Musa’s denial that national service programme is result of failure of national education policy to foster national integration latest example of the confused and muddled thinking of Ministers and government leaders and the most powerful reason why the passage of the National Service Training Bill in Parliament should be postponed
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): The denial by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad in Parliament yesterday that the national service programme is the result of the failure of the national education system to foster national integration and unity (Sin Chew Daily) is the latest example of the confused and muddled thinking of the Ministers and government leaders and the most powerful reason why the passage of the National Service Training Bill in Parliament should be postponed.
Musa said that if the national education system is to be questioned for failing to create national unity because of the national service training programme, the Singapore education system should similarly be questioned because of the Singapore national service.
I would have thought that even Malaysian school students can rebut Musa – that the Singapore national service requiring all Singapore men who reach the age of 18 to enter national service for two-and-a-half years before going into the reserves is a military national service to create a citizen army in the island-republic, while the three-month national service training programme currently planned for 20 per cent of the 480,000 18-year-old SPM school-leavers is not a military national service and has nothing to do with national defence as repeatedly declared by Cabinet Ministers but to instil national unity and patriotism.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had himself admitted publicly, both inside or outside the country, that the whole concept of the national service programme is to rectify the failure of the national education system to achieve national unity and national integration among the young generation of Malaysians.
For instance, in his speech to Malaysians in Paris last November, Mahathir said the government decided to introduce the National Service “to bring the various races together for at least six months because the national schools have failed to bring about better relations among the various races”.
In an interview with New Straits Times last December, Mahathir spoke of the “double hijacking” of the national school system by those who sabotaged the Pupil’s Own Language programme and turned them into Islamic rather than Malaysian schools.
Mahathir even reiterated the raison d’etre for the national service programme in his last UMNO Presidential Address last Thursday when he publicly admitted the failure of the national education system to unite the new generation of Malaysians who attend different schools according to race, although he conceded that “the nature of the National Service has not been finalized”.
But Musa does not seem to have heard or understood Mahathir. The national service programme is clearly faced with a more fundamental problem than just its nature has not been finalised - the considerable confusion and muddled thinking among top Cabinet Ministers and government leaders about its purpose as illustrated by Musa’s outburst yesterday.
Musa’s confusion about the difference between the two national service programme in Malaysia and Singapore is most shocking and inexplicable as he was a member of the Special Cabinet Committee on National Service formed last November to finalise recommendations for a national service programme “to boost patriotism among the young and to promote integration among teenagers of various races and religions in the country”.
Other Ministers on the Special Cabinet Committee on National Service, headed by the Defence Minister, Datuk Najib Razak, were Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim and Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh and Deputy Home Ministers Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin and Datuk Chor Chee Heung.
The Special Cabinet Committee has four sub-committees, the legal sub-committee under Rais, the co-curriculum sub-committee under the Biro Tata Negara (National Civic Bureau), logistics sub-committee under the Armed Forces and the finance sub-committee under Shafie.
It would appear that Musa, as Education Minister, had minimal role or input in the Special Cabinet Committee on National Service, with the co-curriclum entrusted to the Biro Tata Negara, notorious for indoctrination courses for civil servants and students ever since its formation, but this is no excuse for his inability to distinguish the difference between the two programmes in Malaysia and Singapore.
With such confused and muddle thinking prevalent in high political and government circles, the National Service Training Bill cannot make any meaningful contribution to national unity or national integration and may even run the risk of being the source of further national division and disunity.
A National Service Training Bill meant to foster national unity and national integration must be the fruit of a national consensus transcending race, religion or political beliefs and not be the subject of acrimonious dispute or differences in the society as at present.
Up to now, no effort has been made to ensure that there is national consensus on the National Service Training Bill as the Opposition parties, NGOs, youth organizations and the civil society have been excluded from the whole process of its formulation, discussion and deliberation which is conducted under the cult of secrecy spawned by the Official Secrets Act.
There is no realization of the importance of ensuring national unity and consensus, transcending race, religion and political affiliation at every stage of the development of the concept and law-making of the national service training programme.
This is why the contents of the Bill are so unsatisfactory and unacceptable – not only because they violate the very principles of volunteerism and precepts of Rukun Negara, being studded with criminal sanctions and custodial offences, but also because of its disregard of the importance of securing national consensus cutting across political party differences.
The National Service Training Bill should either be withdrawn or be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee to conduct nation-wide public hearings from all sectors of the civil society on the three-month programme to ensure that it does not end up as an indoctrination course by Biro Tata Negara which will be completely counter-productive to the goal of fostering national unity and national integration.
As a first step to involve civil society participation in the deliberation of the national service training programme, the report of the Special Cabinet Committee on National Service and the reports of the four sub-committees on the law, co-curriculum, logistics and finance of the programme should be made public for nation-wide discussion.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman