Reflections on the "No NS Deferment" saga
Last week, Mindef has the final say on this issue by rejecting the deferment appeal of Ike. A lot has already been discussed on this topic, in forums, newspapers and blogs and seriously, i feel that all the views for and against the deferment are valid to a certain extent and there is really no perfect solution to this matter.
I am for the deferment of Ike but i can't help but feel that our opinions doesn't matter in the larger scheme of things. Naturally, Mindef made the "right" decision of rejecting the deferment on the basis of equality for all NS eligible males, otherwise the floodgates will be open and it will be embroiled in greater controversy. This is also an important decision where troop morale is concerned, so they have made their call.
Nevertheless, has the NS system been fair all along or will it be fair in the future with this decision? I don't think so. In the good old days, Mindef granted deferments to PSC scholars, medical students and certain sportsmen so long as the letters of recommendations are strong enough. So the deferment of those people then was fair while now a budding musician's case is deemed to be important enough to shake the foundations of the institution?
If Melvyn Tan's case was not reported last year and subsequently received the bad press, will Mindef have reviewed its deferment policy and now rejected Ike's case? Isn't this more of a wayang (for show) to the people to show that Mindef is impartial? I still remeber the saying 'you can do anything in NS, just don't get caught'. Similarly, inequalities in the system will be allowed to continue so long as nobody make noise. The sacrifice of Ike's case is more of an appeasement to the outcry last year than Mindef's desire to be impartial to all NS men.
People who call for all to suffer, sorry serve, is not really a call for loyalty (though a small number may be). It is more a communist thinking, where everybody must be equal, regardless of circumstances. If the worry is that Ike may not come back to serve, then how about the scholars who were granted the privilege? The government invested resources in these "future leaders" but it cannot even control the number of bond-breakers (except to publicise their names and embarassing them), how can they control the scholars who chose not to come back and serve their NS? They have seen greener pastures and a brighter future outside of Singapore and they will be foolhardy to come back here and waste the 2 years. That is so much for equality.
By the way, I think it is better if those scholars who do not want to come back and serve to stay put; if they come back, they are bound to be high-ranking officers and one can only imagine the consequences of these scholars leading the troops into the battlefield. Fighting on the battlefield is a matter of life and death and entire troops can perish based on the character of the leaders. If you do not have the passion, no amount of legislation, arm-twisting or monetary rewards will save the nation. No point forcing people to serve or rejecting deferments, serving the country is based on integrity, trust and a sense of belonging. If there is distrust now, then it is also not safe to trust the citizens on the battlefield.
If Mindef is so intent on ensuring that all of us have a more or less equal footing in terms of education, then make sure NOBODY gets deferment, certainly not making leeway according to the nation's needs. We already have enough of double standards ( i am not even going to elaborate about the white horse system within NS, that will be for another day). All of us have parents who are concerned about us and when parents entrust their kids to Mindef, they expect their kids to be treated equally (regardless of whether you are a prince or peasant) and to return safely from the training. No special treatment or privileges should be granted to anybody.
According to Mindef's latest statements, they will make concessions only for very exceptional cases. Well, Mindef has claimed the moral high ground of equality but the people will be scrutinising even harder from now on, and we will be keen to know who gets the next deferment and how special is that person going to be.