Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Hi Friends,

I believe the government is sincere in wanting to prove to Singaporeans that they are valued more than foreigners (PR’s included) for one simple reason.

They sincerely covet your votes every 5 years!

Hence I was adamant that it is a step in the right direction to provide preferential treatment for Singaporeans in healthcare and education.

However, a typical response was like “anonymous” who said,

I feel that there is another angle to look at the issue. Why must we make citizens special by "punishing" PRs in the form of increasing their fees/ reducing their subsidies? Why cant we differentiate citiznes by INCREASING the benefits of citizens, and leaving the PRs untouched? that way, the PRs wont feel too miffed, and there will also be enhanced benefits of becoming a citizen

So, back to the title of this post (which is from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese”. (Can anyone tell me more about this lovely poem?)

What can the government say or do that will convince skeptics like you and myself that it is sincere in “loving us”- sounds so lovey dovey ( ha ha)?

This brings me even further back to my obsession about National Service. Why does it obsess me so much, you ask? It affected my life and the lives of at least half our citizenry directly (and the other half indirectly). It will continue to affect the careers and lives of male Singaporeans annually till they get sick of complaining about it ( which is about 10 years).

We have been conditioned to believe that to do National Service before working or going to Uni is as natural as going to the loo after waking up.

So, since National Service is a patriotic act (or should I say sacrifice) , that only male Singaporeans have the privilege ( ahem ala muffled cough) to participate in, it would be a natural place to start with. (BTW, how is it that permanent residents have to serve in the army of a nation which is not theirs?) Strange.

As Mr. Wang had already very succinctly dealt with this topic in his two posts entitled, Rethinking NS (Part 1) , and Rethinking NS (Part 2), I will not reinvent the wheel.

Please just read these landmark posts on National Service and also do not miss the many gems amongst the 118 comments (wow!) in Part 1 and 52 comments in Part 2.

For a gist of the comments, just sample what Mr. Wang himself said in the comment section, “

Some of my brainstormed ideas which I am still thinking about include

(1) pegging NSFs salaries to market rates of what they could earn outside (eg fresh poly grad's salary);

(2) allowing NSFs to indicate preference for particular vocations (subject of course to SAF operational requirements);

(3) MINDEF pays for life and medical insurance and the cover continues every year until the serviceman is no longer called up for ICT, then he has option to discontinue or continue using his own money;

(4) SMU, NUS, NTU etc to be pushed to consider NS experience as a positive factor in university admission (since sports, music and other CCA are already being considered in the university admissions exercise);

(5) increased income tax rebates for NSmen;

(6) priority admission to primary schools for children of male Singaporean citizens who have done NS (as opposed to once-foreign male Singapore citizens who have not);

(7) exemption from ICT for NSmen who father two children;

(8) assorted little benefits like MINDEF subsidising fees for NSmen who want to join gyms / fitness club;

(9) reworkings of SAF vocational training especially for poorly-educated NSFs such that SAF vocational training can be converted into useful working skills;

(10) option to do university before full-time NS, for selected courses where knowledge gained during studies could be useful in the SAF (like currently for doctors);

(11) essentially, priority in the allocation of various public resources for citizens who have served NS - eg in balloting for COEs; application for HDB flats;

(12) NS defence tax as mentioned by some others earlier; (13) list goes on ....."

Now you know why lawyers make much better politicians than doctors!

I hope policy makers get to read what’s on Mr. Wang’s blogs.

Make NS a worthwhile experience ( or at least a less worthless one). Ensure that it does not become a liability to the life of the average Singaporean. ( I dare not hope that it be an asset)

I will count the other ways that "How do thou love me" another time.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Links: Yawning Bread's How to treat citizens better than foreigners


QueenLilith said...

hi! my name is melania I' m an Italian girl who studied languages at high school..I really love this poem from e. barret browning...it's about her love to her husband who was a writer too...she explains how much she loves him but she also understands that this love has something that will never die, they will love each other forever...
now I don't remember other things about her but I will think about it...if you want you can write me in my blog queenlilith@blogspot.com

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Mel,
Thanks for your help.
You are quick.
I just posted this only a few minutes ago.
I will check out your blog.
Have a nice day


shimure said...

Dear Dr H,

All the above mentioned NS upgrades or suggestions require additional expenditure without any substantial income in monetary form the government.

As such they would not be considered, unless it would mean value or income to the government.

Singapore is run basically like a corporation, Extra cost is not to be incurred without substantial increase in revenue.

Do you suppose the government would give something tangible for the promise of support and confidence which is intangible?

Just my 2 cents worth.

shimure said...

Dear Dr H,

Just to demostrate this, look at the talk of helping the poor.

In order to help the poor, the Government is increasing GST, the cost of fees for foreigners and PRs and also soon increase the cost of hiring top grade ministers.

It is never something for nothing.

Just 2 cents worth.

Dr Oz bloke said...

But Singapore is run more like a company than anything else.

