A burden is defined as a heavy weight that is difficult to carry. It is a burden when a task is made compulsory; it is not a burden when it is performed voluntarily. Similarly, it is a burden to pay taxes. Like taxes, compulsory military service may be necessary, but it is still a burden anyway.
Any burden has to be shouldered fairly and equally by all parties who benefit from the outcome. It should not be shouldered only by only a segment of the population (i.e. male citizens) while other segments (i.e. females and non-citizens) are exempted. The burden becomes heavier when the burdened people (who are set back by two years or more) have to compete against the exempted people for the same jobs.
The burden can be lightened by reducing the period of compulsory military service or by giving the NS men an adequate pay, allowance or grant (call it what you will) for the duration that they have spent on National Service. Alternatively, the exempted parties can be required to carry out non-combat or community service for the same duration.
The disadvantage suffered by our male citizens have been aggravated in recent years through the large influx of foreign workers and professionals, who are allowed to work in Singapore to compete against them.
National defence is important for the security and prosperity of Singapore. This responsibility has to be shared fairly by all residents. By imposing this responsibility on only on some people and putting them at a disadvantage compared with other people, we face the risk that the people whom we rely to defend our nation will not carry out their duty (due to their feeling of injustice) at the time of need.
A recent survey carried out by me among people who had completed National Service indicated that 72% would not volunteer for this duty, 91% were unhappy with the current arrangement and that 57% would not fight to defend Singapore at the time of war. This are worrying findings, even though the survey may not reflect a representative sample.
I have been writing on this matter for more than twenty years. I have asked for the burden of National Service to be shared more equally or fairly. My suggestions had been rebutted and ignored. I will continue to voice them. I hope that they will be heard and heeded one day.
Tan Kin Lian