Friday, 5 August 2011

NS deferments

Mindef: Disruption for medical course applied uniformly
Aug 5, 2011, The Straits Times Forum

WE REFER to Ms Lim Guay Cheng's letter on Tuesday ('Mindef should spell out NS deferment criteria').

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) grants disruption for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to obtain their medical degrees, as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has operational needs for doctors.

This is a long-standing policy and uniformly applied for all servicemen who meet the criteria.

They are disrupted just before their university term begins and serve out their remaining national service (NS) liabilities soon after completion of their medical courses. Currently, about 120 NSFs are disrupted every year to study medicine locally.

Prior to 1992, disruptions were also allowed for NSFs to obtain medical degrees in approved overseas universities.

Our records show that 86 such disruptions have been granted. The length of disruption varied depending on the time taken to complete the medical studies. This was about five to six years for medical courses in countries such as Britain and Australia.

Longer periods were granted for those admitted to universities in the United States, where medicine is a graduate course. Medical students there are required to complete a pre-medical component for a general undergraduate degree before being accepted for the Doctor of Medicine course proper.

Upon their return to the SAF, medical graduates are deployed according to the needs of the SAF and the qualifications of the NSF.

From 1992, Mindef stopped disruption for overseas medical studies as SAF's needs for doctors could be fully met by local graduates.

While we disrupt all NSFs who qualify to obtain medical degrees to serve SAF's needs as doctors, Mindef also allows deferment of individuals with exceptional talents to pursue their own fields of interest before they enlist.

However, such deferments are decided on the merits of each case and have been rarely approved.

We thank Ms Lim for the opportunity to clarify our policy of disruption and deferment for NSFs.

Colonel Desmond Tan
Director, Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence

To rein in white horses ...
by David Boey Meng-Whye, 5 Aug, 2011

When a general leading the Army has the same surname, and Boey is not very common, you can guess my full-time National Service (NS) was dotted with questions about my family background.

Moreover, my father's name has a "Tak", like the then Deputy Chief of General Staff (Army). If I got a dollar every time I was asked if Brigadier-General Boey Tak Hap was a relative, I'd have left NS with a chunk of change.

The chatter now is about presidential hopeful Tony Tan and his son's NS stint, rekindling the issue of white horses in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), always explosive in a city-state where NS is compulsory and the experience not always positive.

White horse debates damage the NS system and commitment to defence when netizens allege abuses of power involving a son of some - invariably anonymous - rich man, minister, MP. In most cases, these Internet discussants choose to also remain nameless. There is no way for officialdom to verify or debunk hearsay. Allegations are left hanging, urban myths are born.

For sure, our NS system is not fault-free. From personal experience, the reality of group dynamics in the Ministry of Defence/SAF is that people want to know who sits on the upper branches of one's family tree, so they can polish the right apples. We should never desensitise ourselves to such theatrics nor condone it.

Yet, a family of heartlanders have done very well in the SAF today. It speaks of their ability that three boys who grew up in a HDB flat rose to the top of their respective services - command appointments even the Lee brothers did not attain. This is no fluke. A Singaporean child has better prospects at raising his/her status provided he/she has the commitment and ability to chase his/her dream. Many from humble backgrounds have done so.

So while Internet chatter on white horses are sobering to read, the real-world situation is hardly dire. Everyone is entitled to complain about life's woes. If venting helps create a better society by rooting out individuals who push their way around or buy favours - odds are they do exist - then fire away.

But what we see mostly are anonymous allegations that achieve nothing but chip away at fault lines in society and cause collateral damage to a system which, despite shortcomings, has kept Singapore safe.

MINDEF/SAF will face the white horse issue time and again, and no PR trick can hedge against people who rail against the system. Let every cynical comment be a reminder that NSFs must never be taken for granted.

The best defence is a transparent system which can explain to, if not convince, heartlanders that NS is fair and equitable to all, regardless of family background.

David Boey was formerly The Straits Times defence correspondent. The full version of this article is at

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