SINGAPORE: Over the last five years, about 14 per cent of full-time national servicemen (NSF) who were convicted for being absent without leave (AWOL) cited financial hardship as the main reason.
This figure is equivalent to about 28 AWOL offenders convicted in the General Court Martial each year, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman told Parliament on Monday (Sep 10).
Dr Maliki was responding to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera regarding Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) NSFs who need financial assistance.
"AWOL is a serious offence, so SAF will continue to take stern disciplinary action against servicemen who commit AWOL offences," he said.
However, Dr Maliki said SAF tries to understand the circumstances these NSFs face, pointing out that the number of NSFs who receive financial assistance but still commit AWOL offences is "very small".
Of the cases reported in 2017, only one serviceman went AWOL despite getting financial help, he said.
Dr Maliki said an average of 120 NSFs receive the Term Financial Assistance (TFA) each year. TFA is a form of monthly assistance that can be provided as long as the NSFs are serving their full-time National Service.
The sums given range from less than S$100 to a few thousand dollars each month, for an average of eight months, he said.
"The TFA eligibility criteria and quantum provided are similar to public financial assistance schemes," Dr Maliki said.
"Family size, income and expenditure needs are considered and additional support is provided for families with school-going children and/or members with recurrent medical conditions."
Dr Maliki added that when processing applications, commanders conduct interviews and home visits to better understand the NSFs' family situation. He stated that about 80 per cent of applications are approved each year.
"The TFA grants were given to most recipients within two weeks of submitting the completed application," he continued.
In addition to the TFA, commanding officers or department heads can give quick financial aid in the form of a one-off Contingency Grant of up to S$500, or the Welfare Grant for higher amounts, Dr Maliki said.
"These schemes benefit more than 50 NSFs each year," he added.
When Mr Perera asked if Dr Maliki could elaborate on NSFs who are charged for taking up paid work, the latter said he was unaware of such details.
"On NSFs taking paid work, they know they are not supposed to take paid work," he said.
"But upon enlistment, we inform NSFs at any point in time if they need financial assistance, they can come to their commanding officers, OCs (officer commanding) and commanders to seek help wherever necessary."
Nevertheless, Dr Maliki said financial assistance is not just provided by the SAF.
"There are many different touch points … maybe the schools, hospitals or the community," he added. "So, we look at where these touch points are and we help them."