Malaysia has scrapped its controversial 14-year-old national service (NS) programme, saying it had failed to create more patriotic and civic-minded youth, amid a tightening of government spending.
Also abolished yesterday was the National Civics Bureau (BTN), whose training programmes had been under scrutiny for the purported racist teachings of the previous Umno-led Barisan Nasional government.
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman said the decision to scrap the two programmes was made at two previous Cabinet meetings. Staff members and resources will be absorbed by other ministries.
"The NS and BTN will be replaced with new programmes that can build future youth that have vision and strong personal character," he told reporters at the Parliament lobby.
Speaking of NS, he said the new programme, which would be managed by the youth and sports ministry, will involve a restructuring of functions, positions and allocation of finances and assets.
NS was introduced in February 2004 amid worries then over racial polarisation and lack of patriotism among Malaysia's youth.
Between 2004 and 2016, participation was mandatory for boys and girls aged 18 who were randomly selected to spend three months in remote purpose-built camps that were often referred to as summer camps. Since 2016, however, those who took part were volunteers and stayed for just two months.
The scheme has been criticised for its high budget, with occasional reports of food poisoning and sexual assault. At least 23 young people were killed in accidents and by diseases during their NS stints.
Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu told Parliament earlier this month that of the RM8 billion (S$2.7 billion) spent on the NS programme, 43 per cent went to the rental of the remote camps. He did not give a time frame for the expenditure. Former premier Najib Razak suspended NS training in 2015 to save RM400 million for the year.
The Pakatan Harapan alliance promised in its election manifesto to abolish NS, claiming it was wasteful and had failed to meet its objectives.
Part of the NS training included attending courses organised by BTN.
The bureau began as a youth research unit in 1974 under the youth ministry, but was re-established as a unit in the Prime Minister's Department in 1981.