No escaping from national service

Should Singapore citizens residing abroad be forced to serve the country?

Aisyah Lyana

Published: 4 March 2016, 2:59 AM

In a widely publicised case, Brandon Smith, 19, who was born in Singapore but raised in New Zealand, may face jail time or exile if he fails to fulfil his national service (NS) obligations.

What's going on?

All male Singaporean citizens are expected to fulfil their NS obligations. In ensuring equality for all, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) states that there is no exemption from NS for Singapore citizens who have lived abroad since young.

Brandon holds dual Singapore and New Zealand citizenship and does not feel a sense of belonging to Singapore. In an interview with a New Zealand paper in January, Smith expressed: “I don’t see the point of [NS], really. It’s sort of a waste of time to go there and just come back anyway.”

However, MFA warned that Smith could be put behind bars for up to three years and be fined up to $10,000 if he breaches the Enlistment Act.

This is not the first time that Singaporean males growing up overseas face charges for defaulting on NS. Last month, Brian Joseph Chow was sentenced to 1.5 months jail for evading enlistment for more that six years. Chow studied in Australia since 15 and applied for deferment at 18. He was allowed to defer his NS for his foundation course but not his tertiary studies.

The news has sparked a debate among citizens. On one hand, some feel that the MFA is being fair to all Singaporeans by making sure all Singaporean boys fulfil their duty, regardless of where on the globe they reside.

19-year-old camp instructor Taha Jailani agrees that Singaporean migrants should come back to serve the nation.

The Anderson Junior College alumnus expressed: “There are a lot of skills one will pick up in national service. The journey will be arduous, but the lessons learnt are useful and important.”

Gwendy Lee, who recently graduated from Hwa Chong Institution, shared similar sentiments. She said: “I think holding a Singapore citizenship entitles an individual to different benefits, so it’s necessary to fulfil the duties.”

However, others expressed that it could be a waste of resources training people who hardly have memories in Singapore. Akmal Hakim Teo, 19, feels that NS is not meaningful for those who grew up abroad.

“We Singaporeans grew up hearing NS stories from our fathers and seniors, knowing that it will be our turn to serve soon. But the national service would be a two year setback for [people like Smith] who left Singapore since young and probably lost [his] patriotism,” said Teo, who will be commencing his national service in April.

Others argue that MFA’s stance is too heavy handed and leaves little options to such individuals.

19-year-old national serviceman KJ Shakti said: “Singapore is not their home so it’s not like they’re gonna put in the necessary effort to protect our island. If a war ever occurred in Singapore, why would they come back?”

What's your take?

1) Do you think that Singapore citizens who reside in other countries should be made to return for NS? Why?
2) Is being jailed or exiled from Singapore too harsh a punishment for men overseas who breach the Enlistment Act? Why?

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