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National service or national slaughter?


I HOPE everyone has had a wonderful holiday. I wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Please forgive my transgressions as I offer forgiveness, too.

While we’re all still probably feasting on Aidilfitri specialties, I’m sure Jane Lim’s family is not exactly in a celebratory mood. If you missed the news on 23 Sept 2008, Jane’s family is adamant about not sending her to national service camp because their son, Ricky, died nine days after completing his three-month national service on 6 Sept.

According to Ricky’s parents, their son had complained about the camp’s hygiene and yellowish water supply.

National Service Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil has said the department has no authority to exempt 17-year-old Jane from national service because of her brother’s untimely death.

Right to worry

But parents do have a right to worry about their children’s security within the national service programme, especially since the programme has not been without incident since its inception four years ago.

For example, on 28 Feb 2004, a 17-year-old female trainee was reportedly raped in a car by one of the trainers from Merang Camp in Setiu.

Never mind war — our National Service trainees are dying at
camp (© Jafaris Mustafa /Dreamstime)
There have also been four incidents of mass food poisoning in three separate camps over the years. In 2005, in the Port Dickson camp, trainees and instructors, numbering 60, were afflicted with food poisoning. On 30 Dec 2007, trainees in a camp in Penang also suffered from food poisoning.

In the most recent case, Kem Barracuda in Terengganu reported that nine trainees had fallen ill due to food poisoning on 23 May 2008. Six days later, the number had grown to 67 people from the same camp.

Other cases, reported in the media, are as follows:

11 May 2008: Too Hui Mun, 18, complained of stomach difficulties that turned out to be caused by a colon infection. She’s the 16th person to perish during National Service training.

3 Sept 2007: Mohamad Rafi Ameer, 18, had a fever and a swollen leg after falling during his training stint. An International Herald Tribune report suggests negligence on the part of camp supervisors.

18 Jan 2007: Iliameera Azlan, 17, died due to breathing difficulties. According to Bernama: “Iliameera reportedly did not wake up at 5.30am as required, and when found at 6.30am having breathing difficulty, the instructor of the camp rushed her to the hospital. She is believed to have died on the way to hospital.”

Please note that the camp waited an hour after roll call at 5.30am before finding her.

9 May 2004: T Saravanan, 18, from Taiping, Perak drowned while swimming with another 40 trainees.

In-camp fights

The most stunning case of death in a national service camp occurred on 22 April 2006 when Haziq Jaafar, 17, died after getting into a fight with another trainee.

What were they fighting over? A cigarette.

It would seem that both the Tak Nak campaign and the checks for contraband in national service camps failed to prevent Haziq’s untimely death.

Pardon me, but all these reported cases demonstrate that “encouraging unity” and “training NS students for emergencies” are merely rhetoric.

In another story of the national service’s failure to encourage “unity”, an all-out brawl erupted between 50 trainees in a camp close to Kluang on 10 Aug 2008.

What caused the brawl? Teasing.

According to press reports, when the teasing intensified, chairs were tossed and fists flew – something I think we’ve seen happen in the MCA once.

A National Service first-day cover produced by Pos Malaysia
in 2004
Worth the deaths?

So what exactly was the purpose of National Service, to begin with?

According to their website (and my translation capabilities), the objectives are:

  • To increase youths’ patriotism
  • To foster racial unity and national integrity
  • To build positive character through good values
  • To encourage volunteerism
  •  To create a young generation with physical and mental prowess, and self-confidence.

I will not be overly pessimistic, but I would like to ask those parents who support national service whether such objectives are worth the sacrifice of 16 lives?

And for those who have yet to send their kids off, and for taxpayers who are single and are not even thinking of procreating, is the RM600 million spent in 2007 for national service a good investment?

Would people agree with the huge investments needed if they knew just how much it was costing tax payers? According to the Auditor-General, national service shirkers and rigid contracts have caused the government losses of up to RM110.1 million from 2004 to 2007.

The Auditor-General also found that the Beringin Beach camp was unsuitable because of flooding during high tide. But didn’t anybody notice this before? And how was that possible?

For the Wawasan camp in Sabah, camp operators told the audit team it was difficult to obtain fresh fish for the trainees’ menu, but the audit team found it otherwise at the Kota Kinabalu market. Does this mean that these camps would rather lie about why the food isn’t fresh and risk food poisoning than feed trainees properly?

