I read two interesting statements made by Defence Minister YB Dato Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently. The first being the need to increase the allowances of the Army Commandos befitting the nature of their job, and secondly, the desire to see that soldiers own affordable homes prior to their retirement, and are gainfully employed in a second vocation. I applaud such statements, and I believe the soldiers are equally enlightened by it.
The Army Commandos, and similarly the elite units of the other two sister services i.e. Navy and Air Force should not be left out in any consideration for an increase in their allowances and benefits. I am not privy to the nature of the allowances, but I suppose it has to do with the training skills and hardship while serving in the elite force. I have no doubt as to their capabilities, professionalism and the extreme risk they face in the performance of their duties. And for this, one should not be envious of the little extra income that they get by being a member of the commandos. One has only to witness the grueling and nerve wrenching training that these special breed of soldiers have to go through, to qualify for the exulted green or maroon beret.
Getting an affordable home upon their retirement has always been a primary desire of soldiers. Soldiers would generally prefer retiring back to their kampung, and to be closer to the surau and mosque. It is not surprising if one were to find that the Bilal or the Imam of a mosque in some of the kampung are ex-soldiers.
However, returning to the kampung upon retirement may not be welcomed by the soldier’s children nowadays. Military camps are no longer in isolated areas, but are now in the vicinity of major towns and cities. Hence, the children are more exposed to urban life, attend urban schools and later are admitted to colleges and universities. And once they enter the job market, they generally remain in cities and towns. Hence, the demand for houses for soldiers, either for those still in service or are retired, are greater in urban rather than back in their kampung.
I applaud too, the proposal by the Defence Minister to apportioned government land assigned to the ministry, to be developed for individually owned homes for soldiers. I suppose the end result will be affordable and better houses, since the land cost would be cheaper. Another advantage to this proposal is that the soldiers who throughout their military career have been living alongside one another in military quarters, will again be residing together within the same housing complex upon their retirement. The families are therefore able to maintain a social life, and the kind of neighborhood that they are so accustomed to, while residing within a military complex. Hopefully, a soldier like me, and many others who have retired for more than a decade, can also benefit from this proposal.
With regards to a second vocation, this has always been the desire of the government to ensure that soldiers are provided some form of training that will be useful to them upon retirement. Soldiers, particularly the lower ranks normally retire at an early age; normally in their early 40’s where most still have school going children to take care for. Merely living off their pension may not be sufficient; hence they will need to labour on with some form of a vocation to meet their family obligation.
This is where institutions like the Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT) and PERHEBAT plays an important role to ensure that soldiers are not neglected in retirement. I am told that LTAT is cash rich from money derived from soldiers contribution, and why not use the money to create businesses, wherein soldiers can be employed upon completion of the training provided by PERHEBAT that is fully funded by the government.
We know that soldiers of the Armed Forces are trained in various skills e.g. mechanics, electricians, welders, brick layers, carpenters, machinist, vehicle and heavy machine operators, deep sea divers, trainers, workshop management, and many more. I suppose managing an outfit like SPANCO should not pose a problem, since the skills needed to manage a vehicle maintenance and repair workshop is in abundance among members of the Armed Forces. LTAT could easily take over the management of SPANCO to be managed and operated by retired soldiers with the required technical and managerial skills.
Similarly, the Oil and Gas industry (O&G) pays a handsome salary for its skilled workers, such as welders, technicians and deep sea divers. In this regard, PERHEBAT could provide enhancement training to the soldiers with such basic skills, meeting the standards of the O&G industry, with the view of an employment in the industry.
Another profitable business that LTAT could look at is to go into animal farming e,g goats and cattle. There is a huge consumption for meat in the country, and the supply does not always meet the demand of consumers. Hence, meat is being imported from overseas whose halal status for Muslim consumers is reasonably in doubt. I am told that even the religious authorities dared not claim that all imported animal carcass (either whole or cut) are halal, and if this is true, who then could guarantee that all imported meat can be consumed by Muslims? It is for this reason that I forbid my wife from buying imported meat, although it is reasonably cheaper than local meat.
A lot more can be done for the betterment and welfare of members of the Armed Forces, either while in service, and even more upon their retirement. Allowing retired soldiers to become taxi drivers and security guards should no longer be the only vocation befitting retired soldiers, but the creation of entrepreneurs and a highly skilled work force should be the ultimate.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION