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     Community Issues - NS Dues: Did pianist Melvyn Tan get off too lightly?

     National Service Dues: Did pianist Melvyn Tan get off too lightly?


Chronological Order (Earliest on top)


Excerpt of article by Kristina Tom in The Straits Times of 20 Nov 2005 (8-9)

"After staying away from Singapore for nearly 30 years because he defaulted on his national service, pianist Melvyn Tan has finally paid his dues.

"The 49-year-old, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the past 37 years, has paid a fine for not fulfilling his national service duty..."


Excerpt of letter by Liew Kai Khiun, London, UK, in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 22 Nov 2005 (H10)

"I used to regard national service (NS) as an important legal obligation that has been placed on male Singaporeans for the security of the nation.

"Those who had evaded the draft or had either gone Absent Without Official Leave or deserted the army were not only punished severely with long periods of detention, but also had their service extended as a result...

"In various vocations, many of us have given our blood, sweat and tears in the two to 2½ years of NS, not counting the annual in-camp training that we have to undertake subsequently.

"Thus I am disappointed that our contributions are worth at most $5,000, the maximum amount which London-based Singaporean pianist Melvyn Tan could have been fined for evading the draft. This is a mere GBP1,700 which, to the resident of the posh Notting Hill estate, is insignificant...

"To add insult to the injury, Mr Tan, now a British citizen, will be invited back to Singapore like a national hero, to sit on the jury of the National Piano and Violin Competition at the end of the year..."


Excerpt of letter by Colonel Benedict Lim, Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Defence, in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 24 Nov 2005 (H11)

"...All able-bodied male Singapore citizens are required to serve national service to contribute to the peace, security and stability of the country. Singaporeans enjoy the socio-economic benefits that this stability brings and are expected to shoulder the responsibility of national defence.

"Mindef takes a serious stand on all defaulters who evade their national-service duty. Defaulters will have to bear the consequences of their action and will be dealt with by the courts under the Enlistment Act.

"They are, on conviction, liable for an imprisonment term not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both. The exact sentence will be determined by the courts.

"Besides having to answer to the courts for their national-service offences, defaulters also have to serve their national service if they are still liable for national service.

"In the case of Mr Melvyn Tan, although he had renounced his citizenship in 1978, he remained liable for the national-service offence and has been dealt with by the courts in accordance with the Enlistment Act."


Excerpt of letter by Ben Leong Wing Lup, Massachusetts, USA, in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 29 Nov 2005 (H7)

"...NSmen who go AWOL may get time in DB, but they also get to keep their citizenship and will enjoy government subsidies for secondary and tertiary education, HDB concession loans, IPPT monetary awards and New Singapore Shares. Mr Tan would probably have received only some educational and maybe health subsidies until he was 12 and none of the above.

"This is the crux of the matter: $5,000 is neither the price of national service nor the price of citizenship. It really is the fee for renouncing Singapore citizenship if you happen to be born to Singaporean parents in Singapore and delay renouncing your citizenship for four years - and yes, you also have to throw in another 37 years of self-imposed exile to top it off.

"This is the moral of the story: if you are a guy, get your parents to have you delivered in the US. Then, if you should later decide to renounce your Singapore citizenship just before the national-service call-up, you can save yourself $5,000 and a whole lot of hassle."


Excerpt of letter by Colonel Benedict Lim, Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Defence, in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 30 Nov 2005 (H10)

"...Mindef has been reviewing the Enlistment Act to bring it up to date. This review includes a careful study of the adequacy of the current penalties to allow for firm action to be taken against those who do not fulfil their duty.

"Mindef will give a full response on the matter when the review is completed."


Excerpt of article 'Price of dodging draft: $33,000' by David Boey, Defence Correspondent, in The Straits Times of 1 Dec 2005 (H10)

"...He also lost a $30,000 security bond which was pledged as a guarantee that he would return to serve NS.

"Subordinate Courts records show that Mr Tan was convicted and sentenced on April 19 this year and paid the $3,000 fine 'in default of one month's imprisonment'.

"He escaped serving NS because of his age.

"The Ministry of Defence said yesterday that if an NS defaulter returned before the age of 40, he would still be enlisted for NS..."


Excerpt of letter by Ivan Michael Pung in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 1 Dec 2005 (H11)

"...The real reason we answer the call-up is not to enjoy the rewards cited, like HDB concessionary loans, IPPT monetary awards and New Singapore Shares.

"We all serve NS so that our parents, siblings and loved ones will sleep well each and every night. We know that we must defend what belongs to us.

"And when I ORD, I will continue to sleep well as I know there will be others like me who will give up 2½ years of their life to defend the country. Without young men like us, Singapore is really just a 'little red dot' on the map...

"It doesn't matter if he left Singapore when he was nine, 12 or 18 years old. What matters is that at 18 years of age he should be mature enough to realise that he had a major responsibility at hand...

"I do not think that Mr Tan woke up one month before his concert in Singapore and realised that he had not served his national service..."


Excerpt of letter by Ng Hwee Chong in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 1 Dec 2005 (H11)

"...The real bone of contention is whether Mr Tan had been the subject of special leniency because he has acquired some renown as a pianist.

