Increasing jail terms of National Service defaulters defies common sense

Singapore’s High Court has increased the jail terms of 3 NS defaulters in a landmark judgement CNA for reasons which defy common sense.

The first case involved defaulter Ang Lee Thye who had left Singapore at the age of 14 and did not return until he was 41. The prosecution, led by Solicitor-General (SG) Kwek appealed and added 9 months to Ang’s original 2-year sentence.

In arguing for a stiffer punishment, SG Kwek cited the “importance of general deterrence” to send a signal “to those who seek to game the system“. Kwek also claimed that Ang “timed his eventual return after he had turned 40 and was no longer a person subject to the Enlistment Act, having evaded his NS obligations completely.” .

But how did Ang game the system when “a defaulter who has passed the age of 40 and cannot be called up for NS at all, MINDEF will press for a jail sentence of up to the maximum of three years“. MINDEF

Kwek must be joking to suggest that Ang timed his eventual return to face the possibility of a 3-year jail term.

Kwek must also be stretching our imagination from Changi to Tuas to suggest that Ang (or his parents) had hatched such an elaborate plan at the age of 14/18 years old.

Defaulters must be punished but increasing the jail sentences excessively serves no purpose.

Will increasing Ang’s sentence deter 2-decade NS defaulter wannabes? If it does not serve as a deterrent, why bother?

Ang is paying a very high price and no one in their right mind above 40 would trade 2 years of freedom for 2 years of defaulting NS. Don’t believe? Get MSM to do another survey.

Unlike scholars, elites and white horses who could really game the system without resorting to defaulting, there is really NO advantage for peasants to default in pursuit of a degree. A jail term upon returning, say, at age 30, will disrupt one’s career (earning many times more than at age 18). Is a prison record on one’s resume an achievement?

According to our learned judges, the “exceptional performance” of defaulters who return to serve NS will no longer be a mitigating factor. Except in “truly exceptional cases” as in Seow Wei Sin v PP.
But didn’t Justice Chan highlight the following “major aggravating and mitigating factors” less than a year ago?

  • the number of years the offender evaded NS without a VEP;
  • whether the offender voluntarily surrendered or was arrested;
  • if he had pleaded guilty or claimed trial; and
  • his performance during full-time NS.

Hmm … flipping prata again?

In a more recent case involving the elder son of Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, Tan was jailed for 4 months and 13 days. Tan defaulted for about a decade and became a Canadian citizen in 2005. In sentencing Tan in February, Judge Ho said that “due weight was given to a good testimonial from his superior during NS, along with his admission of guilt and the fact that he surrendered himself”.

Hmm … suddenly mitigating factors all no pakai in April?

There seems to be some miscarriage of justice when judges could U-turn on “mitigating factors”.

In the case of 24-year old defaulter Brian Chow, his 3-month sentence was reduced to 6 weeks in “light of his exceptional NS performance. (I am not arguing for a higher sentence.)

In Shakti’s case, his was increased from 3 weeks to 10 weeks.

Both cases are pretty similar and only less than a year apart.

(Perhaps our judges are having a massive headache because the root cause of defaults has not been addressed by the government, ie requiring all 18-year-old Singaporean males to continue sacrificing their career to provide a service to our country has not been debated in Parliament. The government should also not place any hurdles for Singaporeans to renounce citizenship.)

There appears to be only a handful of NS defaulters serving jail time every year. In 2012, Minister Ng disclosed that “over the past 3 years, 5 NS defaulters have been sentenced to imprisonment by the Court”.

The court also said that “this is simply a matter of national pride and loyalty”. But are Singaporeans loyal when they serve NS only because of the fear of punishment? Is “national pride” not a joke?

CJ Menon: “..would create a “perverse incentive for fit Singaporeans to choose unlawfully to do their NS later.” But who in their right mind will defer NS knowing the severe consequences outweigh ‘benefits’?

There is no evidence to confirm that increasing jail terms of NS defaulters will reduce the number of defaults. If it doesn’t serve as a deterrent, why bother wasting tax dollars in an overkill to send the ‘right’ message?

One can’t help but notice a Population White Paper propaganda angle in the CNA article which mentioned:
“As Singapore’s fertility rate falls”
“so will the pool of male Singaporeans .. fall by about 30 per cent by 2030”.

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