Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NSRA: How much is enough?

If you receive a gift with the price tag still stuck on it, there’s a high chance that knowing the gift’s dollar value will cloud your attitude towards your well-wisher.

A highly priced item will probably earn the well-wisher much gratitude whereas a pitifully small number (say $1.99?) could poison even the best friendships. Such is the reality of human nature.

Stretch this analogy to the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA) and you will begin to understand why Singaporeans are jumping to all sorts of conclusions about this “token” for sons of Singapore.

The award, announced by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, is intended “to provide sustained recognition for Singapore citizens who serve National Service (NS)”.

Had the NSRA been a medal, that intention might have been achieved handsomely. And if the medal was something well-designed, it might even be treasured by Operationally-Ready NSmen. During the Second World War, many German soldiers fought and died for the right to wear the Iron Cross because of its prestige value. The medal was enhanced by simple devices such as Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds and soldiers gave their best to elevate themselves from Iron Cross (Second Class) to the first class honours list.

Alas, the NSRA is a monetary award. Its dollar value was highlighted by the mainstream media (MSM) in articles on the new award. Can you blame citizens for missing the forest for the trees and making mental calculations of how much their NS liability is worth?

As forecast in an earlier post, it is precisely this dollar value that has provided ample ammunition for nay-sayers, critics and detractors. And the firing continues unabated. Indeed, if NSmen and Singaporeans could display similar tenacity and creativity when this city-state is under attack, the SAF would be hard to beat.

The system’s cause was not helped by the fact that for more than one-and-a-half days, details on the NSRA were unavailable. In the Internet age where opinions change by nanoseconds, that delay gave netizens a free run of the house.

Put in military terms, the initiative was lost till the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) press conference on Tuesday shed light on the award. By then, damage had been done.

Sunday’s bombshell from PM Lee ought to have been matched by a holding statement of sorts that gave Singaporeans some idea when details would be revealed. Even a simple line such as “Wait for MINDEF to tell you more on Tuesday” would have sufficed to stave off critics.

Instead, we had that teaser of an announcement which the MSM morphed into a $9,000 carrot. Even the platitudes mouthed by hand-picked NSmen to beef up newspaper articles couldn’t venture beyond the obvious. Shallow and no-brainer comments celebrating the windfall added to the ire of Singaporeans who, quite naturally, began to equate the $9,000 award to the price of NS. Who wouldn’t welcome more for their years of service?

Apart from wresting the initiative with a better designed defence information management (DIM) plan, I would have matched this with more persuasive statements on the higher intent of the NSRA.

Bald statements that the offspring of New Citizens will do their part cut no ice with NSFs, NSmen and sons of Singapore who stood on guard in the First Generation and Second Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

It would have helped the NSRA’s cause immensely if hard numbers were added to backstop puff statements.

Are we’re ploughing new ground with theories about how New Citizens (aka foreign talent) will warm towards NS? Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve walked this road before.

I would love to know how many Hong Kong families who migrated to Singapore before the 1997 handover have stayed with us till today. Would it be too much for the system to tell us how many of these ex-HK families have sent their sons through NS? It’s been a good 13 years since 1997. Surely more than a handful have hit the enlistment age?

If the enlistment numbers are strong, then it strengthens the case.
If the numbers are pitiful, then use this fact to address Singaporeans’ fears, concerns and misgivings that the FTs are taking us all for a ride.

If New Citizens are needed for sustained growth and national resilience as birthrates turn south, then tell Singaporeans how the attitudes of new citizens towards national defence will be strengthened. Hopefully, the likes of the unsurpassed MINDEF Public Affairs Directorate would have a reassuring war plan on how this should be done.

More than ever before, defence issues look likely to be a hot topic at the coming General Election.

But while we rant and rave, let’s not give the schemers overseas a chance to catch us blindsided.


Anonymous said...

Two comments, firstly, the NSRA is not "real" money per se, but rather offsets to either education or an addition to CPF, which we can't touch anyway unless for very specific purposes, and secondly, those from the 1st and 2nd Gen SAF will not be eligible for this since most would have been past the MR age anyway; of those in the 2-3G transition, most probably will collect the MR award.

I suspect this may be more for the sons of the New Citizens, as an incentive for them not to avoid NS, an optimistic plan if any...

FinalFive said...

The entire publicity for the NSRA is overblown. All the negative comments so far seem to be motivated by the fact that there's so much hot air for so little a benefit.

I think I would have a different take if there was in fact no publicity for the NSRA, but instead informed by a cheque and a letter signed by Director Manpower.

How ridiculous is the publicity? Just picked this up off the Pioneer feature on the Mindef website:

27-year-old Captain (CPT) (NS) Mohamed Najib Mashuni, the NSRA has arrived at an opportune moment. "As I'll be getting married next year, the award is quite timely as it will help me in getting my house,"

I guess $4-6k would help buy a few more square feet. Or the fire insurance for a year. Did CPT Mohd Najib Mashuni really mean what he was quoted as saying?

