Thursday, October 10, 2013

The hot topic of National Service (NS) - Why cannot monetize NS?

Recently, there have been numerous discussions on NS. A committee has been formed to strengthen NS and gather feedbacks from the public. As a guy who has served my 2 years NS and still serving as an nsmen for the next few years, I feel I have to give my views on this. There is always an urge to talk about issues like this.

The debate sparked off in the online blogging world and facebook also. It was posted by a blogger called Alvin Lim on his blog The post was on a singaporean who gave up his citizenship and move to London. This interview was done by BBC. This was his exact words from the interview:

I was born and bred in Singapore but moved to the UK when I was 21 and eventually naturalised as a British citizen after seven years here - I am 37 today. I left Singapore because I had no faith in the government there. Singaporean males were discriminated against by the government because of the compulsory national service and many years of reservist obligations afterwards. That is compounded by the fact that the Singapore government is actively wooing skilled migrants to Singapore. Their "foreign talent" programme gives these migrants all kinds of advantages that locals are not entitled to. I gave two years and four months of my life to serve in the army and my reward is to be treated like a second-class citizen. I wasn't prepared to fight the system, so I simply left and settled in the UK instead. Alex Liang, London

The blog post on has garnered over 100000 views in one weekend and has 350 comments as of now. It has been shared on facebook over 8000 times.

I would say most guys will complain about NS in one way or another. How we lag behind others because of the 2 years NS. We would often compare ourselves against girls who have started working and earning much more than our NS allowance. Most girls would have been halfway through their university education when we finish serving the 2 years. Me and my army mates used to think how we're paid less than a bangala construction worker. The things we do in army sometimes are called sai kang which means shit work literally. Cleaning up the store, carrying heavy equipments, doing area cleaning. I think we're doing both the work of a construction worker and of a cleaner but paid much lesser than any of them.

Now, with more foreigners in our workforce, Singaporean men are unhappy also because of our reservist liabilities and RT trainings. All these takes up our time and we're affected in our performance at work. These are just some of the additional responsibilities we have to bear. Sometimes I do feel overloaded as I have to work from 8am-6pm, juggle with my part time studies twice a week attending lessons from 7pm-10pm and still have to be a part time soldier defending the nation. NS for Singaporeans and jobs for foreigners? You must have heard this before.

One slogan throughout the various discussions on NS caught my attention.It is the phrase that we should not monetize NS. The reason given is NS will lose its value if it is monetized. Aren't regulars paid well with big one time incentives when they sign on? So does this mean those who serve NS as regulars will not value NS more than conscripted NSFs who are only paid a small allowance? It seems quite weird to me that we cannot put monetary value on NS when we're in fact doing it already.

It came out yesterday on channel news asia that a proposal was made to let first generation PR serve NS also. It was commented that "we should not let first generation PR serve the same 2 years as Singaporeans as serving ns is a privilege that belongs to Singaporeans only. We should only let PRs serve on a voluntary basis." Singaporeans have to be forced but PRs have a choice? I guess if first generation PRs have to be forced to serve NS also, many will not want to apply for PR anymore.

Anyway, if you think this NS discussion is hot only now, think again. In actual fact it has been widely discussed more than 30 years ago. There is an elderly blogger who was enlisted into army in the late 1960s. These are the exact quote from his blog,

This post was posted back in 2006.

There's an interesting discussion going on about NS and foreign talents at Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma: Rethinking NS - Part 1 Strange that after 35 years, the issues are exactly the same. When I was balloted out and had my NS disrupted and joined the University of Spore in 1971, I was surrounded by mostly Malaysians in the U. (I was in the Engineering Faculty, and thus very few Spore girls). The kind of sentiments, resentment etc. were exactly the same as those expressed by many of Mr Wang's readers. Reminds me of the words of a song, "Some things will never change, that's just the way it is." Anyway, I did not participate in the discussion because I sense the generation gap is too big. Maybe some of you would like to go there join the discussion.

35 years ago its malaysians overcrowding our local universities. 35 years later, it became another country. I don't even have to mention the country and I'm sure you'd already know which country it is.

In his post, he mentioned another blogger called Mr Wang. Mr Wang wrote on some suggestions to improve the sentiments of NS and it was said to have been sent to the defence minister back then. When i read through, i'm surprised that some of the things have indeed changed compared to last time. Let me share it here.