All the measures that Mr Wang suggested involve the government spending MORE money without having MORE money in return revenue or profits.

That is why they would never be taken up.

The other interesting phenomenon is that the point of revelation (or "awakening" if you would call it that) for most Singaporean males to elitism is actually in NS.

That is when the young citizens in their still possibly easily influenced minds get exposed to the full brunt of elitism in Singapore. As a result those who are the elites (Scholars we call them) learn fast and learn well the ways of governing Singapore. While the common man (farmers) also learn the pecking order and become disgruntled.

Why is it such an irony that when citizens serve their nation, they grow either more elitist or disenchanted with the country?

Something is wrong there and nobody will acknowledge that.

family man said...

When the NS was cut down from 2.5 years to 2 years, I am sure a lot of government money was freed up. (how much? no one knows) Cut it by another half a year and I really do not see a need for the increase in GST - and you get many satisfied Singaporeans.....

Anonymous said...

To Dr Oz: why are you so sure that $$$ was freed up when NS was cut? The converse could be true. Do you know about 50% of fire-fighters in sinkapor are ns men. think of the enormous savings for the gahmen thru this conscription scheme...

i'm against ns. playing soldiers is NOT the way in modern warfare, unlike the post-independence days. for this reason (and others), i'm trying hard to get a pr somewhere else...

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Shimure,
I agree that if S'pore Inc. is a for-profit organisation, then it certainly would not pay $1000 when I can pay $200 for the same soldier doing the same job. But in these days of enlightened management, MNC's are going away from just looking at the bottom-line, hence the avoidance of sweatshops and talk of sustainable development etc.
From what anon. below said about fire-fighters being made of NSmen who are paid pittance to do a real man's job, the principle is wrong.
When the NSboy is paid below market rate for 2 years, the loser is the NS Boy's family. He could be out working but is not.
With S'pore's "strong" financial position, it may be time soon to discuss about having a professional armed forces where soldiers are paid market rate.
But I don't think it will come soon, considering the govt has the upper hand in the power equation.

droz: Ya, I remembered the "scholars platoon" when I was an officer cadet. I don't know if they had special treatment ( I guess the do if there are some "white horse" amongst them).

sad man: My opinion is that actually if you seriously just want to teach a guy how to handle the weapon and about how to jell into a cohesive unit, we just need about 1-1 1/2 years. There's more room to cut

anon: You confused sad man's comments with droz's. Anyway I note your comments about firefighters in comments to shimure above.


travailingdoc said...

Hi all,

The recent Israeli- Hertzbollah war starkly pointed out that the modern conventional army is no match against an agile and very mobile enemy who hits and runs, while attacking with armor piercing rudimentary hand carried weaponry.
We here had a day to day TV coverage of the war and we can see the damage done to these huge mammoth tanks, that were laid to waste by the roads.They were effectively neutralized by a much smaller but well disciplined and trained force.
A clumsily weighted down soldier is a sitting duck for snipers.
We have to rethink our defence...
Do away with NS and have a smaller but profesional army instead? Have FTs in the Army ?
Just musing and thinking outside the box.

takchek said...

Dr Huang,

There is not just "scholar platoon", but 'scholar company' - Delta coy in OCS.

Anonymous said...

I am ranting here. Now the Govt will increase our CPF (employer's portion) to soften the blow of the GST hikes. Yippee. But the group that is supposed to be helped (lower income) will suffer most in the end when they have spent all their goodies and vouchers that comes along with the GST hikes. I know my post if out of point here- but just feel like ranting.

40+ Singaporean said...

Dr H,

Well thought out and written entry.

Our Singapore government generally do not believe in carrot but only stick in implementing policies. That is why Singapore is a 'fine' city, as some printed T-shirts said. And it is true.

No where is it more true than in the army? Your reward, if any, is no punishment. That's the mentality.

I hope to see the day when this mentality change but I doubt it will be in my life time. Sigh!

I agree that shortening the NS will save the country money. NS is pure cost and no revenue, even if some NS personnels are used as fire-fighters or to augment the police force. The number of soldiers outnumber the total number in these 2 groups, without a doubt.

While Shimure is right that your suggestions involved more spending to give benefits to those who have served NS, I think it can be partially met by reduction in cost saved from shortening NS. I am of the opinion that having the NS soldiers serve 1.5 years vs 2 years make little, if any difference to their ability to perform as a soldier, if called upon.

I do agree with Shimure that Singapore is run more like a corporation. However, even in corporations, there are certain costs which are hygiene matters that a corporation will incur even if there is no direct, corresponding monetary returns. A country should have more such considerations, because there are certain services called public services, that need to be provided. If citizens are expected to be loyal to the country, there must be something more in it than a place to make a living.

Anonymous said...

When the GST was raised to 7% and the mitigating action was "government fees would be frozen for the next one year", I thought that was a robber robbing me of $10 and giving me $1 back for the bus ride home and expecting me to be thankful for his generosity.