Saturday, April 24, 2004

Suspend national service, says Keadilan
Yoon Szu-Mae

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan) has called for the suspension of the controversial National Service programme which has been hit by a string of negative incidents, including one alleged rape by a trainer.
At last count, said Keadilan spokesperson Badrul Hisham Shaharin (left), 72 cases have already been referred to the police, the most worrying being cases where trainers were alleged to have assaulted their young trainees.
"Parents have much reason to fear for their children. So long as their safety are not guaranteed, parents have the right to pull their children out from the programme. Legal threats and accusations of being ‘un-patriotic’ should not be used," said the party’s youth wing in its memo to National Service director-general Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor today.
In turn, Badrul said the party will provide legal help to parents facing problems with the programme, particularly the 10,000 youth dodgers who are expected to be taken to the courts by the government.
Director-General Kamaruzaman, in accepting the party’s memorandum in front of the defence ministry - the overseeing authority for the programme - told the Keadilan representatives that their concerns would be referred to higher authorities.
Besides Badrul, others present from Keadilan included its youth deputy leaders Syamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin, secretary SD Johari, and exco member Zaki Yamani.
Independent assessment
"The cases mentioned are only a small portion of what had happened in the training camps. What is most regretted are the efforts made by those involved to conceal the incidents," it said.
The party proposed that once the National Service programme has been suspended, an independent committee can be set up to re-assess it in its entirety.
It also called on Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, as chairperson of the cabinet committee overseeing the national service, to take responsibility of the debacle.
"He should resign immediately. Keadilan rejects Najib’s explanation that stopping it halfway will jeopardise the programme’s objectives. Rather, if it continues without appraisal or improvements, it will not only fail the programme’s objectives, but will negatively impact the nation’s youth," said Keadilan.
Mooted by former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad last year, the three-month training programme was aimed at "instilling patriotism" among the country’s youth.
"In re-assessing the programme, priority should be given to Islamic and moral elements in developing the national service modules. Religious facilities and attendance for Friday prayers and church, should be made available," it added.
Following a national service council meeting last week, its chairperson Prof Dr Ahmad Fawzi Mohd Basri told the press that the current budget of RM500 million for the programme is "not enough".
He said that additional funds are needed to deal with the problem of identifying suitable training camps for trainees and trainers, as well as setting up a special camp for some 100 delinquent trainees.
The pioneer batch of 85,000 national service trainees were divided into three groups, with the third group scheduled to finish their training in June this year.

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