A recent surge in the number of National Service (“NS”) evaders making the headlines of local newspapers has garnered much public attention, making it a hot topic yet again. These persons in question vary from individuals unaware of their responsibility to report for duty to those who have shown blatant disregard to their obligations as a Singaporean son. The resurgence of this issue has led to citizens demanding further justification and knowledge pertaining to evasion of NS and how it is handled.
The Courts have been thorough and meticulous in allocating the appropriate punishments to new and subsequent offenders, with emphasis being placed on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. In determining the nature and requirements of the offence, it is best to begin with the statutes. The evasion of NS is an offence provided for under the Enlistment Act.
Failure to comply with notice to register for NS
Male Singaporeans who are eligible for NS are required to undergo registration at CMPB prior to their enlistment into full-time NS. They will be notified to do so by MINDEF through the various means listed in section 30(2) of the Enlistment Act, which include personal delivery, telephone conversation, newspaper publications, radio and television broadcasts, public-address systems, and other means. Section 30 has specifically provided an extensive list detailing the modes of delivery in order to ensure that servicemen are invariably informed of the need to report for duty.
Once notice has been issued and delivered by MINDEF, it will be assumed, under the Enlistment Act, that the recipient has acknowledged it after the stipulated duration. This assumption prevails even if the recipient was genuinely unaware of the notice. Any ignorance of the order or notice does not serve as an excuse for one’s failure to comply.
Hence, it is unlikely for an evader to escape criminal liability if he fails to register for full-time NS when the time comes. Servicemen should be familiar with the means of delivery as well as the conditions that determine when the notice has been served so as to prevent any accidental failure to report for duty.
Failure to remain outside Singapore with a valid Exit Permit
All male Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents aged 13 years and above have a duty to comply with the Exit Permit requirements. Failure to do so may result in a fine of $2000. It should be noted that even parents of children applicable under the Act can be guilty of this offence if the child is in contravention of the offence. These requirements ensure that persons who are eligible for NS and who reside overseas at a young age or have gone overseas to study will return to Singapore to fulfil their NS responsibilities.
A more detailed guide can be found at the CMPB website, but the brief table below shows the standard procedures of obtaining an exit permit before a long term stay outside of Singapore. Once granted, the application, renewal, extension, cancellation and checking of the Exit Permit Status can be done through the NS Portal.
Individuals who fail to comply with the Exit Permit requirements will find themselves liable under Section 33 of the Enlistment Act. Those who flee the country with the intent of evading service will also be liable even if they have a valid exit permit. Thus, it is clear that legislation is extremely strict with regards to the NS obligations of every Singaporean son.
Offenders may find themselves liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both. Almost all the NS evaders that have made the headlines were residing overseas prior to being charged including Kevin Kwan, the famed novelist behind Crazy Rich Asians who is currently wanted for defaulting on his NS obligations.
Kevin Kwan is liable to both offences mentioned above: failing to register for NS despite receiving notice, as well as staying overseas without a valid Exit Permit.
Factors involved in sentencing:
1. Length of defaulting period
The length of the defaulting period will be the main consideration when deciding on sentencing. The greater the duration of the defaulting period, the more severe the sentence imposed. In general, a period of default exceeding two years would attract a custodial sentence. The table below shows the general guidelines laid out by the court.
2. Voluntary surrender and guilty plea
Generally, voluntary surrender can be a mitigating factor during sentencing, but the court will decide on the mitigating value on a case by case basis, and it is a fact-specific inquiry. A plea of guilt is only likely to hold very little mitigating value, if at all, to sentencing considerations. If the defaulter both voluntarily surrendered and then pleaded guilty, the mitigating value of both acts will be considered holistically by the court, with a single discount being applied.
The court has not provided any general guidelines regarding mitigating values of both acts, but it is expected that it will not amount to much. The new sentencing guidelines introduced by the courts show a gap in the law that needed to be filled, with regards to NS defaulters. Harsher punishments may have been required to better deter those who were contemplating evading their NS obligations.
More importantly, this move was instrumental to uphold the underlying principles affecting NS: national security, universality and equity. Every Singaporean son has to serve NS at around the same age, without regard to his personal convenience and considerations.
To those who are contemplating the evasion of their duties as a Singaporean son, it would be wise to think twice. Hopefully, this article has raised awareness about the procedures and considerations regarding the failure to report for NS and its respective sentencing.
Photo: "Why keep ICs of military personnel?", Straits Times, 10 June 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/why-keep-ics-of-military-personnel (Last updated 10 June 2019)
 "MHA should give better answers to questions on Kevin Kwan’s evasion of National Service", Today Voices, 5 September 2018. https://www.todayonline.com/voices/mha-should-give-better-answers-questions-kevin-kwans-evasion-national-service (Last updated 11 September 2018)
 “Reply to ST Media Query on Enlistment Act Offenders”, Ministry of Defence Singapore, 26 April 2017. https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2017/april/26apr17_mq (Last updated 11 May 2018)