The Auditor-General’s report also found that t-shirts, track pants, baseball caps and sports shoes supplied under contracts worth more than RM41 million were of low quality.

That’s not all. There are also cases of illegally built camps.

Sacrificing our youth

What all these show is that in the haste to implement the national service programme, we have sacrificed the lives, health and safety of our youths; lost a couple of billion ringgit; and may even have flouted the rule of law and ignored the need for transparent governance.

While I admit that the thought of getting our youth to be patriotic (or subservient, depending on one’s perspective) may be a good idea, I, for one, see this programme as nothing more than a farce to allow opportunists to make money at the expense of trainees’ safety and lives.

If, indeed, cronies and lobbyists of the current government are making money from national service, then this government may be as guilty as the American government in sending their citizens to perish in Iraq for oil and profit.

If that were the case, national service, in my opinion, could be deemed as “national slaughter”.

Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twenty-something yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.

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13 Responses to “National service or national slaughter?”

  1. jk says:


  2. Gayathry says:

    I agree, in fact there should be an inquiry into how these malpractices, incidents and accidents have been allowed to continue. I discourage people from participating because I say: well, the organisers can’t really guarantee that you’ll be back in one piece. And I don’t think the critiques of the NS are paranoid or exaggerating. I think its better to keep our youths alive than attempting to teach them something that can easily be done in schools.

  3. NStrainee says:

    I was in NS service few years back, and I think the way you put it is so damaging to this program. To tell you the truth, I benefited a lot from this few months in my life. Got to know loads of new friends from different racial backgrounds. Understand them even more than this author of the article might think.

    I admit there are a few cases along the line. I will call them just hiccups for now, with due respect to the families of the deceased and those who suffered food poisoning.

    Death, enterocolitis, vomiting, diarrhea, and all other mishaps happen everywhere. Scrapping off such a wonderful program just because of a few accidents, you may be playing the tune of the opposition. They want nothing out of this current government. They think they know best for the country.

    The NS camp operators work there, they earn their keep there. You take this program off, you are just going to add a few thousands more names on the unemployed list.

    Singapore has been doing military-like national service for a long time. Why can’t we match Singapore? If you go around and ask randomly the teenagers on the street what is the meaning of the colours on the Jalur Gemilang, I bet 7-8 in 10 will give you crappy answers. Hey, NS is the solution.

    Again, I hope the readers will not be ‘somewhat influenced’ by this negative and damaging article from whoever this author is.

    I was trained before and I am more patriotic now, I love the country more, I understand more of this country’s multiracial, multi-religious background. I blend easily now with friends, we are after all Malaysian. And I thank the commander, and trainers for changing my life and for helping me when I was in camp.

    It was a great time, and it is fun too.

  4. aput says:

    OMG Gayathry commented. Kudos to CIJ. What I’d honestly like to see from the government is a total review of the program while putting it on a temporary halt. The amount of misgivings about this program, in terms of deaths and money, is ghastly, and I think if we delve deeper, it might probably show just who profiteered from the financial, contractual and social slaughter that is national service.

  5. Yeo Kien Kiong says:

    National Service is a great thing for youths in terms of moral as well as physical discipline. Unfortunately, the people who are responsible for the safety and welfare of the trainees have been ill-informed, ill-trained and poorly-educated; they are also abusing their power over the trainees.
    I always believed that not all NS programmes around the world are foolproof or safe. Lack of understand about children’s mental and physical conditioning, lack of hygiene and “utilising” “un-trained” trainers and poorly equipped facilities are intolerable.
    Yet, every now and then, when I switch on the TV or read the newspapers about the NS, the first thing that comes into my is propaganda.
    If the government wants to have a better “quality” and “moral-minded” generation in this multi-racial and diverse nation, the current government needs to educate themselves first. The government serves the people wisely, not otherwise.

  6. yh says:

    Despite all the obvious shortcomings, the government is pushing ahead to increase the intake by a whopping 33% next year. If more participants come back in body bags, don’t gripe because we allow that to happen with our apathy. Don’t expect the authorities to be sympathetic either. In the words of the DG, compassion is not found in his vocabulary as far as exemption is concerned. Well, the Ministers wouldn’t understand what the Lim family has to go through because you will never see their sons and daughters being selected for this programme.

