Friday, September 05, 2008

Response to my posts on National Service

Dear Dr. Huang,

You have a very sensible viewpoint on bona fide cases who aren't wilful NS evaders. Unlike most Singaporeans who wish to crucify NS evaders more than they deserve, your words are compassionate and seek to resolve the conflicting needs of two people groups. In asking for equality for Singaporeans who lived in Singapore and serve NS, justices must also be delivered for those innocent lives who are affected by NS obligations and did not do any wrong. Those babies did not choose to be born in Singapore. Neither, did they live overseas out of their own choice. As human beings they grow up where they are brought to live and then they love it more than returning to Singapore. Why are they punish for what they did not choose in the first place and when they are old enough they are forced to obey Singapore laws when they actually do not want to live in it? Aren't laws legislated taking into account moral considerations and for the government to exercise law using their human conscience to be the guiding principle of right and wrong?

Why can't they renounce their citizenship at age 18 and therefore not serve NS. The Singapore law says it has to be 21. Why 21? Is it some magical number that deemed them to be mature enough to make choices? Yet, such a minor with the same immature mind is push to carry guns and to fight when a real war breaks out and to pledge allegiance to the Singapore Army? Why is the age of conscription younger than the legal age? Will an 18 year old making the oath of allegiance to Singapore during his NS Service be equally capable to renounce his Singapore Citizenship? Most countries have 18 as their legal age and why not Singapore? Did the government intended to have this Catch 22 situation in the first place to hold young males hostage so they must serve their NS?

I am no lawyer but I read through the Enlistment Act 1970. PartVII Under the Miscellaneous Provisions, it covered the issue on Postponement. Para 28 states" The Proper authority may by notice postpone for such period as it may consider appropriate all or any part of the liability of any person under this Act". Para 29. The proper authority may by notice exempt any person from all or any part of the liability of that person under this Act. Para 37 (1) and (2) also empowers "the minister to make such regulations as may be necessary or expedient to carry out the provisions of this Act". It did provide a broad framework for the authority to make the practice of law relevant in today's world which is to defer NS to age 21 for victims of circumstance and renounce without NS or to serve NS and remain Singapore citizens. It is perfectly legitimate to make laws that are reasonable.

In a globalized world, it is common to have Singaporeans married foreigners and give birth to their sons in Singapore. When the spouse leaves for better jobs overseas, the entire family moved. For those families who are settled overseas for a number of years and choose not to return, they are indeed permanently out of Singapore. Why are these boys considered to have evaded NS? To serve NS and then renounce citizenship at age 21 is an irrational behavior. It is asking a person to pay for something that he is not going to own. Yes, that's law all Singapore citizens think they have to obey. Boys who grew up in America are taught the US constitution. They firmly believe in human choice as a God given right. When they are cornered, they will not fear, they will fight for their rights and will exercise civil disobedience as their last option. Nothing can change the way they are inside even if they happen to be born Singapore citizens. They have a backbone made of steel. They are alienated by unjust Singapore laws which did not respect them as human beings going about their normal lives. Who are they protecting when their immediate family are not in Singapore? 2 years in the army is equivalent to two years jail sentence.

There is less talk and anger when Singapore Permanent Residence can renounce and not serve NS. NS laws are not enforceable on them if they choose to renounce their PR before they are enlisted. And they do not have to be 21 to do so. Why are Singapore citizens worse off than Singapore Permanent Residence? Ironically, SPR are the ones who make use of the loophole to live and study in Singapore and leave as soon as they are 16 after exploiting the benefits to the fullest. I met a Singapore lady who gave birth to her son in Los Angeles and has chosen not to register his birth in Singapore. If the system is more accommodating and the law provides for freedom of choice at age 21, she would have chosen to register his birth in Singapore. Such strict enforcement of NS laws are double aged swords. One child decides for this family of 3 that it is not worth returning. The brain drain is getting worse.

There was no internet years ago, information about NS is not easily accessible. Mindef does not publicize their laws and the media reports are skewed mentioning how NS evaders are punished and not the complete picture of the law. Call and ask Mindef. From what I know, they are evasive and do not really give complete answers. How can ill informed parents make the best choice for their children? Can we really blame the parents?

In my 10 years stay in Los Angeles, I have witnessed only less than 25% of Singapore citizens returning to serve and a number of NS evaders I know go to top US colleges. Why did overseas Singapore families not return? If their sons are made fugitives or going to be fugitives, does it make any sense to reconsider making Singapore their home. Having their sons who are fugitives is painful enough and definitely the harsh words from judgmental Singaporeans further rubbed salt into their wounds.

The law should punish those who are truly guilty. The authority and Singaporeans who serve or have to serve NS must understand our life is not predictable and families move away. Not everything can be planned and it is ridiculous for those to suggest that parents should have known. Do we know who we will marry ahead of time? Do we know where we will work for the rest of our lives? At every stage, we make decisions based on weighing out options for that stage only. In fact, Singaporeans are thinking too much and therefore they aren't having babies. The Singapore government are talking again about having more Singapore babies. There are so many outside of Singapore they don't wish to embrace. Strict laws and punishments instill fear. Humanity wins. (Taiwan has done it differently and enjoy influx of returning Taiwanese).

I hope a group of prominent bloggers could make sense of this NS law and resolve the root problem of brain drain. I have forwarded this email to Mr. Wang, The online citizen and Mr. Seah to shed more light on this matter. Thank you for making your email available. You have my respect for speaking up even when you are not personally affected.

Warmest Regards,

Xiu Xian

PS This email is dedicated to every innocent boy in the last 40 years who became a fugitive.

PS: Dr Huang (8.9.08)- My letter "Rethink needed..." has been published in ST and My Paper so far.


family man said...

