himself admitted that Malaysia’s “national service” programme is different from those implemented in other countries because its main thrust is to promote national unity and not for national defence.
  • Lack of national consensus, arising from the absence of consultation with all political parties including the Opposition and  the civil society on the meaning of “national unity” and “patriotism” to be inculcated in the three-month programme.
  • Criminal sanctions involving RM3,000 fine or six-month jail or both for 18-year-olds who failed to turn up for the programme after selection.

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