What scares me really is that I am so terribly inclined to think about the fatcat FT investment bankers reading this overhyped Pioneer article and laughing at NSmen. And I don't think I'll be alone in feeling this way.

FinalFive said...

To add to some hard figures to the fact that the NSRA doesn't warrant such publicity - we have been on par with the US in terms of military spending worldwide:

Why should we throw a celebration over 9k each?

Anonymous said...

Another theory i heard was the PAP won't expect the older generation to vote for them so no point spending such money.

bdique said...

Hi Anon, guess PAP shouldn't expect the younger voters to vote just because $9k virtual cash has been handed to people.

Btw since I've ORDed and presently a university student, to be fair $3k in PSEA can be a significant contribution i.e. helps out quite a bit should I wish to go on an exchange trip, but that means $6k will be plonked straight into my CPF - diluting the effect even further.


LC said...

PM Lee did not elaborate beyond the simplistic each NS man wil receive 9k because it is calculated to give the impression that ALL NS men will get the 9k, ie you, me, every one who served from 1G to 3G SAF. He wants the govt to appear to be SO appreciative of us NS men, during his rally, which is watched by most of the nation. Remember just about everything he says is geared to the elections. This will satisfy their vote bank, the people in their 50-60s and above - who maybe think that their children are not appreciated, but they themselves did not serve NS. Then, later, MINDEF comes out and says it is not retroactive. So now we see it is clearly aimed at people 30 yrs old and below, to try to buy their votes, pure and simple.

The big issue that nobody in the govt wants to bother with, is the effect of unrestrained immigration and the accompanied stresses, on the motivation of our soldiers. If the govt continues blindly in the present course with respect to immigration and its accompanying job "creation" policies, there will be more and more of us unwilling to fight for whatever reason that the govt comes up with, if we ever go to war. It is a fact that many feel that PAP = govt = Singapore. If we are unable to find a job and are suffering because of the govt, why should we bother to fight for them?

LC said...

OK to be more precise, PM's speech and his not mentioning the details of the award is aimed at securing the vote bank of the pioneer generation of Singaporeans, who have mostly steadfastly voted PAP. I should not say people in their 50s-60s, because those in that age group have served NS.

James said...

Frankly I already do not want to fight since the government do not want to recognise my national service.

And the government is as always not making a distinction between foreign talent and foreign labour. Foreign labour do the work Singaporeans do not want to do. Foreign talent fight with us for jobs and houses. I know many foreign talents do not have intention to stay in Singapore, so I laughed when MM says Singapore will be selective about deciding who can become citizens. These guys don't even want your citizenship, so they can't be bothered as to whether they offered citizenship or not.

I know of one of foreign talent who sent his wife back to his home country to give birth so that his son will not have to be liable for NS. Another foreign talent I know told me that he came to Singapore to look for a job because the impression in Europe is that if you are foreign, you will definitely get hired in Singapore. Their impression of Singapore is that we are so "hard up" for foreigners that we are just dying to get them here.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that all the lau pengs are have forgotten. Don't they deserve to be recognised as well? Shame, shame, shame.

FinalFive said...

Govt could look at rewarding ex-NSmen: SM Goh

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong suggested helping those over 55 years old with their medical needs. -myp

Tue, Sep 07, 2010
my paper

By Kenny Chee

THE Government could, in some way, look into recognising the contributions of older Singaporeans who have completed their national-service cycle, said Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

As a possibility, he suggested helping those over 55 years old with their medical needs.

SM Goh had been speaking at a post-National Day Rally dialogue last evening with more than 200 grassroots leaders from Marine Parade GRC.

He also added that the Government would take note of suggestions to recognise the sacrifices of those who have completed their national-service cycle.

Last week, the Ministry of Defence announced details of the National Service Recognition Award with payouts of up to $9,000 and $10,500 to NSmen. The award is only for Singapore citizens and does not benefit those who have already completed their national-service cycle.

Anonymous said...

the govt should have made the scheme open to all reservists retroactively. either do or don't altogether. if they don't (as they have made their policies), then it gives those lao jiaos a cheated feeling. let's put aside all those "but how can u equate defence with money" talk. fact is, the govt has decided on a level of monetary appreciation, so that point is the "base philosophy" now. therefore appreciation should be fair across the board. but what can MR reservists do? complain only right? maybe that's why they're excluded. how about reservists who still have some ICTs to go but have already passed the 2nd milestone? slack off for the rest of the ICT lor! after all, those reservists are sort of treated as 2nd class, i.e. "unrewardable" for the 2nd milestone just because they've already achieved it. thing is, u can talk all u want, but we're humans. appreciate fairly.