Malay Singaporeans should be given opportunities for traineeships or apprenticeships in the Air Force and Navy, said engineering consultant and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) central executive committee member Abdul Rahman Mohamad.
In a PSP Malay Community dialogue held at the end of last month, Mr Abdul Rahman observed that during his time with Singapore Airlines, many Malays have succeeded in upgrading their skills through such traineeships and apprenticeships.
He noted that such trainees and apprentices went on to pursue careers as aviation technicians and engineers.
A similar programme or a scheme akin to MENDAKI (Council for the Development of Singapore Malay/Muslim Community)’s SENSE should be set up for those wishing to enter the armed forces, he suggested.
For a long time, said Mr Abdul Rahman, Malays “have not succeeded in obtaining benefits from employment and training in the armed forces”.
For decades, Malays were “barred from handling armoured vehicles” and entering the Air Force and Navy, he added.
Malays are instead overrepresented in the make-up of infantry soldiers in the SAF, said Mr Abdul Rahman. As a result, most Malay soldiers do not have many opportunities to obtain or improve their technical skill and knowledge in the military.
The lack of opportunities in the SAF, he opined, has pushed a number of Malays into gig-economy jobs such as GrabFood and Foodpanda delivery services to make ends meet.
Citing a Parliamentary report from 1987, in which the Government then raised “the need for an exclusionary ethnic manpower policy in a national security apparatus”, he opined: “This is a sign that they [the Government at the time] doubted our loyalty, and enacted a policy that segregated us as a result of that doubt.”
“We [Malays] pay taxes, similar to others in Singapore. Singapore spends some S$20 billion on defence per year alone. What benefits do we receive from this as Malays? Barely any, if at all,” said Mr Abdul Rahman.
Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan in Politics and Constitutions in Southeast Asia cited then-Second Minister for Defence Lee Hsien Loong’s view in Parliament in 1987 that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) “is not only an institution for nation-building — it also has an operational role” to defend the nation “against armed attack in case of war”.
“If there is a conflict, we don’t want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his emotions for his religion … We don’t want to put anybody in that position where he feels he is not fighting a just cause, and perhaps worse, maybe his side is not the right side,” Mr Lee was quoted as saying.
Mr Abdul Rahman’s perception of the State harbouring suspicions towards the loyalty of Malay Singaporeans was also explored by academician Lily Zubaidah Rahim in her book Singapore in the Malay World: Building and Breaching Regional Bridges.
Dr Lily, a senior lecturer in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney in Australia, observed that this perception germinated as early as the 1960s through the 1980s in the exclusion of Malays from even National Service.
Even when Malays are made to serve NS after the 1980s, Dr Lily noted that “recruitment of Malays into the SAF was virtually halted after 1967, even though Malays made up 80 per cent of volunteers in the armed services”.
Existing Malay officers were “systematically transferred from field command to logistics and support sections while others were retired or shut off from promotion”, she added.
Dr Lily also affirmed that “Malay participation in sensitive areas in the SAF such as armoury and tank units, frontline combat infantry and the airforce have been restricted” — a move “rationalised” by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, as seen in his comments, reported by The Straits Times in September 1999:
If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background … I’m saying these things because they are real, and if I don’t think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn’t think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy.
The first Malay pilot in the Air Force, noted Dr Lily, was only appointed in 1992, while the first Malay fighter pilot was only appointed slightly over a decade later in 2003.
Mr Abdul Rahman is one of the candidates for Chua Chu Kang group representation constituency (GRC) in this year’s general election.