"In this regard, Mindef's reply was clearly inadequate. It is not sufficient to simply state that the sentence was determined by the courts and leave it at that. There are precedents for sentencing, and if Mr Tan's sentence was manifestly inadequate, then Mindef, together with the Attorney-General's Chambers, should have taken steps to appeal against the sentence.

"If, on the other hand, the sentence was correct, then Mindef should enunciate clearly the principles justifying such a sentence..."


Excerpt of article 'NS evaders could face stiffer sentences in future' in CyberPioneer on 2 Dec 2005

" 'I'm personally in favour of imposing custodial sentences for people who knowingly and deliberately evade National Service,' said Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean on 1 Dec...

" 'The way that he was dealt with is exactly the same that other people in similar circumstances as him were dealt with, both by the Ministry of Defence and by the courts.

"Sentencing for people with his circumstances has generally been a fine.

" 'So what we are doing now is we are looking at the penalties that have been imposed to see whether we should ask for stiffer penalties, including custodial sentences,' said Mr Teo..."



Excerpt of letter by Dr Lim Boon Hee in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 6 Dec 2005 (H8)

"Nowhere in pianist Melvin Tan's open letter to Singaporeans regarding the furore over his national-service evasion did he mention how he felt about dodging conscription - was he contrite? Unrepentant?

"It would have been more palatable had he expressed some tinge of remorse or regret for failing to do his national duty, so as to appease those who sacrificed a good part of their youth serving the nation and who felt that Tan got away too lightly...

"Is it pure coincidence that the pianist surrendered himself only after the age where he cannot be made to pay back national-service time not done?...


Excerpt of article "Rethink scope of national service" by Ong Soh Chin in the The Straits Times of 6 Dec 2005 (22)

"To many Singaporeans, Melvyn Tan is less a man because he never went through this national test. He is also less of a patriot because he never served his country.

"And to many Singaporeans, he inadvertently became the symbol of the the desecration of this sacred institution called NS. The $3,000 fine this 'quitter' paid to tickle the ivories overseas was too light, they cry, and it has made a mockery of the contributions of the many young Singaporean males who have properly served their country...

"While Singapore certainly needs its solders, there is no reason why non-soldiers cannot do their part for their country, a country that wants to be open and inclusive...

"A real man is one who admits his mistakes and is brave enough to face the music, so to speak. Melvyn Tan did both, without asking for special privileges.

"Now perhaps it is time for our nation to rethink its notions of national service, so future Singaporeans will not need to have their loyalty (and their manhood) questioned unnecessarily."


Excerpt of letter by Jack Foo in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 8 Dec 2005 (H9)

"...The suggestion by Ms Ong for Singaporeans to serve in capacities other than the traditional military, police or civil-defence vocations does not take into account the basic premise of national service. National service came about because of the need to have a credible defence force. Everything else is secondary...

"Ms Ong says 'not every man is a warrior' and uses this as a justification for those who are not 'warriors' to serve in other capacities.

"I believe the thousands who have completed national service as soldiers, policemen and civil defence officers would say that they, too, were not warriors, but they did not use it as an excuse to defer or avoid national service..."


Excerpt of letter by Lena Soh Kwee Kim (Ms) in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 8 Dec 2005 (H9)

"...While I agree that it is sad that we should lose a talent like Mr Tan or other 'would-be-prodigal Singaporeans' like him, I do not think we can afford to compromise national security by changing the nature of our national service to accommodate the aspirations of individuals.

"And yes, it does make a mockery of the 'many young Singaporean males who have properly served their country'.

"If national service were designed to cater to the 'special aptitude' of a person by allowing him to be channelled to an 'appropriate industry', wouldn't this relegate national service to a mere ritual of convenience and encourage people to become self-serving in the name of serving the country?...


Excerpt of letter by Lin Chunlong  in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 8 Dec 2005 (H9)

"...I am not against forgiving and I am also not opposed to the court's choice of punishment. What I am worried about is the tendency of people to develop an approving sentiment towards dodging national service - to start thinking that it is a logical course of action if one possesses talents that can render him a greater contributor to other aspects of society...

"I take no interest in admonishing Mr Tan. We should forgive and embrace him. However, we must forgive with a sense of moral clarity: that an action like his is wrong and can never be justified. If we think otherwise, our solid defence system may start to see signs of failure."

MINDEF to press for jail sentence in serious cases of NS defaulters

"Since the appeal case in the High Court in 1993, besides Melvyn Tan there have been 13 other cases of convicted defaulters who were sentenced only to a fine and who were not subsequently enlisted because they were already over 40 or almost 40.

"This is something that we need to look into more closely, especially as there may now be more defaulters who are 40 or older coming before the courts with the passing of time...
"MINDEF will be proposing to the House to increase the maximum fine provided for in the Enlistment Act from the current $5,000 to $10,000...
"...from now on, MINDEF will ask the prosecutor to press for a jail sentence in serious cases of NS defaulters, and explain why we consider a jail sentence appropriate in a particular case... "