Friday, 22 September 2023

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When application of old rules lead to ludicrous results, it is high time for reform.

The rules and regulations governing National Service (NS) are clearly no longer serving the needs of an increasingly globalised world. Instead of hiding behind rules and red tape, Mindef should simply put its hands up and begin a reform. In the latest blind application of rules governing NS, a Thai citizen born and bred in Bangkok has been found guilty of defaulting on NS. This is despite the fact that he is no longer a Singaporean and is no longer required to serve NS. The offence that he is now being punished for was leaving the country without a valid exit permit. This was clearly an oversight on the part of Ekawit Tangtrakarn, not a genuine attempt to evade NS.

The rules in and around exit permits and the like were obviously meant to prevent errant young men attempting to escape NS. It was not enacted to catch genuine mistakes made by hapless people who are not even Singaporean to begin with! Seriously, what is the point of punishing him? What purpose does it serve apart to highlight how obsolete, unfair and unworkable some of the rules are.

Are there so many layers of bureaucracy that the administrators of the bureaucracy have lost the plot? Have they forgotten the objectives of the rules and regulations in the first place? While blindly applying the rules, have they thrown common sense and logic out of the window?

To be fair, this isn’t the fault of the courts. They have to apply the law as it is.

My question, however, is in relation to the laws and regulations governing NS in the first place. These were put in place yonks ago. Way before a time where it was ever contemplated that people would be as mobile as they are today. These rigid rules in and around NS also affected the ability of teenage footballer Ben Davies’ deferment applications on the basis that he was not playing for Singapore but for a professional football club. Narrow rules drafted without thought or understanding of the nature of professional football.

Let’s go back to basics. The rules were obviously put in place to ensure that people are not able to deliberately evade NS. They were not put in place to punish hapless non citizens. Nor were they drafted to impede the career of a rising sports star. Yet, these have been the appalling results from our outdated and overly rigid rules.

When applications of old rules lead to ludicrous results, it is high time for reform.

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