Leong Mun Wai's statements about NS exemptions for new citizens misleading: Ng Eng Hen

This is up from about one in 20 in the early 2000s, with PRs and new citizens forming an increasing proportion.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - About one in five full-time national servicemen (NSFs) enlisted yearly are new citizens or permanent residents, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Tuesday (Aug 2).

This is up from about one in 20 in the early 2000s, with PRs and new citizens forming an increasing proportion of new enlistees over the years, said Dr Ng.

He said: "Without that extra inject of new citizens and PRs, our smaller birth cohorts would have impacted Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) manpower needs more acutely."

Slightly more than half of these are new citizens, while the rest are PRs, Dr Ng told Parliament in response to statements about National Service (NS) exemptions for new citizens made by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai that he said were misleading.

Dr Ng said: "I have decided that it is important to correct the misleading statements put out by Mr Leong, because they strike at the foundations of equity and universality that underpin NS in Singapore."

He cited a Facebook post that Mr Leong had made on SAF Day (July 1), where he said it is only fair that all PRs who want to become citizens must do NS. In the post, he also argued that Singapore should allow easier deferment or even exemption from NS for talented individuals.

He said: "Is it fair that we forfeit our local talents their chances of developing their talents while many new male citizens do not need to do NS?"

Referring to this statement and others Mr Leong has made over the last year, Dr Ng said the facts must be put out to reassure the national servicemen in the SAF and Home Team.

He said: "If pre-enlistees are misled into thinking that new citizens of their age are exempted, where will they have the heart to serve NS?"

Many new citizens are enlisted for NS every year, Dr Ng added, and new citizens and PRs are contributing to national defence.

Dr Ng added that NS is the bedrock of the SAF and our national defence.

He said: "MPs have the duty to ask questions and debate policies, including NS policies, in this House. But they should not make misleading statements that can weaken NS, the SAF and Home Team."

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Dr Ng added there should be no doubt that for every young male citizen, whether by birth, registration or descent, NS liabilities are the same.

He said they will be enlisted for NS at 18 years or older to perform full-time NS and thereafter must fulfil their Operationally Ready NS (ORNS) duties.

Dr Ng added that if a foreigner comes to Singapore and becomes a citizen as a mature adult, typically in his 30s or 40s, he is exempt from NS as he did not enjoy any socio-economic benefits like young Singaporeans and also because he would be too old to enlist for full time NS.

In response, Mr Leong said the Minister had not answered his question on the number of new citizens who were not required to serve NS.

Mr Leong said: "What is the number or the number of new citizens who have not performed NS? The number the Minister has given only forms a subset of the new citizens."

Dr Ng reiterated that an average of 3,400 new citizens serve or will serve NS each year - a figure which the Defence Ministry had given Mr Leong in July - and said he had already answered Mr Leong's question.

"It's not in the interest of this House to further debate based on misleading statements and inaccurate statements," said Dr Ng.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.