Friday, February 07, 2014

National Service- Major review of this "Sacred Cow" is needed

National Service ( NS): Time to Review this national sacred cow?

National Service (NS) came into being after the National Service (Amendment) act was passed in Parliament on 14 March 1967.  NS has often been touted as a “rites of passage” when boys become real men.

However, many feel that amongst national “sacred cows”, this is one that deserves a serious look.

NS a bug-bear for many

For many Singaporean men, NS is a major bugbear as they feel that in the scheme of things, this “patriotic” duty has become too onerous and has even become a disadvantage. The Singaporean man’s life is put on hold for 2 years in the prime of his life ( not to mention the decade of reservist obligations after that). All this time while they are serving their nation, their fairer sex counterparts ( women) and non-Singaporeans are overtaking them in terms of seniority in the universities and at their work-place. Second generation male Permanent Residents (PRs) are in a different predicament but for the sake of simplicity will be treated here together with Singaporean men.

Whether we like to recognise it or not, there are employers who, all things being equal, would prefer an employee who does not have annual reservist obligations.

There is also a special breed of Singaporeans whose chosen careers value youth most eg sportsmen/ arts and culture, and for them, spending 2 years away and not being in touch regularly with their sports or artistic environment is as good as ( or as bad) sounding a death knell for them. Imagine Ian Thorpe or Nadal in uniform for 2 years and you know what I mean.  It is more than just allowing one Joseph Schooling postponement of NS as  there are many Schooling “wannabees” out there in our schools and perhaps out of 100 talented sportsmen, only a handful will eventually emerge to have the potential to be a champion.

It is (in a way) a numbers game.

Pertinent questions that need answers

Before I discuss my proposals, a few questions need to be answered:

1. What is the optimum size and composition of the SAF, taking into consideration Singapore’s geo-political situation and its demographics? Can either or both of SAF’s active and reservist components be smaller than its present configuration?

2.Is each National Service personnel (active and reservist) utilised optimally? Can we say (hand to heart) that the training schedule (barring unforeseen contingencies eg weather ) has been refined to such an extent that any reasonable person  who was to go through the same program would find that the time and effort spent on it as worth the sacrifice  

My proposals:

I postulate that with increased productivity and better planning, a smaller but just as effective SAF can exist without compromising national security:

1.  NS be shortened to 1 year with BMT of 3 months. For the majority of NS conscripts, the remainder of the year will be to equip him with the skills to be an integral part of a effective unit. Better pre-enlistment planning by Mindef will reduce time wastage before and after NS so that he can go to university with the maximum hiatus of one year.

2. NS allowance should be pegged to market rate, perhaps this should commensurate with what a polytechnic graduate can expect to get ie $1500-1800. This puts his economic status at near-parity with his cohort.
The  increase of the allowance to market rate may encourage PR’s who are sitting on the fence to volunteer (first gen PR) or at least deter others from renouncing their PR prior to NS.

3. Those who have been selected ( or volunteered) for Officer Cadet School /senior Non-Commissioned Officer school will need a longer NS liability of 1.5-2 years ( as responsibility is greater)  but will be compensated with market rate allowances of $2300-2800 to better reflect society’s meritocratic values.

4. Courses conducted in the NS should be validated by international accreditation bodies (eg ISO) so that any certification is portable for the servicemen’s future be it in the university or the workfloor. This may even shorten university courses or help in career advancements.

5. Reservist training should be short but efficiently administered (Short and Sharp) so that each year’s training is like a continuation of the previous year’s so that a “Band of brothers” camaraderie can be forged over time. This is possible with good commanders and planning.

Implications for smaller SAF ( ie less bodies in each unit)

Are there implications of having less bodies in the SAF units? Of course there are but these are not necessarily negative.

1. Less bodies will make SAF commanders cognizant of the real world and remind them that every soldier is a valued asset that has a definite cost and that these men should never be viewed as just a digit or just a photo in an ORBAT (Order of Battle ) chart. Each serviceman should thus be trained to be a productive member of a closely knit unit or else the unit will be dysfunctional.

