Friday, February 15, 2013

National Defence Duty – A Consolidation

My suggestion of a national defence duty has sparked a lively debate. I would like to thank you for the many comments and suggestions you have posted. There has certainly been a wide spectrum of views.

Notably, very few have suggested leaving things as they are.

My takeaway so far is that while most believe the system can and should be made more equitable, it is also important that we improve our efforts to integrate Singaporeans (new and old) and non-Singaporeans. As part of that integration, we would like to see new citizens and PRs demonstrate that they do not regard Singapore simply as an economic opportunity to be exploited. That is why National Service touches a raw nerve – it is the clearest marker we have of loyalty and commitment. It therefore rankles when we perceive others as having an easy way out.

It is clear that most want some form of re-balancing. The issue is what form that should take - whether monetary, compulsory service or a combination of both. The sense I get from the responses is that it should be different for different groups: more emphasis on compulsory service for PRs and new citizens, and more emphasis on monetary for foreigners (excluding low wage foreign workers).

There has been confusion of terms – with some equating “foreigners” with “new citizens”, and applying them inter-changeably. By “foreigner”, I mean those who are here temporarily, on an employment pass or work permit etc. I think it is impractical to insist that such a person does some form of compulsory service. They are, by definition, here to exploit economic opportunities. So, any contribution they make should likewise be financial.

There is the question of PRs (or their sons) who are liable for NS, but avoid it by leaving the country before enlistment age. While we would prefer them to stay and do National Service, we cannot stop them from leaving. If we are prepared to accept this, we need not do anything. If we are not, we should have a practical and effective response. That is why I had suggested imposing the duty/tax, as this imposes a significant cost on that decision to leave. Unfortunately, some have misrepresented this as a way to allow PRs to pay off their obligation. The proposal keeps the existing sanctions and imposes additional financial measures so that they and their parents think harder before taking that step. Some have asked “why always talk money?” – but what are the practical alternatives? One is to forfeit the parents' PR status. That is a serious step which requires more consideration.

Finally, there are some who say that if the aim of the proposal is to give more benefits to NSmen, can’t the Government simply do that now? That does not address the issue of equalization. In any event, the point is not inconsistent. Giving more benefits means all of us paying more, which is fine. The question is whether those who do not sacrifice their time should be asked to contribute more financially.

Ultimately, it is for Singaporeans to collectively decide what works best, and it is clear that no single proposal will be immune from criticism or disagreement. I hope to hear more of your thoughts.

I share below a small sample of the responses:

Dil Preet: The suggestion by mr ashok kumar about reducing or eliminating income tax for parents of singaporean males sounds better. Or maybe for NS males who enter the workforce, no income tax for first couple of years of work or reduced fee rates in local unis should they go to uni after ns?

Ed Chan: Here are some suggestions of penalties that would really hurt under current context,

- No access to national universities or to enterprises set up or jointly set up by local national universities, only allow to access private educators. And even then, NSmen get priority.

- Families with children who escape NS should be required by law to take up private property and not be eligible to stay in HDBs, DBSS and ECs even under the private market.

- Families with children who escape NS are ineligible to any tax benefits or business subsidies or future handouts from the government.

- Families with children who escape NS shall pay higher fees for all government procedures and applications

- Companies who employ those who escape NS by paying this NS tax must ensure that all NSmen applicants are hired first or face stiff penalties and potential loss of business license.

Khoo LW: Also cancel long term visit pass for parents/parents inlaws of FT/PR. It should only be for spouse and kids.

Nick Lauw: When someone makes the choice to become a PR here, he should implicitly agree to bear the physical burden of national defence. I think that a form of physical national service should be implemented for new PRs (not just their children). Surely even PRs can contribute for 2 weeks a year while they are below 40 to things like civil defence or acting as volunteer police officers. Prior to doing so, they can undergo a basic course, which can last 1 or 2 months that can form part of their obligations. If that is deemed too onerous, perhaps PRs can spend the 2 weeks helping out at charities or the Peoples Association

Serene Chew: Make them do a compulsory no. of hours of community service instead.

1) This is more meaningful than money. This will let go some of the anger from the locals towards new immigrants.

2) It will also let the new immigrants understand and know more of our local cultures and help in their integration.

3) Also, doing community service is not sexist. By asking PRs to do NS you are targeting only the males. Why should the female PRs get away with it without doing anything to contribute to the country?

Randy Chan: Having a combination of tax & service (1 yr min) for PRs might bring better balance.

Dexter Boo: Sir, I would like to suggest that PR will pay this tax plus they will do a modified term of NS, in terms of weapon handling and range shooting be whether its from SPF/SAF. They must also serve community service like 1) additional watch group for the neighbourhood spp. 2) A quota to be completed by reporting defects in the ward they are staying weekly/monthly (eg - report of lost drainage cover, building defects etc) and areas the TC needs to touch up, may it be in terms of cleaning or landscaping. 3) attend a weekly/forthnightly/monthly meeting organise by cc to be introduced to our singapore culture and a chance for them to show us their culture. Once the participant had completed his terms of duty(2 years or more) the amount of money he paid for this tax will be returned to him, or if he had a son a certain part of money will be retained and this amount of money will be confiscated if his son escaped from NS. If he is not married but had serve the service term, the money will be returned to him but on the birth of his son, the tax will commence.

Peter J Edwards: I think you do not appreciate just how unpredictable and xenophobic proposals like this make Singapore appear to Foreigners, especially those who have been in Singapore a long time. This gradual but ever increasing lack of predictability and hostility to foreigners is one of the reasons I left the Singapore Government service to pursue opportunities in the much less hostile, more predictable and more welcoming country immediately north. New policy changes affecting foreigners every year doesn't make them become citizens , it makes those with the talent and skills to work elsewhere pick up and leave, because such changes can have a critical impact on costs that Singaporean employers fail to appreciate. Suggestions like this only increase foreigners concerns about new tax or restriction will be passed on this year. When will the PAP learn that there is a difference between being pro singaporean and anti foreigner. Immigrants like stability , and choose singapore because of that stability, however with every passing year that stability is being eroded by populist xenophobic policies like this.

Chew Jing Wei: Implement this and Singapore might just lose its status as a tax haven in the eyes of the USA and significantly reduce its attractiveness to expats, investors and overseas students.

I suggest Nair to seriously consider the root cause of such discontentment - widespread xenophobia - rather than simply tackling one of its many symptoms. Treating this fear would be unpopular and choppy, but is essential for Singapore to ride the waves of globalisation a la New York and London. Singapore must not fear stepping out of its comfort zone.

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