by James Lee
The back and forth saga between MINDEF and the Davis family, as well as the many articles and polarised opinions on whether Ben Davis should be allowed to defer brings a very fundamental question to mind: National Service - what exactly defines it.
I looked up the Enlistment Act (Chapter 93) and the definition of ‘National Service’ is defined as follows: “national service” means service under Part III in the armed forces and service in such other force, body or organisation as the Minister may designate for this purpose by notification in the Gazette;
In this definition, and my interpretation of this definition, is that Ben Davis need not serve in the Armed Forces; he can serve in any body or organisation as the Minister may designate. I would assume that Minister in this context refers to the current appointed Defence Minister - Dr Ng Eng Hen.
By this very definition, a person may serve National Service in some other capacity other than the armed forces, if the Defence Minister so chooses. He could serve his National Service in a ministry, for example, or even FAS if Defence Minister says so.
Ultimately, the call is by the Defence Minister, assuming that he chooses to make that call. Else, the default option is the Armed Forces.
Having now known the definition of ‘National Service’, it is a sign that the Act allows for national service in other forms. The next question begets: what other form? Two years training in an Olympic squad? Two years with Fulham? What would be the considerations and the guidelines for defining national service in other forms? I recognise that this is a slippery slope because every father’s son could then start to argue for their cause as being worthy of being deemed as an alternative form of national service.
However, by virtue of it being a slippery slope does not oblige us to ignore it totally. Perhaps, Ben Davis’ case is an opportune moment to review this definition and what constitutes ‘other forms’ of national service?
Even recruits passing out of BMT get a choice of where they want to be posted to. If MINDEF can allow such flexibility in this arrangement, I do not see how ‘other forms’ of national service cannot be allowed eventually.
The second question that I ponder over is the unwavering stance of MINDEF. Is there really no room for compromise? For athletes, their youth is their prime. Athletes beyond the age of 30 are considered ‘past their shelf life’. For some sports, it is even younger because one is no longer as agile and dexterous as when he is in his twenties. There are many accounts and alleged statements made by the Davis family and MINDEF, so I will not be analysing what who said. MINDEF had stated. MINDEF could offer Ben Davis a contract, much like the one offered by Fulham.
In the Enlistment Act, it is defined that “person subject to this Act” means a person who is a citizen of Singapore or a permanent resident thereof and who is not less than 16 years and 6 months of age and not more than 40 years of age
By this definition, even a 20 or 25-year-old is subjected to this Act. Furthermore, under Part III chapter 10, under ‘Duty to report for enlistment’,
10.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the proper authority may by notice require a person subject to this Act not below the age of 18 years to report for enlistment for national service.
It does not specifically say that Ben Davis has to report at 18 years of age, only as long as he is above 18 years of age. As I know today, there are polytechnic graduates who enlist at 19 years of age because polytechnic education is three years compared to two years in junior college. So, because of this system, the JC boys will enlist at 18 and the Poly boys will enlist at 19. So, by this clause, Ben Davis could enlist when he is 20, or 22, or 25. What MINDEF could do is to issue him an enlistment letter to report for enlistment when his contract with Fulham has ended. The terms and conditions of the contract between MINDEF and Ben Davis can be clearly stated and stipulated to ensure that he does not abscond or face harsh penalties if he does.
Actually, breaking his end of the deal would make him a fugitive and that I think is an extremely harsh penalty already. Furthermore, I am sure many Singaporeans have no issue with Ben Davis enlisting when he is 20, 22 or 25 for that matter - I know I sure don’t.
I really hope an amicable resolution can be achieved for this. MINDEF only needs to serve him enlistment notice at a later age rather than at 18 years old. There is really nothing too complicated about it. However, it has to be made known that this is a special case, and not open to everyone and anyone. It will be a win-win situation. On one hand, MINDEF would still be adhering to the Enlistment Act without contravening any laws. On the other, it will help to salvage the PR image of MINDEF with respect to this case.
Should Ben Davis find glory on the international stage, MINDEF can then milk the glory and take wefies with him because it was a facilitator in his success. If Ben Davis breaks his end of the bargain, MINDEF only loses one soldier, but the message to the public is clear - MINDEF had supported him, but Ben Davis chose not to honour his end of the bargain. In the eyes of the public, he will have lost his credibility.