2. Less bodies will mean that servicemen should only concentrate on being a part of an effective SAF to fulfil its primary mission of defending our nation. They should no longer be used as cheap labour for sports events or other national celebrations. If there is only 12 months to train a soldier- he is unlikely to spend 6 months preparing for the next NDP- even if his commander is the officer in charge. 

I am a Singaporean and proud of it. But SAF can be better.

I have done a 2.5 year NS followed by 13 HK and 4 LK reservist in-camps!

But it need not be a case of equal misery.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Changi General Hospital thinks out of box to solve overcrowding ( but I said it first)

Dear Friends

Changi General takes a small step ( but significant one) to try to solve severe overcrowding at the Accident & Emergency Dept ( A&E). ( click here)

It incentivises patient to try to seek treatment at their neighbourhood General Practitioners (GP) first.

If after that the GP still deems them serious enough to seek re-attendance at the A&E, they are accorded a $50 discount.

This is good as:
1. Non-emergency cases will be seen ( more quickly) by their GP's at a lower total cause. ie $30-50 GP fees compared to $100 A & E fees.
Even if re-attended at A & E : total fees will be $80-100 .

2. Non-emergency cases will not clog up the A&E- leaving the remaining ( ie less) emergency cases to be seen by the already over-burdened doctors/nurses.

Most stakeholders will be happier:
1. Non-emergency patient : happy! 2. Emergency patient: happy! 3. GP lagi happy! 4. A&E docs/nurses lagi lagi happy!

Slightly unhappy: if emergency case goes to EXPENSIVE GP who charges $150... then gets referred back to A&E to only get $50 discount... TOTAL BILL: $200 but he will be fast-tracked and does not have to wait with the rest of the crowd... so Not so unhappy!

BTW: CGH copied my idea! Really!

I wrote on this exact topic ( click here)  and this was published in the newspaper's forum pages and I thought it was forgotten... BUT.. no... nothing is ever wasted. I always thought it was feasible!

In life- there are always negative people who will pour cold water on anything new others want to introduce... why rock the boat ( they say)... society is not ready ( they say)... this is Singapore and we do things differently from the rest of the whole wide world ( they say)...

But I say- Huat Ah! Just say and do what you think is right! What is good for your fellow men... and women...

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah!

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Euromoney’s Finance Minister of the Year Tharman Shanmugaratnam would have been PM-to be if not for…

Euromoney’s Finance Minister of the Year Tharman Shanmugaratnam would have been Singapore's PM-to be if not for…

Dear Friends,
I have always known how great an asset Singapore has in Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. The renowned financial magazine Euromoney ( see link)  has just confirmed what many of us already know.

Unlike the new media, including one chappie ( who happened to be a ex-Presidential candidate) who said ,” I am surprised as I find Singapore to be costly, inefficient and wasteful, and the situation has not improved in spite of a lot of money being spent, or given away ” and many others with the usual negative comments about almost anything that others have to say about Singapore, I have always felt that Tharman has done very well ( within the constraints that he operated in).
I have said before ( and I will say it again), that Tharman would have made an excellent PM when the time comes.

However according to past and present government leaders this is unlikely to be.

Former PM Lee Kuan Yew said,

“I am a realist and am inclined to agree with Mr S. Dhanabalan that Chinese Singaporeans are not ready to accept a non-Chinese prime minister….This is the reality and fact of life that we cannot pretend that such mindset does not exist.” ( 1 Dec 2007)

And even more surprisingly to me present PM Lee also has similar sentiments) at Excerpts from ST on 9 Nov 2008.

Non-Chinese PM?

SINGAPORE may have a non-Chinese prime minister one day but that is unlikely to happen any time soon, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, four days after Americans elected their first black president.


1.       Has Tharman done well for us and is his accolade deserved?

2.       Has Singapore matured and gone to First World meritocracy where the best gets to lead?

3.       Can our present group of leaders ever come out of the shadow of the past leader/s?

I know my answers, what are yours?


Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan