Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Singaporean Story in 48 words

Time passes, the family tree branches and roots to Singapore deepen.

Singapore was first a secure place for my Grandfather to nurture his family; later an embracing new home for my father; now a part of me, anchored by gratitude and dreams.

And my -Singaporean- story further unfolds...

This is my story, what's yours ?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Increasing proportion of commanders isn't the best way to meet higher aspirations of NSFs'

RECENTLY, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said his ministry was open to the idea of letting more full-time national servicemen (NSFs) become commanders, to better match their aspirations ("More NSFs may get to become commanders"; July 1).

The aspirations of NSFs have certainly grown over time. Today's NSFs are more educated and cosmopolitan; they expect a greater degree of empowerment in the roles they discharge, and they seek meaning and purpose in their undertakings.

Being in a command position certainly offers one more significant responsibilities, and increased influence and recognition.

But it is debatable whether increasing the proportion of commanders is the best way to satisfy the NSFs' higher aspirations.

It is helpful to ask: Is the empowerment associated with command positions a result of the present low ratio of commanders to non-commanders, or a product of the training and the commensurate trust placed on commanders?

If it is the former, then an uptick in command positions might not have the intended effect. If it is the latter, then the proposal might be effective.

Nonetheless, concerns such as having a top-heavy set-up and the concomitant difficulty in meeting increased expectations must be thoroughly thought through.

Also, there is a limit to how many commanders can be present in the force.

Getting the balance of commanders and non-commanders right is of critical importance. Training and empowering non-commanders to make more significant contributions in their present roles might be a better solution.

Rather than being seen as followers, they should be treated as "thinking soldiers" and given increased responsibilities.

Also, more flexibility could be built into the allowance system to reward those who contribute more.

Currently, national service allowance is pegged to one's rank and combat status. Actual performance is not taken into account. Including a discretionary performance component might spur non-commanders to make more significant contributions.

* PS: Note this article was carried by the Straits Times' Forum on 12-07-2013. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fortifying Our Commitment to Serve and Defend

Photo Credit : MINDEF Gallery
Happy SAF day everyone ! A week back, I attended the first focus group discussion held at Depot Road Camp by the Committee to Strengthen National Service.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was enriching to sit alongside people who were at different stages of their NS cycle and listen to their thoughts. It added much needed perspective.

There is also this keen sense of community one feels when attending such a group discussion. It is something emotional; something visceral- yet it is real ! You come to the session alongside Singaporeans who were strangers to you. You come out of it leaving behind new friends with whom you could connect on many fronts. Isn't that what a community is about ? People bound together by common experiences and similar aspirations. I would highly recommend people to sign up for the focus group discussions. The following is the link to sign up for it - There are a few sessions coming up soon.

While the session was thoroughly enjoyable, one my criticisms of it as well as OSC in general itself is that the conduct of the sessions doesn't allow for ideas to build up across sessions. It is not possible for ideas to surface, get challenged and refined thoroughly. The emphasis is on breadth- not depth.

Yes, there is horizontal sharing between participants in a particular session but after that ideas get channeled vertically to the Government. There is no horizontal sharing across participants from various sessions. This greatly stifles the depth of the conversation and reduces the richness of it. That’s why having an E-Hansard ,as suggested by Arun Mahizan,might come in handy to collect and transmit the ideas across sessions. It will engage those who aren't physically able to attend the session as well. 

Guiding Principles in formulating ideas to strengthen NS
Photo Credit : MINDEF Gallery

For now, the onus is on us to sustain the discussion. Here’s my list of guiding principles in deriving suggestions to strengthen National Service.

1) National Service because of its mandatory nature, will always be a burden to most servicemen. But that doesn't mean it cannot be made more meaningful and less painful a sacrifice. If the right steps are implemented to achieve the above-mentioned objectives, they would not dilute national service nor its effectiveness. Instead they would fortify the support of NS among servicemen and the wider society.

2) National Service, as an institution, doesn't exist in a vacuum. National Service commitments affect many aspects of one’s life such as one's education, career and family. Hence when considering how NS can be strengthened we should examine how NS commitments' interactions with these various domains as well and factor their effects when formulating ideas.

3) Incentives (be in monetary or not) given to servicemen are unlikely to dilute the sacrosanctness of National Service unless they are so overwhelmingly attractive that people see it as beneficial to serve NS- despite the attendant undesirability and risks-  so as to secure them. We are clearly not on the verge of crossing the tipping point and it is unlikely that we will cross the line. Ultimately, most people will serve because they have to or because see the meaning in it and not because it pays to serve NS. Incentives cannot be construed to be carrots dangled to incentivise people to step up to serve; rather, they are pats on the back to encourage servicemen to keep going.  

Possible Ideas to Strengthen NS

Photo Credit : MINDEF Gallery
1) Examine whether the current length of full time NS is necessary.

Most people will agree that there were so many lengthy,free pockets of time during their NSF days. There are the days where you could be in Smart 4 and trudge around for your meals at the cook house and stare into space,wondering what you could have been doing but can’t because you are in camp. We need to urgently examine whether it is possible to make training more efficient without compromising our operational readiness.

If it is not feasible to make training more compact, then we need to look into how servicemen can be better engaged to make productive use of the time they spend not training in camp. Frittering time away is not an option.

2) Tertiary institutions should have multiple entry points to ensure smoother transition for servicemen.

Many servicemen now move on to tertiary institutions for further education. While NS obligations end at different periods, most institutions don’t have multiple entry points to cater for them. This leads to a longer wait for servicemen wanting to continue their education; this also means their life plans get shifted downstream. Most of my friends will have to wait close to 8 months before they commence their university studies. Tertiary institutions could consider being more flexible with their entry points.This would ensure that NS is less of a speed bump to young Singaporean males.

3) Recognize and reward contribution

Currently, the remuneration of servicemen is pegged to their rank and vocation. But it is widely recognized, that servicemen in the same vocation and rank often have varying workloads. Also, the level of effort put in by servicemen differs significantly. I would suggest that more flexibility be built into the remuneration scheme to financially reward those who contribute more.

Also, currently when one ORDs, there’s an assessment of one’s performance. It might be more constructive if commanders can give their assessment more frequently along the way. This would enable the servicemen to pause, reflect on their performance and be conscientious of how they spend their time during national service. Possibly this appraisal could be tied to incentives as well.


National Service is an important institution in Singapore. The fact remains that it should and it will stay. In what ways do you think we can strengthen National Service ? Chip in your ideas; for this is how we make this discussion on Singapore - OUR Singapore Conversation.