Separate allegations of molest and an apparently racially-motivated clash have emerged from a National Service (NS) camp in Chini, Pekan, near Kuantan in Pahang.
NS plan a spooking failure?
|KUALA LUMPUR – After five years, the national service (NS) training camps across the country continue to be spooked by ugly and tragic incidents of sexual molest, physical fights, food poisoning, sudden deaths and drowning.
Two recent incidents at the Cini training camp, near Kuantan in Pahang, have provided another scoring point for the Opposition’s credible call for the nation’s conscripted training programme to be scrapped.
On June 23, a female trainee was allegedly molested by more than 20 male trainees at night when the victim was trying to make a call at a phone booth within the camp site.
Four days later, a fight believed to be racially motivated took place at the camp’s canteen between two groups of trainees.
Incidents such as these are not new. In 2004, a trainee was raped at the Merang camp in Setiu, Terengganu. There had also been reported cases of indiscipline over the years.
Over the past two decades, the nation has witnessed an increasing racial polarisation among university students. It was under such a scenario that the ‘Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (PLKN)’ or National Service Training Programme was proposed in late 2001 and implemented in December 2003.
The original proposal was subjected to review and had innovatively been changed in terms of training duration; shortening from the initial idea of a two-year period to an eventual three-month term.
Deserters and draft dodgers are subjected to punishment of a fine of up to but not exceeding RM3,000 and/or up to six months jail, a penalty the Opposition parties have described as an instrument of injustice.
The training modules of physical, nation-building, character-building and community service to match the objectives of developing a patriotic, active, intelligent and confident younger generation have, so far, been just an academic exercise.
For this, the Government had spent some RM2.37bil to finance the NS training since launching it in 2004.
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, who disclosed the Cini incidents claimed the officials concerned were either playing down the seriousness of the incidents or trying to sweep them under the carpet.
“There should be a survey to ascertain whether the NS is self-defeating or whether it is achieving or increasing national unity,” she said, citing the physical brawl at the camp as an example.
A parent from Kelantan (name withheld) wrote in 2004 on her daughter being called for NS training: “My worry is how safe my daughter will be, especially when I read there are not enough trainers.
“I try not to be negative but my mind wonders about young girls in the midst of young energetic teenage boys who might (or might not) be naughty or unscrupulous.”
The Auditor-General’s Report as at December 2007 stated that three people have been charged while 3,856 cases were under investigation. Some 751 other cases were referred to the deputy public prosecutor for charges to be preferred.
Some critics of the NS training have described it as “an icon of the Barisan Nasional’s failed education system.”
While the young generation has been forced to join a training programme for three months to bridge racial integration, their 11-year education from primary to secondary level has failed to achieve this.
Many have criticised the costly project and suspected a hidden agenda to influence the younger generation into supporting the Barisan.
NS a success or failure?
With the benefit of hindsight, the print looked good on paper but it started in 2004 with a bad omen. Besides being ill-conceived, it faced a host of logistics and transportation problems, allegedly badly run training camps and a shortage of qualified trainers, among other difficulties.
The programme started with public confusion related to the specific criterion and procedures to seek deferment by selected students (on the training programme). These were later determined and streamlined.
There was also havoc caused by poor coordination between the NS Department, the Education Ministry and private colleges on the national service call-up, even though it was done through the computerisation process.
Within months following the implementation, trainees were reported lost in a jungle and the first rape case happened in Trengganu in February 2004.
There were also incidents of bullying by camp commandants and officers and claims of poor management.
Between 2004 and 2008, sporadic serious incidents and accidents, including death of trainees, began to filter to the press.
Yet there was no barometer to professionally gauge the success of the conscripted NS in terms of national unity among trainees except propaganda in guise of a public relations exercise to rally the ‘feel-good” experiences in the camps.
Should NS be scrapped?
Batu MP Tian Chua thinks so. “In the first four years, there had been at least 10 deaths at the training camps,” he said.
As at June last year, there were 17 deaths. Twelve were reported to have died in the camps and five others during breaks or within days of completing the training.
Critics and opposing parties have blamed the Government and related organisers for lack of proper living amenities and improvements at some training camps.
Other issues included improper diet and hygiene, personal safety, discipline of trainees and trainers besides the need to pay particular attention to those with special medical needs.
Allegations have also been directed at the government for nurturing “beneficiaries” including camp operators and NS contractors in the supply of food and logistic support.
While the Government maintains the moral high ground to continue the training program, it will be on shaky ground to peddle its continuation at the next general elections.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 02 July 2009 20:29|