I was born in the 60's. I believed in the role of NS as a teenager. Now as a father of 3 boys who are fast reaching adulthood, I myself am not too sure about the role of national service, and I truly pity my boys.

1) There are no rewards for doing NS. While the PAP ministers are paid millions to do their 'national service' our boys are given no priviledges.
I would like to see a lump sum of money given to them- boys or girls , at the end of their NS, to be used for further education in local or foreign U. This will be a reciprocal act and give young citizens a sense of ownership.

2) At the moment, I understand the govt gives scholarship freely to Chinese and Indian citizens, this is obviously a snub to our local boys - while fees are increasing year by year. In many other countries university education is freely available - and free

3) Given a choice, yes, I would give my sons wings to fly and not come back either. However, I am not rich, so I suck thumb and hope for the best. While the ST forummer today speaks loudly about the beauty and wonders of national service, I think he is not in the majority.

4) At a certain point in time I will need to tell my boys that the PAP govt does not have their interests in their heart and all they care about is bringing in more foreign talent to boost the GNP and their personal salaries and bonuses.
If they care enough about the people, there would not be old folks sleeping along walkways, collecting drinking cans and cardboards to make a living.
If they care enough about the people they will spend money and invest in her children, instead of making them pay for University education while giving free education to Chinese and Indian citizen, who come here, protected by the national service of our Singaporean youths.

Something is just not right!

aliendoc said...

Well written & expressed. I am sure many multinational families who find themselves caught in the same dilemna are asking the same question: why the illogical policy of only allowing renunciation at the age of 21 (conveniently after the age of 18 when the boys are required to do NS)?
One wonders what is earned by forcing children who may not necessarily feel patriotic nor feel like they are citizens of Singapore go through military service which logically should be made up of men & women who should be proud to serve their own country? These same children would, after completing NS, go on to renounce their citizenship which pretty much means that it is a waste of the 2 years they spent in NS - both a waste of their time, as well as MINDEF's resources.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same problem, I was born overseas, but at an age of four I went to Singapore for a living. After a few years I left Singapore for Europe because my mother who wasnt a Singaporean couldnt get a permanent visa. Even tho my dad and my brothers all were Singaporeans. So loss for SG, really..

At one point I found out I couldnt enter Singapore because of the National Service hassle. And I had to wait till 21 to give up my SG nationality. It was sad..

But its really a loss for SG again that I had to wait 7 years to be able to be able to visit SG.

I never chose the SG nationality and no way I would ever give up my EU passport for SG.

I am running a few business in Europe, if I could have entered SG, I might not have relocated in HK. Nowadays I dont really want to ever go back to SG again.

But one thing I know is, a few people I know just paid off NS. There are fixers for that. I never bothered because I never wanted SG nationality.

Overseas Singaporeans said...

Hi Dr Huang, thank you for your continuing focus on this matter. I generally agree with your views and that of this email that you have published. I do not see the reasoning behind this coercion of young men to serve a country they have no intention of becoming part of the second they ORD, just because they are supposed to have “enjoyed” the fruits of Singapore citizenship before.

It’s funny that some are saying that NS is a duty to the nation and not a debt, yet this runs contrary to the stance that young men like the Bugge brothers must serve. If having to serve because they’ve enjoyed the advantage of citizenship is not a debt, I don’t know what is.

Think about it, if push comes to shove and a shooting war starts while they’re in service, how reliable will they be as soldiers when they’ve been forced into the trenches in such a manner? What is going to stop them from throwing down their weapons and handing themselves to the enemy the first opportunity they get, in the process handing the enemy a propaganda coup as well as destroying our own unit cohesion and morale?

PM Lee mentioned before that Singaporean Malays are not put in sensitive positions because of doubts on their loyalty to Singapore, yet we insist on conscripting these young men whom we know definitely have no intention of fighting. Where is the logic? I for one can’t see it.

I would want my own kids to hold Singaporean citizenship, but looking at the kind of arbitrary rules about NS we have, I’m having serious 2nd thoughts. It’s high time MINDEF clarifies the laws and sets firm and clearly defined rules, and not fudge their answers with terms like “unless they’ve migrated at an early age” to cover their own backsides.

Anonymous said...

The least Singapore should do is to allow these boys to renounce at 18, similar to any SPR particularly if they had left at an early age and had not returned since.

Making them come back to serve NS in order to renounce their citizenship is a joke bigger than the chewing gum ban.

I am ashamed that a world class country like ours have very badly crafted laws like this.

Are we also lacking in legal brains?

Or our weak government no longer dare to do the right thing but please the xenophobic masses to stay in power?

Singapore loses in the end.

Anonymous said...

Vindictive, xenophobic and self-serving Singaporeans as well.

Anonymous said...

Why make National Service such a grand issue?

I completed NS in 1972 as required by law, but I have always hated soldiering. Two years of my life was wasted followed by many months during the Reservist period all went to fruitless outcome. Till now that my son had completed his, no one has ever inspired, educated and convinced me that soldiering whether as a regular or conscription is good for me.

Naturally, I just loathe soldiering.


Anonymous said...

The NS laws are out-dated.

The country has lost thousands of good-able men/women which could have been avoided. Furthermore, internally, many who have gone through NS and has watched their sons go through NS felt that they are wasting their time.

In some countries in Europe, those who did not serve NS have a priviledge to retrun to their country for a limited time period. Those are re-named Nationals instead of Citizen. Perhaps, the Gov't can consider calling those who does not serve to be S'pore Nationals with no voting rights, no rights to buy Gov't funded housing, etc.

It actually make the country stronger, economically and increase nationalism. Now, all of a sudden Singapore has close to 1 million Nationals worldwide.