National Service gets off to a rough start
Tuesday February 17, 2004
First-day glitch: At the Sungai Nibong pick-up point in Penang, anxious trainees and their parents endure the long wait during registration. - Starpic by Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein
KUALA LUMPUR: The first day of national service for 26,000 youths got off to a rough start and the Prime Minister has directed the organisers to sort out the problems as quickly as possible.
Based on observation at various pick-up points and from telephone calls received by The Star, the main problem appeared to be the poorly organised registration system and deployment of buses, which triggered a host of attendant issues.
Among the complaints were trainees being left stranded, missing buses, wrong locations and long delays, resulting in anxious parents worrying whether their children would arrive safely at their respective camps.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, when told of the problems after an official function in Ipoh yesterday, directed the relevant authorities to address the problems immediately.
Agreeing that there were bound to be teething problems because it was the first time it was being done, he said what was most important was for the hitches to be rectified directly.
“It is important for the problems to be addressed quickly to ensure no one gives the national service programme a bad assessment.
“The problems have to be looked into fast,” he told reporters.
He hoped that the training for the youths would run smoothly and be successful.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whose Defence Ministry is organising the programme, gave an assurance that all efforts were being made to solve the glitches.
He said a hotline had been set up to connect the camps and the NS Secret-ariat directly.
“It is only natural that problems may crop up whenever a new programme is implemented. It needs fine-tuning and it can be solved within a few days,” he told reporters in Jeli, Kelantan, yesterday.
He appealed to those affected to be patient because it would take time to solve all the problems.
With about 800 buses on the roads ferrying some 26,000 girls and boys, the Government rightfully expected some teeth-ing problems, but slow remedial measures in many instances got the parents worried, with many asking whether the camp managers were ready to face crisis situations if any cropped up.
One group of 40 trainees heading for Kuala Nerang, Kedah, were delayed after their schoolbus, which left Ipoh after a four-hour delay, broke down near Taiping. A replacement bus was sent and it, too, broke down, in Sungai Petani. The group reached the camp at 8pm, some six hours behind schedule.
In Lahad Datu, Sabah, 10 of the trainees who sustained light injuries when the bus they were travelling in collided with another bus, have been kept at the Sanshui camp infirmary for observation.
“They will only start their training after they recover from their injuries. Parents need not worry as they will be taken care of by the medical personnel at the camp,” said NS Council member Dr Maximus Ongkili.
The injured trainees – four girls and six boys – were among 42 in a bus heading for the Sanshui camp in Tawau when it collided with another bus carrying 40 other trainees at the 4th kilometre Lahad Datu-Tawau road on Sunday evening.
The trainees, who were from Kota Kinabalu, reached the Sanshui camp during the wee hours of yesterday.
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National Service hiccups
The New Straits Time
By NST reporters
Confusion reigned on the first morning of National Service for the first group of 28,000 teenage trainees, as many pick-up points nationwide were snarled in disarray. While the problems were sorted out by nightfall, with all the youngsters safely at their designated camps, exasperated trainees and their relatives had few approving things to say of the organisation when trying to find their way there earlier in the day.
Describing these as "teething problems", Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said: "What is important is that the problem is identified and action is taken to immediately rectify the situation." Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak acknowledged the hiccups, but expressed confidence they would be overcome in the next few days.
"This is the first time this is being done," he noted. "This is something we had expected." Najib, speaking to reporters in Jeli on his one-day visit to Kelantan, said the National Service Training Department had made the necessary arrangements with the camps, which were liaising with one another to overcome the problems.
This evening, NS Training Department director-general Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor admitted that there had been problems with co-ordination and scheduling, but these had been rectified.
He assured parents that their children would be well taken care of, and these problems would not recur.
In Batu Caves, 126 trainees turned up at the pick-up point where only 72 were expected, to be ferried to the Bina Semangat camp near Kuala Kubu Baru, Hulu Selangor.
The only officials present were four armed forces servicemen and two officials from the bus company contracted to transport the trainees, Setugas Niaga Sdn Bhd. Parents on their own initiative assembled the trainees at the nearby Batu Caves multi-purpose hall around 9am.
An army official said many had misunderstood their instructions on where to go.
"It was stated in the letters that pick-up points for trainees heading for camps in Selangor would be at Batu Caves, while those bound for camps outside the State should go to Stadium Bukit Jalil," he said.
There was also confusion at Bukit Jalil, where a massive traffic jam had built up.
At the 2.5-acre Bina Semangat Camp, fewer than half of the 950 trainees expected had arrived by noon as scheduled.
One disgruntled parent, Ahmad Abdullah, said the co-ordination of the buses was inefficient.
"Despite having 13 buses bound for a certain destination, they tell us that only two buses can be filled at one time," he said.
Another parent said the number of pick-up points should be increased to prevent overcrowding.
In Seremban, about 100 disgruntled parents and trainees were stranded for more than three hours at the bus terminal.
Most of the trainees did not have documents or letters from the National Service Department notifiying them of where they had been posted and where they would be picked up.
Several students said they only learned of their pick-up points via the department's telephone hotline and short messaging service.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, who had come to send off the trainees, tried to pacify the parents and made several phone calls to the NS department to notify them of the problem.
In Penang, 15 trainees found their names not listed, while some 60 others did not turn up, said Setugas Niaga spokesperson Elaine Aeria.
In Ipoh, signboards to guide trainees were glaringly absent.
Cars were indiscriminately parked without proper traffic supervision at the Indera Mulia Stadium, one of seven pick-up points in Perak.
In Kuala Terengganu, 1,400 teenagers waited nearly three hours for counters to open for registration.
Wan Izzah Wan Shamsuddin, of Kampung Wakaf Mempelam, said she was among the first few who arrived at Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah stadium at 6am.
"It was nearly six hours before the first bus finally headed for Mersing," she said.
In Kuching, more than 1,000 trainees turned up at the State Indoor Stadium today, where only 828 were expected. They came from Kuching and Samarahan districts.
More than 300 trainees from Sibu, Mukah and Kapit Divisions showed up at the Sibu New Bus Terminal yesterday, instead of today.
The situation was not as bad elsewhere, however.
In Kuantan, trainees registered with few problems. The first batch of trainees turned out at the Agro Resort Sungai Semuji, one of five camps in the State.
Camp director Kol (Rtd) Kamarulzaman Ismail said 681 trainees were slated for the camp but only 627 — 323 boys and 304 girls — would be at the camp as 54 trainees had been allowed to postpone their service.
In Kuala Lumpur, at KL Sentral station this morning, 53 trainees from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor began their journey to Kem Junaco Park in Sibu, Sarawak. Only 13 trainees did not show up.
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