SINGAPORE: The reasons for the rejection of the application to defer Benjamin Davis' National Service were spelled out in Parliament on Monday (Aug 6), with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen highlighting it has not been shown how such a move would benefit Singapore football.
“There has been no indication, commitment or plans as to how Mr Ben Davis would help football standards in Singapore if deferred,” Dr Ng said.
Dr Ng was responding to questions from Members of Parliament, who had asked about the criteria that determine if an athlete can be deferred from NS.
Davis, 17, had signed a two-year contract with newly promoted English Premier League (EPL) side Fulham, the club announced on Jul 13.
His father, Mr Harvey Davis, said it would have allowed his son to pursue his dream of playing in the EPL and “make Singapore proud by being the first Singaporean to play in the EPL”, after news broke that his NS deferment application had been rejected.
While the father had said that his son would serve as an inspiration for the students at his youth football academy JSSL Singapore, Dr Ng said JSSL is a business which advertises itself as having links with Fulham FC.
"Mr Harvey Davis has urged MINDEF to approve deferment for his son so that it would serve as an inspiration, he tells us, for the 1,000 students registered with his company JSSL – 500 or so who are local," said Dr Ng.
"For your information, JSSL Singapore, or Junior Soccer School & League Singapore, is a youth football club and academy business run by Mr Harvey Davis and advertises itself as having links to Fulham FC."
Dr Ng reiterated that athletes are deferred only if it serves Singapore’s interests, stating that Davis’ father has been “quite open” with what has been deemed as contrasting priorities.
“The application by Mr Harvey Davis for his son’s deferment is to further his son’s professional career first and to the longest extent possible,” Dr Ng added. “Singapore and her interests, including his son’s NS obligations, are secondary considerations, if at all.
“There is no commitment to serve Singapore or our national interests.”
REASONS FOR REJECTION
Dr Ng gave three reasons why Davis’ application was rejected.
The first is that Davis is playing for Fulham as an English national, not a Singapore citizen, Dr Ng said, referring to information published on the club's website. It has been reported that in addition to his Singapore citizenship, Davis holds UK and Thai passports due to his parents’ lineage.
“MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) is not privy to the contract signed between them, but we assume this published information is correct and that the father must have his reasons for doing so,” Dr Ng added.
Second, Dr Ng said Davis’ father has "consistently refused” to indicate when his son would return to serve NS, pointing to a reply he gave authorities stating that he was “unable to commit to a date” due to the possibility that his son would be offered a new contract or sent out on loan.
“If Mr Ben Davis will not give up his senior contract, which provides for an allowance of a few hundred pounds a week, to serve his NS, it is even more unlikely that he will return to serve NS if he subsequently gets offered a contract worth many times more,” Dr Ng added.
"And if he is not given a further contract with Fulham FC, the father has said that he may find other clubs which his son can be loaned to.”
Third, Dr Ng said Mr Davis has indicated that his son would still proceed to sign the contract if not granted deferment, something which he has already done.
"The reason given by the father was that his son would only return to fulfil his NS commitment if he is unsuccessful in his professional career," Dr Ng added.
"In fact, Mr Harvey Davis went further after MINDEF rejected the application – that he would consider the option for his son to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his career."
Still, Davis would only be able to renounce his citizenship at the age of 21, after completing his NS. MINDEF had said in a 2011 news report that for male Singapore citizens, “the acquisition of foreign citizenship or any claim of dual citizenship does not exempt them from their NS obligations".
To that end, Dr Ng stressed that NS obligations are “crucial to our nation’s survival”, as he referred to a 2017 written judgement by the Appellate High Court during an appeal on the sentencing of NS defaulters.
The judges said that every male Singaporean must serve NS at the time he is required to under the Enlistment Act, “without regard to his personal convenience and considerations”.
“When a person refuses to serve NS at the time that he is required to and instead returns to serve at a time of his own choosing, or worse, at an age when he can no longer serve, his actions strike at the very core of the principles of national security, universality and equity,” they wrote.
After a new sentencing framework was established last year, Dr Ng said 13 NS defaulters were prosecuted in court.
“Some wanted to complete their university degree first before NS. Others said they had to support their families,” Dr Ng said, pointing out that the courts dismissed these personal reasons and convicted and sentenced them to jail terms.
“The Enlistment Act is blind to 'personal convenience and considerations’, no matter how talented the individual or exceptional his circumstances.”
READ: Athletes can still achieve sporting excellence even when fulfilling NS duties, says Ng Eng Hen
Continuing on that theme, Dr Ng said deferment is granted to individuals very selectively, “if their deferment serves Singapore’s interest first and foremost, never their own”.
Athletes who have deferred have clear expectations on the standards required for their training, Dr Ng said. This includes swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, and sailor Maximilian Soh, all of whom were given this chance to train and compete in the Olympics.
“Neither was deferment open-ended or unconditional,” he said. “They will have to return to serve NS, and if they do not meet the standards agreed upon, deferment will be curtailed.”
As for disruption for individuals after they are enlisted for NS, including those granted to medical students, Dr Ng said this follows the same principles and is also given only for “national reasons”.
“We disrupt medical students to complete their medical studies because we need them to serve as medical officers during their NS to take care of their fellow soldiers,” he explained. “It’s not an entitlement and once the reasons are no longer valid, the disruption will end.”
Going back to the court’s written judgement, Dr Ng noted that everyone has to do his “fair share”, including “every citizen who is required to serve NS making sacrifices or postponing individual goals to serve the nation when the nation needs his service”.
“These arguments spell out in unequivocal terms the NS obligations for every Singaporean male,” Dr Ng added.
“Deferment therefore cannot be for that individual, no matter how talented, to pursue his own interests or career, even if it vicariously brings credit or fame to Singapore.
“This would be fundamentally wrong and goes against the core principle of equity.”