1) Increase NSFs' pay
To my knowledge, i know NSF's pay have been adjusted up a couple of times. The current recruit pay is already more than $400. I do not know the exact figure but it is definitely higher than last time. Are people happy about it? I would say not really because we will compare against the pay in the job market out there. Most NSF are educated and if you're a diploma holder, the starting pay is about $1800. Even if Mindef increases to $1000 it is still low compared to outside. Is there financial loss? Definitely. Let's do the maths. If you earn $1800 as a diploma holder, in 2 years you will earn $43200. The NS pay if on average is $550 for NSF non commanders, you'll get $13200. The loss of potential income is 30k. I think that is a fair bit of money and can be used to pay for university course fees or down payment for housing loans for those who get married. No wonder few Singaporeans can get married and have children early.

2) NS for University Admission
This suggestion was to encourage universities to recognise NSFs achievements in military training as a bonus point for university admission. The argument was that CCAs and other leadership achievements are recognised for admissions. Why not military achievements? I'm not sure if this has been implemented yet but from what i know i think maybe not. The only university I know that recognises NS as work experience is unisim part time courses.

3) Insurance Benefits
It was said that in the event that a NSF dies during training, the compensation to the family member is only a few thousand dollars. It was suggested that SAF should buy life, disability and personal accident insurance for NSFs. This has been done already. We now have the famous Aviva insurance which we're familiar with. The payout is at least $100,000 if a NSF dies during training. However, not exactly SAF buys for us. Its heavily subsidised so NSF pays about $10 plus per month for it.

4) Making NS a Worthwhile Experience
It was suggested to put NSF into vocations that is related to their qualifications so that they get relevant work experience through NS. In this way, they can get higher pay when they go out to work after NS. For my case, i got a vocation related to my diploma. Many of my friends who were in the same course as me ended up as the same vocation as me. I guess Mindef has already taken into consideration this when they put soldiers into different vocations. This is a good thing. However, from my experience, companies outside still don't recognise NS as work experience. Even when my vocation is related to my qualification, i did not get a head start in my career. My job was related to what i learned in NS. I did not get a higher pay than other female employees also. The case that guys will get a higher pay compared to girls because of NS did not apply to me at all. I'm not sure about you?

I'm glad that i've served my 2 years and i would say its a good experience for me. Many good friendships made indeed. However, after 2 years, i'm still subjected to NS duties for another 10 years. Need to pass IPPT every year. Need to notify for overseas trip. Go for reservist once a year. Report for ops manning once in awhile. Most guys would agree that IPPT is the killer. Cannot pass it then have to go for 20 RT trainings. I heard during reservist that the passing rate for IPPT is only 50%. You'll know from the crowded RT sessions every week.

The government is trying to recognise nsmen efforts currently. We've received NS45 vouchers, payments to cpf account at different stages of ns cycle etc. NS will still be here for as long as we live. The same complains will still surface out in every generations. What I know is our NS life is much better than those who've enlisted in the early days. What we hate is the regimentation and the feeling of having to be forced to do things we don't like. Being forced is never a good feeling. No matter how much it has improved, regimentation is still there. I have friends who are being called up for reservist at a short notice. Sometimes only 2 weeks notice and they have to cancel their pre-planned overseas trip without any refund. So far no such incidents for me as i get my notifications of call ups 6 months ahead. Some units may have lapses in their system. 

Kids become rebellious and leave home when they are being forced too much. Singaporeans leave the country because they are being forced to serve ns. There will never be the love of a home with regimentation being imposed. This is why Singaporeans feel less belonged in this country. The Singapore spirit is slowly fading away......

I hope the strengthen ns review ongoing now can address these issues to their best effort. They should look at the online feedbacks too. Most people express their true feelings on the online world.


  1. Hi,

    I have a very tough time a few years back when i was working full time and doing my part-time degree. I was called up to reservist at a time when it was very close to my final year examination. I try to defer several times, but my unit rejected them all :(. My boss at my work place also rejected my leave for exam during that period, everything seems so depressing.

    I did manage to get through my reservist and my exams in the end. But that was a very tough period that i will not want to go through again.

    Currently i worked in a company where there are many expats and foreigners. They do not really know much national service. When i come back from a recent High Key ICT, they thought that i came back from a very good break !! Some even thought that after "2 weeks of Break", i would feel very refreshed and can handle more work!!

    Employers and companies do need to further educate on national service system in Singapore.

