1 in 5 NS enlistees made up of new citizens and PRs, says Ng Eng Hen who slams PSP's Leong Mun Wai for 'misleading' claims
SINGAPORE — New citizens and Singapore permanent residents (PRs) form about 20 per cent of all national servicemen who are now enlisted.
- New citizens and permanent residents form about 20 per cent of all national servicemen enlisted now
- Each year, an average of 3,400 new citizens register for National Service, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said
- Mr Leong, a Non-Constituency MP, had raised the notion of foreigners attaining citizenship without serving National Service
- Dr Ng said that men who receive their citizenship as mature adults are not enlisted because they are too old to do full-time service
- However, new male citizens who had lived in Singapore when young and enjoyed the social and economic benefits are enlisted when they reach 18 years of age or older
SINGAPORE — New citizens and Singapore permanent residents (PRs) form about 20 per cent of all national servicemen who are now enlisted. Of these, "slightly more than half" are citizens by registration and the remaining are PRs, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday (Aug 2).
He added that each year since 2000, an average of 3,400 new citizens register for National Service (NS). Under the Enlistment Act, all male citizens and Singapore PRs will be liable for NS registration upon reaching the age of 16.5 years old.
Dr Ng provided these figures in Parliament in a ministerial statement on the topic of new citizens serving NS, which he said was prompted by “inaccurate and misleading” assertions by Mr Leong Mun Wai, Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.
Dr Ng also took issue with Mr Leong for making “misleading statements that can weaken NS, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team”.
Last month, Mr Leong claimed in Parliament— as part of his supplementary question for Dr Ng — that new citizens are not serving NS. Dr Ng had spoken then about NS disruption or deferment for those with sporting and arts talent.
Before that, Mr Leong already raised the matter on Facebook and in a parliamentary question for a sitting in May. Mr Leong withdrew the question when there was no parliamentary sitting that month.
On Tuesday, Dr Ng said that men who receive their citizenship as mature adults, typically in their 30s and 40s, are not enlisted because they are too old to enlist for full-time NS and they did not enjoy any socio-economic benefits before getting their citizenship.
However, new male citizens who had lived in Singapore when young and enjoyed the social and economic benefits are enlisted when they reach 18 years of age or older.
“Let there be no doubt that for every young male citizen, whether by birth, registration or descent, the NS liabilities are the same. We do not differentiate," Dr Ng stressed.
“They will be enlisted for NS at 18 years or older to perform full-time NS and thereafter must fulfil their operationally ready NS duties. That is universal and equitable."
Dr Ng said that his ministry had provided all relevant facts of NS liabilities for new citizens in a written answer to a parliamentary question that Mr Leong had filed on the topic for the July sitting.
In May, the ministry prepared the same reply in response to a similar question filed by Mr Leong, which was later withdrawn.
Dr Ng said that Mr Leong should have waited for the Ministry of Defence to reply or sought the full facts before raising such questions on a topic as important as NS.
Dr Ng added that the policy on NS for new citizens is not new and is also well publicised on the internet.
Over the years, permanent residents and young male new citizens have formed an increasing proportion of NS enlistees, growing from 5 per cent enlisted each year in the 2000s to 20 per cent now, he added.
“So what Mr Leong asserts is not true. Many new citizens are enlisted for NS every year. New citizens and permanent residents are contributing to our national defence," Dr Ng said. "Without that extra inject of new citizens and permanent residents, our smaller birth cohorts would have impacted SAF’s manpower needs more acutely."
He also said that “the correct facts” must be put out so that operationally ready national servicemen are not misled into thinking that new citizens of their age are exempted from NS, and that they continue to have the heart to serve.
"Members of Parliament 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,” the minister said.
TERSE EXCHANGE BETWEEN DR NG AND MR LEONG
Following Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's ministerial statement, Mr Leong stood to register his objection to the minister's comments, but saw his request for a full speech turned down by Deputy Speaker Jessica Tan.
When prompted by Ms Tan to ask his question instead of making a speech, Mr Leong asked Dr Ng for the number of new citizens who did not serve NS.
To this, the Dr Ng replied that it is “not in the interest of this House to further debate based on misleading statements and inaccurate statements”, and he repeated the figures provided in his ministerial statement.
Dr Ng then asked that Ms Tan continue with the parliamentary agenda.
Claiming that Dr Ng was “running away from the debate”, Mr Leong asked Dr Ng again to provide figures on new citizens serving NS.
At this point, Dr Ng interjected and offered to repeat “all the facts” and proceeded to repeat the figures in his ministerial statement.
However, Mr Leong said that the figures provided by Dr Ng only forms a subset of new citizens. He asked Dr Ng again for the number of new citizens who have not performed NS.
When asked by Ms Tan if he wanted to reply to Mr Leong, Dr Ng said: “Madam, his question has been replied.”
Ms Tan then told Mr Leong to file a parliamentary question in the next sitting if he wanted more clarifications.