Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rethink needed on National Service for soon-to-be ex-Singaporeans aka Bugge Bros Part 2 (Letter to Forum)

Dear editor

Introduction- The Bugge brothers saga

The plight of the Norwegian Bugge brothers was highlighted in the Straits Times (Give up citizenship? Brothers must do NS first) and Mr. Bugge (the father) has even written an account of his family’s predicament in an online forum. ( see
The Bugge siblings were sons of a Norwegian father and Singaporean mother and automatically became Singaporean citizens when born here as per the law then.
They spent much of their early childhood and adolescence in Norway and came back to Singapore after being away for 10 years. They then left again for good after their O Levels and have been in Norway since.
They served a 19-month long National Service in Norway and two of them subsequently became professional soldiers.
Catch-22 situation –Renounce citizenship at 21 – but serve NS first
Singapore’s Enlistment Act and immigration laws have put the siblings in an awkward Catch-22 situation. Although they had always intended to renounce Singapore citizenship, they were unable to do so until they are 21 years old and only after enlisting for Singapore’s National Service when they turned 16 ½ years. They risk arrest if they visit their parents here.
Beside the Bugge brothers, there are other bon fide cases where the whole family unit has already migrated but the male children had to stay back to serve their NS only to renounce their Singaporean citizenship when they turn 21.
I personally believe in the necessity of National Service – but only for Singaporeans and for Permanent Residents who consider Singapore home.
Way-out for bona-fide cases
For those caught in the bureaucratic web like the Bugge brothers, may I suggest the following:-
Bona fide cases with clear evidence that the family has already uprooted themselves from Singapore or in complicated cases like the Bugge brothers, a bond eg $75K or half of combined income of parents- whichever is higher, should be paid the moment the boy reaches enlistment age of 16 ½ years. He will not serve NS and when he renounces his citizenship at 21 and has left for his new country, the money is returned and we have gained a friend.
However, if on reaching 21, he changes his mind about renunciation, the bond is forfeited and he still has to serve NS like everyone else.
National Service should be the proud duty of every Singaporean man, not a form of slavery for a soon-to-be ex-Singaporean.
PS: $75K or half of parents’ income, was the amount paid as bond for pre-enlistees who were allowed to complete their university course overseas before NS. This is no longer allowed.
Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
PS: This letter published in ST and My Paper forum page so far (8.9.08)
Addendum (9.9.8) Bugge Sr's comments on online forum in response to my letter :


Posts: 33
Join Date: Aug 2008

Yesterday, 10:42 PM
#8 Coolbeagle: Let me add a clarification to my correction. (This is becoming a saga in the good old Nordic mould)
We arrive back in Singapore in late November 1990, not as highly paid Expats with free house, free car and free schooling for our kids, but to set up a Marine business in a VERY competitive market. With the rate the International Schools charged we had no choice but to look at local schools, which required the boys to have Student Passes, which again required that I had an Employment Pass. For those who remember those days, this was NOT done over night.
When the school started in early Jan.-91 we had not managed to obtain any of the above. When we eventually was informed that they had the right to hold dual citizenship, and thus did NOT require Student Pass, it was too late for the boys to enroll in any local schools. As said in my last, this did not require them to give up their Norwegian citizenship or passport, they only got a chop in their Norwegian passport. Neither did they relinquish their right to choose at 21, as stated in the Constitution. We did NOT know at that time that MINDEF was more powerful then the Constitution.
The pink I/C came about some time later. They were offered and, in our ignorance, we thought that this had to do with the acceptance that they had a right to both Singapore and Norwegian citizenship, not that it would cause us 15 years of agony, so far.
Please understand that we had deliberately groomed these three boys to be independent minded and prepared them for the day when they were allowed to make up their own mind where they wanted to call home. Consequently were they would have to serve NS.
When kids are 18 he/she is allowed - and encouraged -to stand on their own two feet and to make his own decisions. This may not be according to Confucian philosophy, but it is the way of the Vikings.
When the oldest son decided to return to Norway to study, it was not at all clear which nationality he would choose, hence the request for deferment from NS in Singapore.
If he, and his brothers had chosen to stay in Singapore, whether as Citizens or PR, they would have served NS here, that is not disputed.
As they did not, the dispute is about their obligation to serve the country of which they ARE citizens, and their right not to forced into holding dual citizenship against their will, and against the Law.
They DO NOT seek to come back and "enjoy the benefits of Singapore", only to be allowed to travel to, and via, Singapore like any other Norwegian citizens. They have a large family her, including Grand Parents who are not able to travel to Norway, or even to JB or Bali, to see them.
Is that a crime, punishable with 15 years of agony + 3 years in jail and S$ 10,000 in fine?
Over the last week I have realised that there are hundreds, if not thousands of boys who is, or will become, in the same predicament. Some does not even know they are seen as NS defaulters by MINDEF.
One of these days a major diplomatic crisis will develop around this.
Let's say that two of our sons came through Singapore on the way to some trouble spot in Asia on official UN assignment and as part of a Norwegian contingent. If they should be arrested and put in jail as NS defaulters it could cause quite an incident, especially if foreign press, not too friendly towards Singapore, should be present at the time.
Time for Singapore to "grow up" and not treat everything to do with male citizenship as if it is a NS question. It is not, it is a question of the right and OBLIGATION of dual citizens by birth to choose one and serve that country, with their life, if necessary.


Anonymous said...

Dr Huang,

Don't know if I am right but I feel that times have changed.

Most Singaporeans don't have qualms serving their NS anymore.

So, I really don't think it's an issue of dodging NS.

I think there are more genuine cases of singaporeans not wanting to be citizens anymore but unable to renounce their citizenships until 21.

Why not have a neater solution?

Just let them pay up the $75 000 and let them renounce immediately. However, make it harder for these people when they apply for citizenship again. Afterall, they need to show their commitment and sincerity having changed their mind before. Like, if they return as foreign talents, serve NS longer in areas where they can contribute their knowledge and expertise.

I foresee our current NS ruling will cause many future problems as we become more cosmopolitan.

The law is not catching up with the times.

A rethink is definitely needed.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi anon,
Thanks for comments.
If these boys can renounce before 21, let them do it ( even without paying any money).
After renunciation, they would lose all privileges of citizenship including having to pay school fees, hospital fees at a foreignor's rate etc.
Needless to say, Singapore should make it almost impossible for them to revert back to Singapore citizenship again.

We should make NS so attractive a proposition that even foreigners ( without NS obligations) would volunteer. That's the subject of another letter to forum ( haha).

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Anonymous said...

Has there been any official response to your letter in the ST Forum ? And what is the latest outcome on the Norwegian case ? thanks !