Everytime convicted National Service (NS) defaulter Melvyn Tan flies into town, his presence here takes the bite out of the promise by Singaporean authorities that Permanent Residents (PR) who dodge compulsory military conscription would face "adverse consequences".
Tough talk by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to come down hard on PRs apparently does not apply to Singapore citizens after fines have been paid as past sins would be forgiven. How sweet and reassuring for citizens.
Melvyn Tan, the poster boy for the high-profile Republic of Singapore versus National Service (NS) defaulter case nearly eight years ago, is a living example of how quickly bygones can be bygones.
Ahhh... what a warm-hearted and forgiving society Singaporeans live in.
Yes, Melvyn will be coming again for another piano recital. And he's made the news in Singapore's paper of record in rather different circumstances from years ago.
Positive press coverage
A story on his upcoming concert graces the pages of the 90 cents newspaper's Life! section today. Melvyn must be mighty pleased with the pre-publicity as the report omits totally the
You won't find even a paragraph that summarises in a nutshell - known as a nutgraf in newsroom speak - Melvyn's his brush with the law that ignited debate among heartlanders over the price of
Netizens with long memories will recall that Melvyn was fined S$3,000 by a Singaporean civil court in 2005 for evading NS 28 years ago. His parents, who bankrolled his flight to London to study music before he served NS, also forfeited the S$30,000 security deposit. Mind you, in those days, 30k was a huge sum of cash.
When you spread this money over a 10-year training cycle that most NSmen undergo and with the 2.5 years of full-time NS that Melvyn avoided serving, the price that the Tan family paid to Singapore is in my opinion a small price to pay for the opportunity for their precious son of Singapore to chase his dreams and enjoy his youth without risking life and limb in uniform.
It works out to a sum of S$2,640 a year for every year of NS Melvyn avoided, or just S$220 a month (which is about 2.2 Casino levies if you love flirting with lady luck).
Apart from fines for evading NS, anecdotal accounts of NS defaulters who somehow re-enter Singapore's workforce and settle down in society make one wonder if MINDEF's "adverse consequences" threat is all pomp and bluster.
Afterall, didn't the mighty MINDEF caricature NS defaulters as society pariahs (my choice of words) who would pay a price for deciding not to close ranks and defend the Lion City?
What signal is Singapore telegraphing to all those calculative draft dodgers out there when it welcomes NS defaulters back into mainstream society just like that?
To wealthy families, the fine is something they can well afford and would probably gladly pay as membership fees to the exclusive club of NS defaulters. The risk of having junior sent to jail is troubling. But this remains an existential threat so long as Singaporeans do not see MINDEF pursuing draft dodgers to the ends of the earth.
According to MINDEF, a total of 1,900 Singaporeans and Singapore PRs defaulted NS from 2006 to 2011. The 1,900 defaulter cases (click here) translate to defence manpower worth about three infantry battalions that the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team has lost.
Do any of you recall reading about 1,900 court cases where NS evaders were sent to jail? Can anyone even list a handful of high profile ones?
So some may call MINDEF's bluff.
What MINDEF cannot calculate is the damage done to Commitment to Defence (C2D) when Singaporeans see, hear about and remember the kid gloove treatment that convicted NS defaulters receive.
When would-be NS evaders learn about Melvyn's success in being rehabilitated into Singapore society, his success in attracting positive press from the mainstream media, they would probably build a mental picture that the downside risks of cheating the system are not as dire as MINDEF paints it.
One of the "adverse consequences" MINDEF should mete out on price draft dodgers is the absolute certainty they will be declared persona non grata should they wish to return to this blooming island to 1) see their ageing parents 2) enhance their career 3) enjoy Singaporean food or other lifestyle pursuits NSmen have earned the right to claim because they served their country.
When NS defaulters who paid their fines are turned away by immigration at the point of entry, you can bet people will see that MINDEF means business.[If Dr Goh Keng Swee was still in charge as DM, am sure he would know what to do.]
To be sure, Melvyn will suffer his just desserts as he will not enjoy free SAFRA membership (For one year. Terms and conditions apply). Neither will he receive up to $100 in vouchers as part of the Government's Thank You to all NSmen and full-time National Servicemen as part of celebrations that marked 45 Years of NS in 2012.
Pity the Singaporean families who heeded the call to arms. Every Singaporean son who served NS must be wondering how different their future might be had they met the girl of their dreams, furthered their studies, started work or started a family with a two-year headstart and no reservist obligations to fulfil.
One can say with full and undiminished confidence that families who paid the ultimate price for their freedom would gladly trade $220 a month for the chance to see their loved ones alive and well again.
What do you say to these families about people like Melvyn?
Sure, he had his day in court and has long since paid his fine.
And Singapore society must not be so petty, hard-hearted and unforgiving as to nitpick on a lifestyle choice Melvyn made in his youth.
Or should we?
You may also like:
National Service: Permanent Residents who don't serve will face adverse consequences. Click here
45 Years of NS: NS defaulter's homecoming for National Museum concert. Click here