Back to normal programming – but at what price? (part II)

Compromise is not an option. But chao keng is.

Someone from my unit couldn’t join us for this year’s ICT, but he had this to say in response to my post [1]:

First, congrats on the ATEC evaluation [2]. I heard that the unit’s results were great, so kudos to all of you. I really wish I could’ve been there.

Anyway, I read your blog post so here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Let me start off by playing the devil’s advocate:

  1. It’s your own fault for not keng-ing too, and
  2. How equal is equal? What should be the level and the kind of compensation that would justify service?

On the matter of keng-ing
Unfortunately, I think the first statement is one that people who keng (and trust me, many people come to mind) will immediately respond with, and I don’t think that it is a necessarily bad option.

The fact that this statement can be made suggests that the system rewards those who keng; that is to say, the penalties for keng-ing i.e. not enjoying tax benefits for a financial year are not punitive enough.

To be even more cynical – given that this is Singapore – perhaps what we need are more sticks, not carrots, to get people to serve.

Parity and compensation
This leads me to the second point about parity: you served 2.5 weeks whereas I served none.

So what kind of measures would ensure our contributions were equal? If I did community service?

Unfortunately, the system again seems to be rigged, because those who can keng are those with the wherewithal to do so – be it finding a new job or studying overseas, or paying off a specialist to write letters so that they can get out of serving.

When the system seems to be so rigged, is there any way we can wring any kind of equivalence out of it?


I remember my colleagues and I once discussed this matter over lunch.

I naively wondered out loud if we could pay people who served their ICT a quantum over NS make-up pay.

Hence, servicemen would not only get make-up pay to ensure no loss of wages, but also an additional quantum on top of that based on a couple of factors such as rank, ability to be deployed in the field, etc.

Of course, my peers and bosses told me I was silly and that no one would pay for it.

But that’s the Singapore mentality, isn’t it?

Because they don’t care who does the work as long as it’s done, for a nice low price.

Hence, people who are stellar performers like [redacted] get earmarked to do more and more, and people who keng fall through the cracks.

The point I’m trying to make is that unless the current model of NS changes – and changes dramatically, at that – these systemic problems of inequality will be perpetuated.

And for that kind of change, we’ll need political change.


In any case, I feel bad about missing the ATEC evaluation. I really do.

And when it comes to my turn to make up the training I’ve missed, I know I’ll have to go to some other unit and train with perfect strangers.

And that’s a part of the price I have to pay, and it’s a price I’ve accepted.

But I don’t think that this kind of sentiment is common.

I don’t know, really.

Maybe I wrote this long message out of guilt because I missed the ATEC evaluation with you guys and your blog post was a convenient starting point…


    [1] …in response to my post:

    [2] the ATEC Evaluation.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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