National Service Training Bill 2003, which  represents one of the major failures of Mahathir’s 22-year premiership to promote national unity among the new generation of Malaysians, should be sent back to drawing board as it is studded with too many criminal sanctions and custodial offences

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday):  Tomorrow will be the last UMNO General Assembly appearance of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as UMNO President, just a month away from his 22nd  anniversary as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

Ironically, the  National Service Training Bill 2003 tabled in Parliament yesterday for first reading, not for national defence but to promote national unity, patriotism and discipline among school-leavers, represents one of the major failures of Mahathir’s 22-year premiership to promote national unity among the new generation of Malaysians. 

What is most shocking is that the National Service Training Bill is also one of the most atrocious pieces of draftsmanship tabled in Parliament in recent decades. 

Until yesterday, the whole country had been  told that the national service proposal  is  meant to rectify to failure of 11 years of the national education system and targetted at school-leavers in the 18-year-old age cohort to inculcate in them the spirit of patriotism and loyalty, foster national unity and instil discipline and that it had nothing to do with national defence at all. 

This was why public discourse had focussed on the 480,000  18-year-old SPM school-leavers and the proposal to enlist only 20 per cent or 100,000 of them for a three-month training involving an expenditure of RM500 million instead of the original idea of a six-month course affecting all the 18-year-olds which would cost the country the prohibitive sum of some RM5 – RM6 billion a year! 

The National Training Bill, however, has considerably widened the net from one to 19 age-groups to make any citizen or permanent resident liable to be called up for national service training if they are between 16 to 35 years old,  multiplying  the potential pool by 19 times totalling some seven  million people  who are liable to be called up for the national service training programme. 

It is clear that the entire concept of the national service training for school-leavers to  make up for the failure of the 11-year education system to foster national unity, patriotism and discipline at  the genesis of the proposal  at the National Patriotism Congress last October had completely changed character as to rope in Malaysians between the ages of 16 to 35, raising the question to whether it has a larger ulterior agenda.

The further question as to why a legislation to inculcate patriotism and national unity and which has nothing to do with national defence  should be studded with so many criminal sanctions and custodial offences, ranging from a maximum of  six months’ jail sentence for failing to present oneself for  national service training (Clause 18),  being absent from national service training without leave (Clause 19) or making false statements or forged documents (Clause 28), to  two years’ jail for inciting persons to evade duties or liabilities which he is liable to perform or for opposing national service training (Clause 29) to the horrendous 10-year jail sentence for “acts which cause a person to become unsuitable or apparently unsuitable to undergo national service training” whether by maiming or injuring oneself or another or  the administering of  any drug or other substance (Clause 27). 

The National Service Training Bill declared that the national service training is based on the five principles of  Rukun Negara, viz:

  1. Belief in God
  2. Loyalty to King and Country
  3. Upholding the constitution
  4. Rule of Law
  5. Good Behaviour and Morality

However, the National Service Training Bill runs afoul of the overarching objective of  Rukunegara “to maintain a democratic way of life”, as in its provision in Clause 29 (b)  to make it an offence punishable with a maximum of RM10,000 fine, two years’ jail or both, for “Any person who incites any person to oppose  national service training under this Act”. 

Clause 29(b) of the Bill goes against the very objective of Rukunegara “to maintain a democratic way of life” as it would further suppress the already limited fundamental freedom of speech and expression in Malaysia, making it a criminal offence which could  disenfranchise a Malaysian from standing for elective office or disqualify an elected Member of Parliament or State Assembly member, for opposing the national service programme after the National Service Training Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and become law. 

This is highly objectionable and makes complete mockery and  nonsense of the claim of the National Service Training Bill that it is guided by the philosophy of Rukun Negara. 

The Bill confirmed my  earlier critique of the plethora of confused and muddled thinking surrounding the national service programme, raising the question whether there is going to be massive waste of public funds, time and energy not only of 18-year-olds but some seven million Malaysians caught in the net of the 16 to 35-year-old  age group,  for all the wrong reasons and maybe an ulterior agenda. 

There should be no rush to legislate the National Service Training Bill  next week. In fact, the whole concept and the proposed law for a “national service” training should go back to the drawing board, as  it is a misnomer to talk about “national service” when the three-month programme envisaged presently has nothing to do with “national service” nor is it national – as Defence Minister Datuk Najib Razak has openly admitted it has nothing to do with national defence.

As a start, the Bill should  be referred to an all-party  Parliamentary Select Committee  to conduct nation-wide public hearings as to what is the best way to instil national unity, patriotism and discipline among Malaysians – without  criminalizing swathes of the Malaysian population who may have legitimate reasons to disagree with the National Service Training Bill.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman