Easing red tape, cutting wait time

For years, Singapore's citizen soldiers have expressed concern about the impact their national service commitments had on their lives. Now, the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) wants to ease some of this burden by relaxing administrative requirements and cutting back on waiting time.

Nine out of 10 overseas trips taken by operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) will no longer need to be reported to Mindef under a new proposal that requires such reporting only if the trip exceeds 14 days.

Currently, NSmen who are overseas for more than 24 hours need to notify Mindef through various means, including SMS and an online website.

"This will reduce inconvenience to NSmen, while still providing Mindef and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with information on NSmen who are overseas for longer periods, which is important for manpower and operational training," said the committee in its report.

Another proposal would give less physically fit NSmen more time to get in shape, and more flexibility in achieving it.

They should be required to pass their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) within 12 months, instead of the current nine, recommended the CSNS.

Currently, those who fail the test have to attend 20 remedial training sessions packed into a period of three months, which many servicemen noted was too short a time period to improve; it also wrecked their daily schedules.

Now, the committee is recommending that the 20 remedial training sessions be spread over 12 months. For further flexibility, the sessions can be done in commercial or Safra gyms instead of at four army camps islandwide.

The moves will benefit some 116,000 NSmen, who have to take their IPPT every year. More details will be announced in July.

Financial analyst Tan Khai Yang, 36, cheered the moves, saying: "If the centres are near the CBD and town areas, we can wrap up work quickly and head over for training."

The CSNS also noted that many young Singaporean males who had finished their post-secondary studies were waiting too long to be enlisted into full-time national service. Currently, about 45 per cent of the men wait four months to be enlisted while 55 per cent wait up to eight months.

It is proposing that enlistment dates be tweaked to ensure that 90 per cent of NS-bound men are enlisted within four months of completing post-secondary studies. The final 10 per cent should be enlisted within six months.

Republic Polytechnic student Li Wenjie, 21, who is facing a wait of up to five months after he graduates next April, cheered this. "The earlier you go in, the earlier you get to come out. I don't want to wait too long," he said.

After NS, there is another wait of up to eight months to enter a local tertiary institution, noted the committee. It recommended that Mindef and MHA work with universities and tertiary institutions here to reduce this as well.

JERMYN CHOW

LEE JIANXUAN