Sunday, 17 February 2013

Appreciation for those who serve NS

Defence Ministry looking into ways to show it's worthwhile to defend Singapore
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2013

THE Defence Ministry is looking into ways that will make Singaporeans who serve national service (NS) feel appreciated and that it is worthwhile defending their country.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the ongoing efforts undertaken by his ministry and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) also include coming up with tangible benefits for those who have or are serving their NS stints.

He said the Population White Paper was useful in understanding what Singaporeans want.

But one important message he thought was how Singaporeans want a Singapore core, which he said must be "what Total Defence is about".

"We are protecting Singapore for Singaporeans. We are building Singapore for Singaporeans. And if Singaporeans do not feel the benefit, then they are really going to ask what I am doing it for."

He added that his ministry has "heard Singaporeans loud and clear" and wants to "respond to that in positive ways over the course of the next few months".

Dr Ng's comments yesterday also came in the wake of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair's recent proposal to levy an annual national defence tax on permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners.

Currently, all male Singapore citizens and second-generation PRs around the age of 18 are liable for two years of national service (NS), unless they are exempted.

When asked if Mr Nair's proposal is workable, Dr Ng repeated a point that he first raised in an interview with the media last year.

Dr Ng added: "It is a very clear message. Because in our system, if you do not fulfil your NS liabilities, you cannot just pay a fine. The penalties are very severe, and it is way beyond monetary penalties."

Dr Ng was speaking to reporters after he launched this year's Total Defence campaign, taglined "Will you stand with me?"

Even as he kickstarted the campaign at Republic Polytechnic yesterday, he admitted that it is tough to maintain the campaign every year to "sell the message of Total Defence".

"But when these crises hit us, they remind us that doing this every year is vital, and that Singaporeans have demonstrated that they will stand together."

He was referring to the recent events such as the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic and the 2008 global financial crunch. Total Defence, said Dr Ng, "swung into action" in each instance.

He gave examples of what doctors, nurses and grassroots leaders did to help different groups during the Sars epidemic, which happened 10 years ago.

Whether it was the Government instituting harsh quarantine measures or shorter work weeks, Singaporeans "gave wholehearted support to the difficult measures that were needed to deal with these crises... Individuals made sacrifices so that all could benefit".

"The message was in Total Defence, no Singaporean stands alone because we either stand together or fall together. And we chose to stand together."

Mr Ng also presented prizes to the winners of N.E.mation, an inter-school contest to produce animation clips on the Total Defence theme.

Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School's entry beat 631 others to the top prize - a trip to the Dreamworks animation studio in the United States.

Total Defence Day takes place on Feb 15 every year to mark the day Singapore fell to the Japanese during World War II in 1942.

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