Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sounding the wrong note: Bygones are bygones as Singapore welcomes NS defaulter Melvyn Tan (again)

"NS-liable PRs who fail to register or enlist for NS will be treated as NS defaulters. PRs who renounce their PR status without serving NS will also face adverse consequences. Their failure to serve NS will be taken into account when they subsequently apply to study or work in Singapore, or when they try to have their PR status reinstated." - Colonel Kenneth Liow, Director Public Affairs, Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), May 2012

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 small price he paid for evading full-time NS in the 1970s.

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 freedom NS.

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).

"Adverse consequences"?
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


Anonymous said...

We should give Melvyn Tan a visa for 1433 days the next time he arrives in Singapore. Certainly, there is always a welcoming room at the hotel at 1°21′25.47″N 103°58′25.11″E. As a taxpayer, I'd gladly pay for his accommodation.

Fsck him and fsck the idiots who invited him back. How dare they. Some things are forgiveable. This is not.

Anonymous said...

So what should Mr Melvin Tan do, to make up for his NS transgression, that will satisfy you, the writer of this blog,

In your opinion.

Anonymous said...

This is a needless and provocative spit in the face.

It is our duty to publicize it as far and wide as we can.

Anonymous said...

Melvin Tan, white horses, etc. Now with the Population White Paper, all hell will break loose one fine day. NS has no meaning anymore. It is a wonder the MIWs still think its hanky dory with our men in green. One fine day this NS thread that binds all S'porean will break and the ruling party as usual, would not know how to handle it.

David Boey said...

Re: Anonymous at 3:34 AM 6 Feb'13

People like him should just stay away.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

this gay bloke has been a brit citizen since 1980s.

Anonymous said...

ermmm...is there any point to these vitriol-lined, almost 'tribalistic' displays of nationalism? especially in this interconnected and globalised world? i feel like i'm looking in on a bunch of fenqing spewing hate and calling for war. ok, so it's really none of my business...but it's still disturbing nonetheless. we all did our fair share of NS. i may not have enjoyed it but went through it anyway. no big deal la... of course i know there will always be those who slip through the net because of who they are or the connections they can pull. so be it. this world ain't perfect, just like how so many of our experiences during NS are far from perfect. is it a big deal? we see so many other more egregious examples of unfairness, inequality, exploitation and abuse each and every day and most, if not all, of it doesn't seem to upset anyone particularly... so why pick on this unfortunate chap? does it undermine society's collective C2D? and if so, why should it matter? someone waves a flag and makes a speech and we're supposed to feel moved, to pretend like we are this big contradictory and illusory 'us'? NO. i just dun buy it. not one iota. i didn't choose to be born here and i certainly think that the very notion of spilling blood to so-called 'defend' this artificial construct that is 'mine' because of an accident of birth is indefensible morally. displays of nationalism, however disguised or banal, are by definition, truly kinda vulgar and tasteless...

Anonymous said...

On humanity grounds, i say we let these defaulters return ONLY if to visit their old, frail parents and grandparents - a one time entry/exit pass. For other purposes, NO!

i have nothing against Melvin Tan or the defaulters but we need to "answer" to the hundred thousands of NSmen whom sacrifice for this country and the parents who paid the ultimate price when their sons don't come home from National Service. How are you going to answer to them?

So come back and see your love ones one last time and don't come back anymore, we need must think of friends and fellow NSmen who died during service.

Anonymous said...

Hi David, love the sarcasm that you injected in the second half of your article.

How about those ex-Singaporeans who joined foreign allied militaries, are they still considered persona non grata here, even though they could have helped in establishing better relations?

Also agree that the guy should just (to paraphrase Tolkien) "GO AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK!"

bluexpresso said...

Rich or talented folks can be allowed to default. But please court martial the rest.

David Boey said...

Dear Anonymous 6 Feb 1:48 PM,
From what this blog has heard, Singaporeans who join a foreign military have been declared persona non grata should they attempt to come here in their official capacity.

Search: Senang Diri, Prodigal Sons or check this post


Best regards,


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Hi David, I'd like to see the day when an ex-Singaporean becomes a Service Chief of a major power (e.g. US or UK) military service and is denied entry here, it would make for very interesting headlines.

Anonymous said...

Won't happen. If he is so ambitious and capable, he will stay here on the fast track scheme. Not go there and compete with combat veterans.

I still remember this quote: some SAF officers like to talk big with their foreign counterparts of the same rank, even though they have sons, combat proven, of the SAF officer's age.

Anonymous said...

Half of our population, the females dont even serve NS, dont give a F about NS and couldnt care less about NS.

in ah boy to man, most women who watch the film only woke up when the CB leave was mentioned, and most women can only recall that part after leaving the move theatre.

as for melvin, wont surprise me if the life section in the straits time article are written by a CB. likewise all those top govt officials that in all those minitries manning those top post give a F about NS.

Anonymous said...

edit: last sentence:

likewise all those female top govt officials that is manning all those ministries give a F about NS.

c/s- mad hatter said...

David & all,
As a disabled veteran who first served ns in singapore
(infantry later home affairs & seconded to F.A) & later immigrated to the USA 10 years after that
and joined the US Army.
I am disapointed but not surprised with some of the comments here.
My generation is not like some of you in terms of outlook
but I thought that one of the things that made Singapore great was the rule of law applied equally all across the spectrum.
I can tell you that I was not gung ho about doing ns in any way.
I tried many ways to wayang my way out of any training or duties.
I know whenI passed out of tekong(ITD at that time)I was proud when my parents came to see me.
I do know from first hand experience that there is no perfect system,
but with no accountabilty there will be less & less people who will repect the institution. regards,Tom