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:
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.
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.
(© sxc.hu)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.
(Source: uncyclomedia.org) 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.