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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 16 Jan 2006

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


An Excerpt
Our National Service policy is underpinned by three fundamental principles.
The first is that National Service must be for meeting a critical national need 每 for it requires considerable cost both to the individual and to the nation.
That critical need is national security and our survival. This is why NSmen are deployed only in the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, where they contribute directly to the security and defence of Singapore.
Once in a while, there are suggestions that Singaporeans should be allowed different forms of National Service.
For example, a recent commentary by Ms Ong Soh Chin of The Straits Times advocated a rethink of the scope of National Service. She suggested that it be extended to include other forms of non-combat service, such as in the social sector or in the arts.
MINDEF does not think this is appropriate. We are clear that if we require or compel our people to perform National Service, it must be to fulfil a critical national need. Otherwise there is insufficient reason to compel a person to serve.
The second fundamental principle of our National Service is universality. All young Singaporean males who are fit to serve are conscripted.
If we have a system in which some are conscripted but others are not, there will be strong feelings of unfairness which will undermine the commitment of our NSmen.
This is not unique to Singapore. This was a problem that the US faced during the Vietnam War. Not everyone was conscripted. Some exploited loopholes and technicalities to avoid being drafted. There were exemptions, deferments and alternative forms of service. This affected morale and the will to fight among those who were drafted, and it also affected the American people*s support for conscription and the war.
MINDEF has always been very clear that National Service must be universal 每 all who are fit to serve National Service must serve.
The third fundamental principle of our National Service is equity. Everyone has to be treated in the same way, regardless of background or status. His deployment in NS is determined by where he is most needed to meet the needs of national defence.
In line with these three principles, MINDEF has consistently taken a tough stand against those who default on their National Service obligations.
We have introduced various measures over the years to prevent such persons from evading National Service. For example, the Constitution was amended in 1979 so that those who refused to serve could not escape their National Service obligation by simply renouncing their citizenship.
Only those who have emigrated at a young age and have not enjoyed substantial socio-economic benefits are allowed to renounce their citizenship without serving National Service.
Since 1970, we have required pre-enlistees who are going overseas for an extended period to post a bond as a promise that they will return to fulfil their National Service obligation.
The bond quantum was $20,000 in 1970 and it has been increased over the years. Since 1992, the bond quantum has been set at $75,000 or half the combined annual income of the parents, whichever is higher.
The bond is however not a substitute for National Service. If a pre-enlistee fails to return to serve his National Service, not only has he broken his bond but, more importantly, he has broken his promise and broken the law by not returning to fulfil his National Service obligation.
The bond quantum that is forfeited is the penalty he has to pay for breaking the bond. It is not redemption and not a substitute for National Service.
He still has to face the law for failing to comply with his National Service obligation under the Enlistment Act; and he still remains liable for National Service.
Sir, there is strong support for National Service among Singaporeans. Every year only a small number, about 0.5% of those liable for NS each year, or on average 100 unresolved cases of NS defaulters a year over the past 5 years, fail to register or enlist for National Service, or fail to return after their exit permits expired. The vast majority of these defaulters are overseas.
An average of 12 NS defaulters a year were charged in Court for failing to comply with the Enlistment Act.
The offences carry a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. The sentence is decided by the Court based on the circumstances of each case. Besides answering to the Court, NS defaulters who are still Singaporeans and below the age of 40 will have to serve National Service...
NS defaulters are dealt with under the Enlistment Act as they have failed to respond to orders to register or enlist for National Service, or failed to comply with Exit Permit requirements.
MINDEF*s approach in dealing with NS defaulters has been to charge them in Court for Enlistment Act offences and let the Court impose an appropriate sentence based on the circumstances of each case and the provisions of the Enlistment Act.
Over the past 20 years, 185 NS defaulters have been convicted in Court for Enlistment Act offences. Of these, 43 received jail sentences, 140 were fined and 2 were punished in connection with other civil offences. Of the 140 who were fined, 35 were ultimately jailed when they did not pay their fines.
Of the 185 convicted defaulters, 127 were enlisted or are awaiting enlistment for National Service following their convictions.
