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
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:
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