The inaugural programme of the National Service scheme resulted in plenty of woes and complaints from participants, parents and non-Barisan Nasional politicians. Soon after it was over, the government and those in charge promised that there would be changes after feedback was obtained.
Soon after, the programme was proclaimed a huge success in achieving its aim of promoting national integration and unity. The papers brought out stories of those who praised the programme and spoke of how much they have learned of the other ethnic groups in the country. A couple even found love while undergoing training.
During the scheme's programme launched at the start of this year, the deputy prime minister promised that all the rough edges have been ironed out and that it would be better than before. Parents, participants and even the opposition had little to say this time around.
So all was quiet on the National Service front. Then May came and with it the court case of National Service shirker, Ahmad Hafizal Ahmad Fauzi. He was found guilty. His sentence was a fine of RM600 or two weeks jail. After spending a day in the police lockup, he was freed after some kind soul paid his fine. The people were up in arms claiming that his sentence was excessive. The national service suffered a black eye.
The third intake of the National Service scheme this year reported for training recently and more embarrassment greeted them and the programme. At one camp, Kem Karisma (appropriate name), contractors and suppliers gathered to demand payment for their part in the construction of the kem.
Then over 40 Perak school bus operators who provided transport services for trainees at six camps between last December and March this year claimed that they were owed RM30,000. July also saw a father claiming that his daughter, Nurul Ashikin, died due to causes linked to her national service training.
The latest batch of National Service trainees also saw the biggest number of shirkers. About 16,000 out of 29,569 selected participants have gone AWOL. But the National Service scheme deputy director Omar Abdul Rahman said the situation was not a cause for alarm as it did not mean the absentees were refusing to attend the programme (see the spin coming?).
He said it was expected as a large number of trainees were preparing to join universities, matriculation courses or Form Six. One can only wonder why these deferments had not been earlier settled. The National Service Department should have been very much aware of this.
It is quite obvious that the National Service Department has not ironed out many of the problems faced by the scheme. And some of the promises given by the deputy prime minister are empty ones.
The notion that the trainees and parents are all for National Service training has been put to rest as shown by the more than 50 percent absentees from this year's third group. If the programme is to continue, as surely it will at least till the 12th general election, more need to be done to ensure its smooth running.
Otherwise the taxpayers' RM500 to RM800 million spent annually on it would be wasted. That money could be better spent on other more worthwhile endeavours and programmes.