2 were supposed to enlist but defaulted again prior to their enlistment. 33 were not drafted as they were unsuitable for enlistment for security or medical reasons 每 that is, they would not have been enlisted in any case even if they had not defaulted on NS.
The remaining 23 were not drafted because they were either above the statutory age limit or no longer Singaporeans. So that*s just 23.
Of note is that the High Court had, in a 1993 case reduced the sentences of two NS defaulters 每 two brothers 每 from 8 months imprisonment to a fine of $3,000 on appeal.
This was an unusual case where it could be said that there were mitigating circumstances. Since then the Subordinate Courts have been using this case as a guideline, and not imposed a jail sentence on single-instance defaulters, no matter how long the default period was.
The courts have imposed jail sentences only in cases where there were aggravating circumstances, such as repeated Enlistment Act offences, past criminal records, concurrent charges of other civil offences, and absconding during investigation.
It is for the Court to decide on the appropriate punishment for individual cases of NS defaulters.
MINDEF had not been pressing for custodial sentences, nor had it appealed for heavier sentences. The majority of cases so far have been those who returned at a relatively young age and were thus still able to fulfil their National Service obligations.
Half of those charged in Court over the past 20 years returned at age 21 or younger, and 80% returned at age 28 or younger. A fine for such NS defaulters was not inappropriate as they were still able to serve their National Service obligations in full.
However, Melvyn Tan*s case has highlighted an inadequacy in penalties for those who have defaulted for so many years that they are no longer able to discharge their National Service obligations in full.
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.
Sir, in the middle of last year, MINDEF embarked on a periodic review of the Enlistment Act and the Singapore Armed Forces Act. This review focused on the penalty regimes in the Act.
The review of the penalty regime in the Singapore Armed Forces Act was completed in November last year and a bill to amend the Singapore Armed Forces Act is up for 2nd reading now before the House. The proposal is to increase the maximum fine quantum in the SAF Act...
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.
This will be in line with the amendment to the Singapore Armed Forces Act which is now before the House. While the maximum fine will be higher, it is important to note that the fine, like the bond, is not a substitute for serving National Service.
The fine is a penalty for failing to fulfil his obligations under the Enlistment Act, and the defaulter remains liable for National Service.
MINDEF has concluded that the maximum jail sentence of 3 years is adequate, as it is longer than the current full-time National Service duration of two years.
Whether or not a particular offence merits the maximum punishment of 3 years imprisonment would be a matter for the Court to decide based on the facts of each case.
MINDEF does not consider it necessary at this time to seek a minimum mandatory jail sentence for Enlistment Act offences, as the circumstances of the cases vary widely.
However, 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.
Serious cases include those who default on their full-time National Service responsibilities for two years or longer from the time they were required to register or enlist, or from the time their exit permits expired for those granted deferment, whichever is later.
We believe that it is in the public interest that such NS defaulters face a jail sentence, unless there are mitigating circumstances.
I would like to provide some illustrations of what MINDEF considers to be sentences appropriate to the nature of the offence or commensurate with its gravity:

-  Where the default period exceeds two years but the defaulter is young enough to serve his full-time and operationally ready NS duties in full, MINDEF will press for a short jail sentence.

Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot serve his full-time NS in a combat vocation or fulfil his operationally ready NS obligations in full, a longer jail sentence to reflect the period of NS he has evaded may be appropriate.

Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot be called up for NS at all, a jail sentence up to the maximum of 3 years may be appropriate.

In all instances, we expect that the Court will take into account whatever aggravating or mitigating circumstances there may be in each case to determine the appropriate sentence...
Mr Speaker, Sir, the response to Melvyn Tan*s case has highlighted that Singaporeans feel strongly that defaulting on National Service is wrong and defaulters should face serious consequences.
The Government agrees with this view. NS defaulters must face the Court to answer for their offences, and thereafter must discharge their National Service liabilities.
Whether such NS defaulters, who have answered for their offences in Court and paid the penalty, should be eventually accepted back into our fold, is not something that MINDEF can determine.
It is for society to decide. And society will also look at whether such individuals, apart from having paid a penalty, are sincerely contrite for having failed to serve our nation, and whether they have attempted to made amends.

Full Text of Speech

Source: News Release 16 Jan 2006

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

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