The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) stated that if Singapore citizens who are overseas are allowed to avoid NS or to choose when they want to serve NS, the ministry are not being fair to the vast majority of the national servicemen who serve their country dutifully, and the institution of NS will be undermined.
In a 26 April statement in response to queries from the Straits Times, about the Court of Appeal's decision to impose heavier sentences on three National Service defaulters, Mindef said,
“Mindef takes a firm stand on those who commit offences under the Enlistment Act. Each case comes with its own circumstances which the Court will consider in deciding on the sentence.”
On 25 April, Singapore’s High Court increased the jail terms of three National Service (NS) defaulters, Ang Lee Thye, along with the Chidambaram brothers, Sakthikanesh and Vandana.
Mindef said, “Ang evaded NS for a period of about 23 years and 6 months. Despite being advised to return to resolve his offences, he chose to return to Singapore at an age when he could no longer be called up for NS at all, evading his NS obligations completely.”
Brothers Sakthikanesh and Vandana evaded NS for a period of 5 years and 6 months, and 3 years and 4 months respectively. Mindef's statement wrote, “Sakthikanesh was aware of his NS obligations but chose to complete his university studies in India before returning to serve NS.”
“Similarly, Vandana was aware of his NS obligations, as his father was in contact with the Ministry of Defence. Despite being aware of their NS obligations, they chose to evade NS to pursue their studies first,” the statement said.
Mindef stressed that it is important that NS has the support and commitment of all Singaporeans.
“To achieve this, we have to adhere to the fundamental principles of universality and equity in NS,” Mindef said in its statement.
Netizens weigh in
Many netizens commented on the Mindef statement posted on Straits Times Facebook, some are quoted below.
Chris Quek wrote: “I agree. NS has to be universal and fair. Defaulters need to be severely punished. Question is, how fair is our current system? How many new citizens are required to serve NS? The whole volunteering system is a joke. Can we local born bred Singaporeans choose to volunteer too instead of conscription?”
“Then there is the argument of their sons serving NS later. Yes, some do. How many do not? You can argue the new citizens were not born and bred here and therefore have not benefitted from the system. Therefore they should not need to serve the 2 years. Ok. Now surely they are benefitting from the moment they receive their PR or citizenship.”
“NS consist not just the 2 years but also the subsequent 10 in camp cycles. If we are legally obligated to serve the 10 cycles, or up till 40, then why not them? In the earlier years we do not have that many new citizens. So we can close eyes a bit. But now?”
Zulkarnain Hassan wrote: “Only recourse is to give up citizenship. Is NS really fair for ALL citizens? Maybe MINDEF need to answer that question first when there are still some vocations that do not allow Muslims or Malays. Is that their idea of fairness? I totally disagree. Aren't all citizens regardless of race deserve the right to defend their country in every vocation of the armed forces?”
Elgar Teo wrote: “As a S'porean who had spent all the time overseas since birth, I actually feel grateful to have served NS as I feel more connected to the country of my nationality now. Uni education isn't a hurdle at all because it's pretty easy to take leave of absence from study with a legit reason.”
SY Wong wrote; “Walk the talk MINDEF. Publish in public how many politician's son, filthy rich families and Govt linked families have obtained excuse(s)to stay away from Singapore but still holding on to Singapore IC and return later to get medical excuse to avoid their duty.”
“Hope the next election, the ruling party can be changed out so that these imbalance treatment and those that have kept their wealth outside of Singapore be exposed to show the rotten side of Singapore.”
Brian Cheung wrote his differing opinion: “I understand the tough stand. But is it right to lengthen or impose jail sentence to those who are already convicted and going through their punishment? Hope someone can enlighten me.”
And another angled opinion from Muhd Fariz who wrote, “Why do we need to serve? If you treasure more foreign talent because of their money, their investment, their creativity, and let them reap of the fruits of our labour, ripping of the culture and identity we build, let the natural born citizens learn the hard way. Time for them to sacrifice.”
Also, Jeffrey Peter wrote: “Oh?!? ‘Universally fair’ is foreign to national service. We suffer and sacrifice, why not train the foreigners after all they benefitted thanks to the government.”
And Christopher Tan wrote: “Are the same rules applied throughout the board? In my opinion, MINDEF and Home Team NSMen are subjected to different standards. Home Team being more relaxed with IPPT, RT and ICT defaulters.”