    1. Hi Solace,

      This is the kind of stuff that we guys have to go through. Those who're not in it will not understand how it feels. That's why I do not understand why part time studies can't defer when we're having exams while full time studies can. We study part time its already tough enough.

      Employers and companies will not understand easily. How will they understand when there are more and more non singaporean bosses?

      I was called up for reservist during a very important new technology training in my company. I had to miss the opportunity to learn and the chance to do that important project was given to someone else who's not a Singaporean. These are the kind of opportunities that singaporean guys will miss out on.

  2. Hi all,

    I also have my fair share of grumblings, but from the pt of view of a self employed. The problem with the makeup pay is that I had to claim them myself. And guess what, it'll never be able to compensate what I lose out in income no matter how they calculate it (and they do have an obscure way of doing so). In other words, I actually lose money for all the years I'm doing reservists. What's more is that it usually happens in my busiest period. It's like in sales...if you miss the critical period, you'll eat grass because not all months are equal.

    Another thing is about the IPPT. That one is really a pain in the ass. My busiest period is during the evening and I always have to cancel classes to attend RT/IPT training. It's really about loss of income when I go over.

    I really don't mind if I'm doing real work in reservist. I'm not. I'm just sitting around and doing all the silly wayang things. For what?

    1. Hi LP,

      I have friends who're financial advisors and friends who own businesses. Its indeed loss of income for them as there is no way to claim fully.

      We all know how inefficient is the system. Can wait many hours during reservist without doing anything. Rush to wait and wait to rush? This thing has not changed for the SAF since 10 years ago. Sometimes I really feel very unproductive as in wasting my time away. I think the government should look at increasing productivity in ns as well :p

  3. Regardless, nobody will doubt the importance of national service in singapore. We are so small and our only resource is people.
    And yes I do agree in the ineffiency in ns but there is in inefficiency in most corporates as well.. I believe the govt is trying their best to tackle these problem but somehow it is not trickled down to the bottom.
    Anyway, dont always think of the bad what about the good that the nation has bring us? Security? Food? Shelter? Jobs?
    Have a good weekend

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      The inefficiency in my opinion is really bad. Corporates have inefficiencies too but not as bad. If not they will not survive and close down very soon. It all boils down to the people who are running it.

      I love Singapore as a country. We're no doubt better than our neighbouring countries. There are plenty of opportunities for us to seize on. I always say that without the current government, there will not be a Singapore today. I'm an economics student so i know the importance of the policies that our government have imposed. Without these policies, we would have sunk by now.

  4. It would seem that some Singaporeans like NS, some don't. Isn't it time that NS is voluntary instead of compulsory?

    Singapore is well off enough to maintain a regular army of career soldiers who enjoys being soldiers. This can be supplemented with the volunteer NS soldiers who enjoy playing soldier for 2 years.

    Modern warfare is not about numbers but about technology and fire power. Missiles, drones, cannons, planes.

  5. Coming from the standpoint of a poly student serving NS soon, I strongly feel that the resources that NS saps away from the young, promising men of the nation's future are drastic. Monetary losses aside, time is one resource that is priceless. It is not as if the pay in NS is decent, let alone fantastic. Does this mean that the government values the time of youthful, energetic men at a mere $15 per day? (Assuming 400 per month). Hell, a bangla worker who is in fact a foreigner, earns more than that.

    I have plenty of friends complaining and swearing that NS is a waste of time. I tried, I really tried to find someone who actually thinks that NS is beneficial. I found none to my surprise. Personally speaking I do not feel any form of love for this country nor the slightest urge to protect it. I believe I do speak for a huge group of young men.

    2 years serving a nation that requires you to serve will not garner love and affection from the people.

    1. Hi,

      I can completely understand how you feel when you're going to serve NS soon. You must have heard a lot about it from your other seniors or relatives already.

      I do think NS will gives us some life experiences which we cannot gain anywhere out there in the civilian world. Yes 2 years is quite a long time and time is precious for us especially when things are moving so fast now. No matter what, we have no choice but to serve. The only relief is that since my article was written, there has been some changes to the NS system which I'm quite happy about. At least you get to bring smart phones into camps now and IPPT is much easier also.

  6. I don't mind the occasional ict once or twice a year, but I definitely loathe rt training if you fail ippt. A fucking waste of time. Who does government think to dictate whether we want to be fit or not.

    1. Hi chin chuan,

      This post was written quite some time ago. I'm actually quite glad the government has made significant changes to the ippt system. Its not that bad anymore.