Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was reading the article "Clearing the Air on NS dodgers" in Singapore's state controlled newspaper Straits Times of May 1, 2017 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/clearing-the-air-on-ns-dodgers. The Singapore government has decided that punishments meted out in the past were unduly lenient and because the birth rate continues to fall, severe stress is placed on the Singapore Army to maintain its numbers. Therefore they have decided that the best way to solve this problem is to heighten punishments, obviously because they believe that severe punishments would therefore persuade anyone thinking of defaulting to think twice.

Although for a handful few, this may be the reason not to abscond, I think for the vast majority it will have the reverse effect. It will give them a reason never to return to Singapore whereas if the punishment was lighter, they could still return to do their National Service and make amends with the government.

The main reason why the new strong arm tactics will not work is the fact that failure to do national service is not an extraditable offence. Singapore cannot force a national service defaulter living in a foreign country to return to Singapore through the extradition process used in criminal cases, that is, the arrest and removal of the defaulter by the foreign government to Singapore. As long as national service offense continues to be non-extraditable, the defaulter can stay as long as he wants abroad and remain safe. The only thing he cannot do is to return to Singapore. And in most cases, there is no great hardship to the defaulter in staying away. He can travel to every country in the world, as along as he doesn't step foot in Singapore.

Extradition  laws are primarily a 2 way process. If there is an extradition law in force, both the foreign country and Singapore have to agree to make it an extraditable crime. Since many foreign countries that do have national service are unlikely to have their defaulters seek refuge in Singapore of all places, there is no benefit to them in signing extradition treaties with Singapore for national service. And even if there was such a treaty, it is not a question of simply arresting the defaulter and sending him home. He has a right to challenge his extradition in the foreign court and he could raise a long list of defenses why he should not serve, such as the lack of rule of law in Singapore, the lack of democracy, the lack of free speech and expression and so on. In the end even if there was an extradition law, it may turn out to be far more embarrassing to Singapore to even try to bring a man back. But all this is moot, since at present there is no extradition laws in place for national service.

In most cases of national service default, the defaulter usually has no incentive to return anyway, punishment or no punishment. In most cases, they are usually the children of foreigners who were temporarily working in Singapore. Since there are no strong ties to Singapore anyway, it is not hardship at all for them to continue living abroad.

How would a child of an English father and a Singapore Chinese mother who worked temporarily in Singapore island and left for England with the boy, who by the way has lived in Singapore only temporarily, be persuaded to return to Singapore just because he happened to be a Singapore citizen. Threatening him with long prison sentences is not going to make any difference at all since he is not intending to return to Singapore anyway.

And this threat of punishment will in effect have the opposite effect of actually increasing the numbers of defaulters, since it will tend to convince them never to return thereby causing the state to lose a valuable pool of citizens since the ones who have lived abroad have much greater skills and qualities than those who have never left Singapore. On the other hand, if punishments are lenient, many could even have a change of heart and return to work and live in Singapore, whereas that would be mostly unlikely when faced with the prospect of harsh punishments and long jail terms.

On the whole Singapore island national service policy has been a total failure. There is an inbuilt fault in the system. It is difficult for any intelligent young man to be persuaded to like Singapore national service where you live as if you were a slave, with no freedom of speech, expression or assembly, the rule of law or a free press. It is very hard for a Singaporean young man to be patriotic when the leaders are unashamedly corrupt to the tune of millions. The Singapore Prime Minister and his Ministers all pay themselves millions of dollars each year which they call salaries. How anyone could call an income of $3 million which is the Prime Ministers' salary beats me.

In the end, if the Singaporean ministers thought that beefing up the punishments for avoiding national service would discourage defaulters, I am sorry to say it will have the opposite effect. Thanks to the new laws of enhanced punishments, more defaulters will simply stay away.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont San Francisco California
Tel: 510 491 8525
Email: nair.gopalan@yahoo.com