Green light for changes to national service

SINGAPORE - A raft of measures aimed at increasing perks and cutting red tape for national servicemen has been accepted by the Government, with one taking effect next month.

By July, they will no longer need to notify the Defence and Home Affairs ministries if they are going overseas for fewer than 14 days. Previously, they had to make the notification and provide a destination and contact number for any trip longer than 24 hours.

And by the year end, they will get more money credited into their Medisave accounts to defray medical costs. A total of $6,000 will be disbursed in three tranches during their NS training cycle.

This is on top of the $9,000 that the Government agreed to give servicemen in 2010 as a recognition award for their NS.

In another big change, polytechnic students will have a shorter wait before being drafted. From next year, they will be enlisted in May and August, a month earlier than before. Some 11,000 such students will benefit from this each year. The waiting time of up to four months after graduation has long been a bugbear for students.

These are some of the 30 recommendations by the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) that were given the green light yesterday.

Set up last May, the CSNS, comprising ministers and military top brass, canvassed views from more than 40,000 people via independent surveys, focus group discussions, town hall meetings and Web chats for over a year. It submitted its recommendations to the Government last week.

In accepting them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "NS is essential for Singapore's progress and prosperity. It protects us from external threats, keeps our homes and families safe and builds lifelong memories and friendships. Our national servicemen serve with pride and honour, and have performed valuable service to Singapore. I express our deep appreciation to all our national servicemen."

He added that "these proposals will strengthen NS for future generations and ensure the defence, safety and security of Singapore".

The CSNS noted earlier that changes had to be made to cater to a new generation of servicemen who had no experience of Singapore's early struggles, and needed different forms of motivation.

Implementing the changes calls for $4.5 billion to be pumped into defence spending over the next decade. Half will go to benefits and schemes to recognise and support servicemen, and the rest to improving military training.

Other changes include setting up a volunteer corps in the Singapore Armed Forces that includes women and permanent residents. It could see its first intake by next year.

Committee member Allan Lim said it had taken a long-term view in its considerations, and that the benefits were fair. "We agreed it's better that we spend the money now, to ensure that our defence is strong in time to come," he said.

Parent Ivy Tan, 52, who works in finance, supports the changes but hopes that her son can benefit from a shorter wait between the completion of NS and the start of his university education - an area the committee is looking at.

This article was first published on June 11, 2014.
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