Major steps to enhance and reinforce national service

Sweeping changes which will enhance national service (NS) and reinforce it as a key pillar of the nation's security will be tabled in Parliament next week.

If passed, operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) need to notify the authorities of their overseas trips only if they are longer than 14 days.

They will also have up to twice the current timeframe to pass their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and complete remedial training.

They will receive more generous monetary rewards for their service, including up to $6,000 more in Central Provident Fund top-ups, which currently stand at $9,000, and better insurance coverage.

For the first time, the concept of NS will be broadened to include women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens who are not liable for NS.

They can join the newly formed Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, when it enlists its first batch of volunteers in the middle of next year.

These are among the 30 recommendations that have been made by the Committee to Strengthen NS, a high-ranking panel formed a year ago to think of ways to better recognise NSmen and boost public buy-in for the conscription scheme that started 47 years ago. More than 40,000 people were consulted.

Announcing these proposals, which will be implemented within the next two years if approved, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads the committee, said yesterday that they will help ensure NS remains relevant and responsive to a new generation of servicemen with "no direct memories of our early struggles".

Many of the committee's recommendations centre on a more efficiently run national service system, such as ensuring there will be better matching of skills and expertise to vocations for full-time national servicemen.

More than 1,300 new regulars will also be hired to improve the training of enlistees.

Other recommendations are aimed at working NSmen.

For instance, servicemen are currently required to pass the IPPT within nine months, or else, undergo 20 remedial training sessions in army camps within three months. The proposals give them more time to do both, possibly in the comfort of commercial gyms.

Dr Ng reiterated, however, that these benefits "must never dilute the spirit of service".

"NS recognition benefits must reflect the correct values of duty, honour and country. And they must be given and received in this spirit."

jermync@sph.com.sg