Wednesday, September 1, 2010
NSRA: How much is enough?
If you receive a gift with the price tag still stuck on it, there’s a high chance that knowing the gift’s dollar value will cloud your attitude towards your well-wisher.
A highly priced item will probably earn the well-wisher much gratitude whereas a pitifully small number (say $1.99?) could poison even the best friendships. Such is the reality of human nature.
Stretch this analogy to the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA) and you will begin to understand why Singaporeans are jumping to all sorts of conclusions about this “token” for sons of Singapore.
The award, announced by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, is intended “to provide sustained recognition for Singapore citizens who serve National Service (NS)”.
Had the NSRA been a medal, that intention might have been achieved handsomely. And if the medal was something well-designed, it might even be treasured by Operationally-Ready NSmen. During the Second World War, many German soldiers fought and died for the right to wear the Iron Cross because of its prestige value. The medal was enhanced by simple devices such as Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds and soldiers gave their best to elevate themselves from Iron Cross (Second Class) to the first class honours list.
Alas, the NSRA is a monetary award. Its dollar value was highlighted by the mainstream media (MSM) in articles on the new award. Can you blame citizens for missing the forest for the trees and making mental calculations of how much their NS liability is worth?
As forecast in an earlier post, it is precisely this dollar value that has provided ample ammunition for nay-sayers, critics and detractors. And the firing continues unabated. Indeed, if NSmen and Singaporeans could display similar tenacity and creativity when this city-state is under attack, the SAF would be hard to beat.
The system’s cause was not helped by the fact that for more than one-and-a-half days, details on the NSRA were unavailable. In the Internet age where opinions change by nanoseconds, that delay gave netizens a free run of the house.
Put in military terms, the initiative was lost till the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) press conference on Tuesday shed light on the award. By then, damage had been done.
Sunday’s bombshell from PM Lee ought to have been matched by a holding statement of sorts that gave Singaporeans some idea when details would be revealed. Even a simple line such as “Wait for MINDEF to tell you more on Tuesday” would have sufficed to stave off critics.
Instead, we had that teaser of an announcement which the MSM morphed into a $9,000 carrot. Even the platitudes mouthed by hand-picked NSmen to beef up newspaper articles couldn’t venture beyond the obvious. Shallow and no-brainer comments celebrating the windfall added to the ire of Singaporeans who, quite naturally, began to equate the $9,000 award to the price of NS. Who wouldn’t welcome more for their years of service?
Apart from wresting the initiative with a better designed defence information management (DIM) plan, I would have matched this with more persuasive statements on the higher intent of the NSRA.
Bald statements that the offspring of New Citizens will do their part cut no ice with NSFs, NSmen and sons of Singapore who stood on guard in the First Generation and Second Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
It would have helped the NSRA’s cause immensely if hard numbers were added to backstop puff statements.
Are we’re ploughing new ground with theories about how New Citizens (aka foreign talent) will warm towards NS? Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve walked this road before.
I would love to know how many Hong Kong families who migrated to Singapore before the 1997 handover have stayed with us till today. Would it be too much for the system to tell us how many of these ex-HK families have sent their sons through NS? It’s been a good 13 years since 1997. Surely more than a handful have hit the enlistment age?
If the enlistment numbers are strong, then it strengthens the case.
If the numbers are pitiful, then use this fact to address Singaporeans’ fears, concerns and misgivings that the FTs are taking us all for a ride.
If New Citizens are needed for sustained growth and national resilience as birthrates turn south, then tell Singaporeans how the attitudes of new citizens towards national defence will be strengthened. Hopefully, the likes of the unsurpassed MINDEF Public Affairs Directorate would have a reassuring war plan on how this should be done.
More than ever before, defence issues look likely to be a hot topic at the coming General Election.
But while we rant and rave, let’s not give the schemers overseas a chance to catch us blindsided.
Posted by David Boey at 6:53 PM