Sunday, November 1, 2009

MINDEF communications 101: Just say YES or NO!

After a month, MinDEF has responded to my feedback and query.

Their letter is below:

1. I refer to your email dated 29 Sep 2009, providing feedback on National Service (NS).

2. MINDEF/SAF is mindful that the majority of our National Servicement (NSmen) have varied commitments. To minimise the inconvenience to our NSmen, MINDEF provides our NSmen with up to 6 months' notice on their In-Camp Training (ICT), depending on the duration of the ICT. This is to allow our NSmen to make necessary arrangements for their personal commitments so that they can attend their NS training. Notwithstanding this, our NS Commanders are prepared to help our NSmen strike a balance between their NS and personal commitments by exercising flexiblity in granting time-off or No-Pay Leave during the ICT, subject to the training schedule.

3. While MINDEF may not be able to fully compensate every NSman for their commitment towards NS, MINDEF recognises NSmen's contribution by providing them with service pay for each day of their call-up and make-up pay if they suffer a loss of income due to the call-up. NSmen also enjoy additional allocations in growth dividend schemes such as the Progress Package.

4. Your unit Commanding Officer spoke to you on XX XX 2009 to obtain a better understanding of your circumstances and to address your concerns. He also shared his experiences as a postgraduate student himself. You had then expressed your willingness to attend all future NS activities and clarified that you had no further concerns.

5. We thank you for your feedback and look forward to your continued support of NS.

Yours sincerely,

Firstly, MINDEF still has not answered my question: "Is MINDEF willing to express its appreciation for NSmen who pursue higher studies by helping this NSman foot his tuition fees when his scholarship expires? ... Will MINDEF pay for 2 and half weeks of my semester fees in Semester One of the academic calendar year 2010/2011?"

It is a YES or a NO. They have in no way, in paragraphs 2 and 3, referred to me directly (i.e. the use of the second person "you"). Instead, MINDEF has spent 2 paragraphs explaining existing policies and saying how beneficial they are in to the general population. What about me?

It is a YES or a NO! All the Permanent Secretary has to do is say, "With regards to your question, MINDEF would like to say NO to you."

It is hypocritical to claim the organisation "understands" and "appreciates" you, when in fact their actions reflect that they don't. They talk about your head with explanations of policies that would not help your individual situation.

Speaking of understanding, I think it is a failure on their part when they attempt to compare my unit Commanding Officer's postgraduate commitments and mine. I am a full-time arts graduate student on scholarship and my scholarship expires next August. I am writing a 30,000-word thesis on top of having classes. I have teaching commitments as a result of my scholarship. My Commanding Officer, on the other hand, is pursuing a part-time MBA, but I'm not sure if its company (government) sponsored or not. The circumstances are different, but to put in writing our private conversation is to show MINDEF's lack of understanding and lack of concern for NSmen who are pursuing higher education. MINDEF is not "mindful" and just because I do not have a job since I am a full-time student, doesn't mean I do not have costs and bills staring me in the face, and am not qualified for compensation in the event I am unable to complete my course after my scholarship expires.

My Commanding Officer has nothing to do with this. I think a comparison taken up by MINDEF is unjust and unreflective of the realities each of us face. He has income, I don't. I face $1000+ to $2000 of school fees after my scholarship expires and is not renewed.

Wait, what is this progress package? You mean elections bribe? If you want to talk about progress, do something that signifies progress and that actually brings progress - progress in my respect and support for MINDEF for instance.

It is a YES or a NO! Fill in the blanks, MINDEF. "MINDEF would like to say a ___ to you, Mr Ho Chi Sam". One sentence. Government communications should be definite and not obfuscating and long-winded.

If government organisations like MINDEF can have human "spiders" crawling and checking out internet content (definitely not their core/primary responsibility, but I guess that's what happens when you have an abundance of taxpayer funds), why can't the organisation do something for an NSman pursuing higher education. By the way, isn't it a waste of government funds if you get people to crawl through a blog like this just to find some slip-ups or incriminating material that might invalidate my claims or my position as it is? You won't find any here, because I am not anti-Singapore or anti-peace. I just want MINDEF to stop talking down to me and over my head. It is just a YES or a NO.

The fact that they did not respond to my questions, which include "Is MINDEF willing to do something to make our relationship a lot fairer, and more mutually beneficial?" shows that MINDEF is not willing to do anything to establish a fairer relationship with NSmen. Yes, national defence is important, but since it comes at the expense of Singaporean sons, why not do something to minimise this impact?

Do you care? YES or NO? Start communicating properly. Be honest. Be connected.

Look me in the eye, literally and metaphorically, and tell me YES or NO. Do not bring in "NSmen" and how much you recognise everything else. Recognise this NSman and his concerns. Address them directly and answer his questions directly!

Pay me a visit, or arrange for a meet-up, and hear me out. Listen to an NSman who always go beyond his vocation and responsibilities in every In-Camp Training. Listen to someone who doesn't believe in national service, but isn't no malingerer as he sacrifices his personal convictions and beliefs just for the organisation.

I am calling for help. Is MINDEF willing to help me? YES or NO?

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