Q&A WITH DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN

What can be done to tighten the lapses in protocol when dealing with servicemen with mental health problems?

The basic principle is that if the psychiatric board assesses that the person can serve a vocation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), we will deploy him and we will enlist. If he can serve a meaningful role and a vocation in the SAF, and safely – to himself, as well as to others – we would deploy him like other NSmen.

What do you make of the conversations about NS on social media?

(Social media) doesn’t completely represent the entire population and we don’t, shouldn’t let that drive our considerations for main policymaking. And even if you say social media, there is a broad spectrum of voices. What we do is to try and take from the broad society, not only from polls but face to face, through different communities, and then see what the general view is.

What is the risk of Singapore citizens becoming self-radicalised?

It’s a very globalised world. You can pick up not only ideas but be further radicalised and pick up expertise. I’m not at liberty to share details but this is an area of concern…As you know, we’ve had, even in Singapore, people who were self-radicalised on the Internet. And that in itself was obviously a risk.

How satisfied are you with the progress of Malays in the SAF?

I’m race-neutral… If you believe in the defence of Singapore, we want you, whatever the colour of your skin.

While others have encouraged (the senior) Malay commanders to step forward (and be identified as Malay), some of them have been reluctant to do so.

They say: “Why should I do it? Because, you know, I’m put in this position, not because I’m a Malay, so why should I come out as a Malay?”

I will respect that but neither am I discouraging them from coming out to say so.

How far will recent proposals by the Committee to Strengthen National Service go to foster goodwill and increase support for national service?

All our changes are made on the premise that NS is a duty, that this is for the collective good, for defending our way of life, of what we treasure. And practically responding to the needs of NSmen when we think it is reasonable, simplifying things, and taking this approach, I would say that I think this is one of the reasons why we have been able to have such strong support for defence.

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