LAST_UPDATETue, 15 May 2018 11am

National Service: Developing Better Malaysians

Since 2004, the selected Malaysian youth at the age of 17, have been fortunate to be required to endure a three-month mandatory National Service Training Program, or Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (PLKN). PLKN was formulated by the Ministry of Defense, as at the time when it was proposed in 2001, the problem of racial polarization was found to be pervading educational institutions in Malaysia.


The idea is to encourage friendships between Malaysian youths of certain age from different races and ethnic groups and also to address concern that the country's various races are becoming increasingly isolated from one another.

PLKN holds up its objectivity to develop the trainees to be patriotic while being instilled with love and devotion for the country. PLKN, too, sees the imperious needs of trainees to go for some drilling activities en route to enhance unity among the multiracial communities in their daily life. Another way to look at it, PLKN’s intention is to promote a generation that is obedient and loyal to the government.



The Issues ‘Around’ the PLKN Camp


The government’s introduction of PLKN is a commendable progress towards ethnic harmony. However, it is undeniable that there are several issues regarding PLKN that parents need to know before sending their children off for their national duty.

For a start, PLKN sits outside Human Rights Charter Contraventions, and just after the 2004 pilot batch completed their service, the youth wing of MCA on behalf of themselves and eight other Chinese-based youth organizations, issued a memorandum to the National Service Training Council calling for more non-Malay trainers. They also criticized the issues of deficient counselors and imbalanced diet for the participants. There is also a reported problem of bullying by the officers and a reluctance issue regarding a proper diet for mainly the Buddhist Chinese and Hindu Indians. This issue however, has been overly politicized.

Other litigious issues of PLKN include the selection system on which the government’s database picks up the trainees ‘too’ randomly without knowing about their social status. Some cases include poor teenagers who need to work for their living and young mothers with newborn babies which is considered by some as appalling. The government however made a good move by announcing later that trainees with limitations will be exempted, but they ought to send a letter of appeal.

In 2005, concern was raised in Parliament as PLKN trainees were being taught of firearm skills, namely M-16 rifles. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, explained that it was merely a ‘pilot’ project. However, a DAP MP for the constituency of Batu Gajah, Perak, claimed that the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service had not been informed of the project.

The firearm module was later made to become an official module in the program. More recently, Najib, as prime minister, tipped-off that the program could be extended to two years, but being a parent himself, he doubts that the parents would accept his proposal.



What’s In It for the Government?


It is not too straightforward to say that, this very batch of PLKN trainees are in contention to shape the next general election as they have been given the mandate to be registered voters. Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz announced to Dewan Rakyat that there are 657,141 new registered voters in the first quarter of 2010 and vowed that responsible agencies are working to reach the eligible voters to register and cast their votes in the upcoming GE13.

More than half a million new votes can easily influence the outcome of GE13. And this is how important these PLKN ‘graduates’ actually are.



Money Matters


The government is also awarding allowances to trainees who enrolled in PLKN camps. RM150 per month or RM450 for the whole course is given out in the form of premium savings in Bank Simpanan Nasional.

Najib also assured the nation that the program will not exceed the budget of RM500mil a year. This somehow relieves the tax payers in the time of economic crunch.



PLKN’s End-Products


As the article is being written, PLKN’s first batch (2004) should now be at the age of 23 to 24. Should the program work, racial unity in Malaysia should already be in good condition as far as their past participations in PLKN is concerned. The trainees must realize that after they had endured the course, it does not stop there. They must practice what they have been thought outside the camp to signal the success of this PLKN program. There is no use of the three-month long of drills and exercises if there are still going to be insensitive idiots parading a decapitated cow’s head or silly complaints over loud calls for prayer or a rapper making vulgar remarks on people of other races.

Mutual respect among races must continue to be instilled among these former trainees and hopefully this sort of outlook and mentality will spread among other Malaysians. PLKN surely have its flaws and, for now, it will never be free from criticism and doubts.

PLKN’s biggest challenge now is to stay relevant while parents’ perception and trainees’ willingness plays major role in the longevity and effectiveness of the program. Parents, in fact, have no choice about sending their children to PLKN as it has been set as mandatory national duty. What they can do now is to set a mentality of whether to continue being skeptic and being afraid of the worst or open-heartedly send their children with the hope that they will come home a better person and a better Malaysian.



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