  7. Zedeck says:

    I was in NS’s inaugural year. Remember someone (I believe it was Najib, but I may be mistaken) saying that Awang Mohd Fazil Awang Borhan (who drowned, and was the programme’s first fatality) had disobeyed orders, which lead to his demise – effectively, the trainee got what was coming to him.
    The numerous issues about PLKN have been raised perennially – but they didn’t take responsibility then, and whatever public pressures the programme has since come under continues to leave its implementers unfazed.
    You’re right, it is money. But it is also feudalism: a sense of entitlement in our political nobility that allows them to think that the Malaysian citizenry lives and dies at their pleasure.

  8. mak jun yeen says:

    OK, there are problems with the NS. But please don’t over dramatise that NS is a disaster. I find these NS bashing blogs have become veiled Najib bashing. I am too old to go through NS but if it were available during my days I would have gone for it.

    Just ask any actuary whether the number of deaths in NS camps is significantly higher than the number of deaths of those young persons if they have not gone to NS.

    So far you have provided 4 cases out of the hundred odd thousand young people who have gone to NS, hardly a whimper (although I am not trivialising the pain suffered by the parents).

    We have a good program to strengthen our youths and like all government programs it needs fine tuning. To say we are sacrificing our nation’s youth is just a bit too hyperbole for me. Some anti-establishment fans may cheer this blog piece, but anti-establishment arguments should not be so emotional. I need hard facts.

    Compared to what the Singaporeans go through in their NS, ours is a boot camp and there are deaths in Singapore’s NS too, not to mention there are deaths from arduous training for our new recruits in Army training.

    More young people have reportedly died on their rush to go home for Raya, are we going to ban and stop people from traveling?

  9. aput says:

    The truth is that the national service is a good idea, but now with the implementation style of an untrained butcher carving a turkey at Thanksgiving. That’s what happened here.

    You not only see the cost in terms of lives, but also in terms of expenditure. And furthermore, you have people cutting corners like mad in terms of merely feeding the youths.

    Thanks for the comparison to the highway deaths. So relevant.

    So how many parents exactly do you know of that force their teens to balik kampung every year or be punished with a jail sentence?

  10. m says:

    Dear NS Trainee,

    I found your quote very disturbing:
    “To tell you the truth, I benefited a lot from this few months in my life. Got to know loads of new friends from different racial backgrounds. Understand them even more than this author of the article might think.”

    What I would like to know is what were you doing when you were in school? After 11 years in school, did your parents or teachers not encourage you to make friends with those of a different race? Don’t your parents have friends from different races?! It is truly sad what is happening to Malaysia if kids have to go to camp before they learn good values.

  11. gt says:

    I completely agree with m. All the issues that the government is trying to deal with in the NS camps can easily be dealt with in schools, especially with proper planning. E.g. scrapping the useless subject that is Moral Studies which requires nothing more than the mindless regurgitation of rigid definitions of moral values, and replacing it with a more practical subject that REQUIRES students to PRACTICE morality and respect one another.

    If this foundation of kindness and respect is built when the kids are still young, then all these racial and non patriotic issues will become NON-ISSUES.

  12. John St says:

    Well said! Anyone who supports NS (Malaysia) basically supports the current corrupted mindset of the government. NS (Malaysia) though may have merit if organized and orchestrated by individuals with the upmost morals and ethically sound background, then yes it would have merit. But at the moment it’s another classic example as to how this country is governed and how the government is not afraid of its people – my two cents

  13. Ng Poh Guik says:

    Dear NS Trainee,
    I totally agree with M. And may I ask you why do you think 7 or 8 out of 10 on the street know not the meaning of the colours in Jalur Gemilang? NS is the solution, you said. Listen to yourself for goodness sake. Are you one of those who had to go through NS to learn about the Jalur Gemilang although it has already been taught in the standard two school syllabus? If you are thrilled that you have made new friends and learnt what standard two schoolers have learnt in school, well what can I say, I’m happy for you too that you are finally catching up? But my dear, your cheap thrills are not worth the millions in taxpayer’s money.

    “Scrapping off such a wonderful program just because of a few accidents, you may be playing the tune of the opposition.”

    “A few accidents” you call it. It’s a series of deaths!!

    My dear, I expect better returns for my tax money – like better critical thinking and compassion for others for example, from youths like you who claim to have benefited from NS.


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