DAP calls for withdrawal of the half-baked National Service Training Bill as Mahathir has conceded that the nature of the National Service has not been finalized which can only mean the lack of a national consensus and national unity on the issue
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made two statements in his UMNO Presidential Speech yesterday pertinent to the National Service Training Bill presented to Parliament for first reading on Tuesday, firstly, that “the nature of the National Service has not been finalized” and secondly, the need to “call anything by its real name” when he extolled the English saying to “call a spade a spade”.
To “call a spade a spade”, the National Service Training Bill is a misnomer because it is not about national service, as both Mahathir and the Defence Minister, Datuk Najib Razak had openly admitted that it has nothing to do with national defence but meant to instil national unity, patriotism and discipline – which should have been the task of the 11-year primary and secondary schooling system. Furthermore, it is not national, as it is to involve only 20 per cent of the 480,000 18-year-old SPM school leavers next year.
What is more serious however is Mahathir’s admission that “the nature of the National Service has not been finalized” although he expressed the hope that it would be implemented next year.
The question all MPs and Malaysians are entitled to ask is how could the government table the National Service Training Bill in Parliament and expect it to be enacted next week when the “nature of the National Service has not been finalized” as admitted by Mahathir yesterday?
Even though the Barisan Nasional has two-thirds majority in Parliament to do whatever it wants in the Dewan Rakyat, such domineering majority should not be flaunted and abused so blatantly that MPs are requited to rubber-stamp whatever is presented to them by the Cabinet like the National Service Training Bill, even when the details and nature of the national service training programme have not been finalized.
For this reason, DAP calls for the withdrawal of the half-baked National Service Training Bill as no such Bill should be presented in Parliament until the government has finalized the details and nature of the National Service, which can only mean the woeful lack of a national consensus and national unity on the issue.
In March this year, Najib said he did not want to make piecemeal announcements of the national service training programme until all aspects of the programme had been finalized.
However, Najib had done just that. Before Mahathir’s admission yesterday that the “nature of the National Service had not been finalized”, I had on Tuesday criticised Najib for releasing information about the national service training programme in “dribs and drabs”, as he had revealed for the first time that there would be four or five national service intakes a year, when the general public had been given the impression the previous week that there would be only one intake annually.
This was the reason 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, and why one establishment commentator even took the trouble to calculate that training 100,000 people at the same time in 16 centres (primarily university campuses) will work out roughly to grouping 6,000 of them under the same roof. (The Star 18.6.03)
In less than 24 hours however, when the National Service Training Bill was tabled in Parliament, MPs found to their shock that the net affecting those under the national service training scheme is not confined to the 18-year-old school-leavers but all Malaysian citizens and even permanent residents in the age group from 16 years to 35 years – a quantum jump of the 480,000 people in the 18-year-old age group to some seven million people in the 19 age groups caught by the Bill.
In the eight months of public discussion on the national service programme after the National Patriotism Congress last October where Mahathir gave his blessing for a national service programme, there was not a single discussion that the net should be broadened to cover 19 age groups, as it was primarily confined to SPM school-leavers, although initially there was some suggestion that it should rope in youths in the 18-21 age group.
What is the rationale for expanding the national service training net from 18 year olds to all those between the 16 – 35 age group? This raises the fundamental question as to whether the real agenda of the so-called national service training programme is more aimed at promoting “Barisan Nasional service” rather than “national service”!
The civil society must speak up to express its strongest objection and protest at the most undemocratic and untransparent manner in the evolution and formulation of the concept and legislation for the national service training programme, 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 Malaysians, and demand the withdrawal of the half-baked National Service Training Bill as admitted by Mahathir yesterday.
It would be interesting to find out whether the four Cabinet sub-committee reports on the curriculum, logistics, finance and the law of the national service training programmed were based on training 18-year-old SPM school-leavers only or whether right from the beginning, the net was intended to cover all Malaysian citizens and permanent residents between 16 to 35 years!
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman