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Many new citizens enlist for NS every year, Leong Mun Wai’s claims inaccurate and misleading: Ng Eng Hen

Members of Parliament should not make misleading statements that can weaken National Service, the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Many new citizens enlist for NS every year, Leong Mun Wai’s claims inaccurate and misleading: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Progress Singapore Party representative Leong Mun Wai speaking in Parliament on Jul 5, 2022.

SINGAPORE: All young male Singaporeans, including new citizens, must do National Service, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a ministerial statement on Tuesday (Aug 2), calling recent assertions by Progress Singapore Party’s Leong Mun Wai “inaccurate and misleading”. 

Mr Leong, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), said on Jul 5 that “citizens by registration are not doing NS”. The comment was made in a supplementary question after Dr Ng's reply on the subject of sporting privileges for national servicemen.

"Mr Leong’s assertion is inaccurate and misleading," said Dr Ng in Parliament on Tuesday.

"Since 2000, on average, 3,400 new citizens are registered each year who have been or will be enlisted like all male Singaporeans to serve their NS duties.” 

Dr Ng noted that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) had provided a written answer to Mr Leong’s question in July, in response to his parliamentary questions about the percentage of males who have become Singapore citizens, and what portion of them were not required to serve NS.

The ministry's written reply stated that men who receive citizenship as mature adults, typically in their 30s and 40s, are not enlisted as they are not suitable for full-time NS at that age and did not enjoy any benefits before obtaining their citizenship.

"New male citizens who stayed in Singapore when young and enjoyed economic and social benefits are enlisted when they reach 18 years of age or older," it added.

Dr Ng told the House on Tuesday: “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."

They enlist for NS at 18 years or older to perform full-time NS and must fulfil their operationally ready NS duties after that. “That is universal and equitable,” he added. 

“But if a foreigner comes to Singapore and becomes a citizen as a mature adult, typically in his 30s or 40s, we exempt him from National Service because he did not enjoy any socio-economic benefits like young Singaporeans and also because he would be too old to enlist for full-time National Service,” Dr Ng reiterated.

This policy dates back to the early 1980s, and other ministers and Members of Parliament have spoken on the subject previously, said the Defence Minister. 

“It is also easy to get the relevant information on the Internet, and you can try it even now. If you key in your search engine ‘NS, new citizens, Singapore’, there are many fora that make it known that new young male citizens must do NS and that those who become citizens as mature adults are exempted. So this policy is well publicised on the Internet,” said Dr Ng. 

Mr Leong should have waited for MINDEF’s reply or sought the full facts on a topic as important as NS, he added, noting that the PSP member had repeated his misleading statements in Facebook posts in late May and early July. 

Over the years, permanent residents and young male new citizens have formed “an increasing proportion” of NS enlistees, said the Defence Minister. 

In the early 2000s, they made up 5 per cent of all full-time national servicemen (NSFs) enlisted every year. Now, they form about 20 per cent of all enlisted NSFs, he added. 

Of the 20 per cent, slightly more than half are citizens by registration, and the remaining are permanent residents, said Dr Ng. 

“So what Mr Leong asserts is not true. Many new citizens are enlisted for National Service every year. New citizens and PRs are contributing to our national defence. And without that extra inject of new citizens and PRs, our smaller birth cohorts would have impacted SAF's (Singapore Armed Forces) manpower needs more acutely,” he said. 

Adding that it was important to correct Mr Leong’s misleading statements, Dr Ng said: “If pre-enlistees are misled into thinking that new citizens of their age are exempted, where will they have the heart to serve National Service? 

“The correct facts must be put out to reassure the national servicemen in the SAF and the Home Team.” 

Describing NS as the bedrock of the SAF and Singapore’s national defence, Dr Ng noted that MPs have the duty to ask questions and debate policies in Parliament, including policies on NS. 

“But they should not make misleading statements that can weaken NS, the SAF and Home Team," he added.

After Dr Ng delivered his ministerial statement, Mr Leong took to the floor to register his objections, and acknowledged that MINDEF has provided data on permanent residents and new citizens who have contributed to NS. 

“However, I think there are still a significant number of new citizens who did not perform NS,” said Mr Leong. 

After a reminder from deputy speaker of Parliament Jessica Tan to make clarifications and not statements, he continued: “What is the number of new citizens who did not do NS? 

“You still have to give me the number. It doesn’t mean that 10 per cent of our annual enlistment now consists of new citizens, then all the new citizens have performed NS, right?” 

In response, the Defence Minister said: “It’s not in the interest of this House to further debate based on misleading statements and inaccurate statements. But we have a full display of Mr Leong’s modus operandi.

“He says I didn’t give him the facts. I gave him all the full facts. I said they form 20 per cent of NS full-time enlistees, of which more than half are male new citizens, while the rest are PRs. The facts speak for themselves,” he added.

Mr Leong responded: “I think the Minister opened up the debate, and now he’s running away from the debate.” 

After Dr Ng repeated the figures he shared earlier, Mr Leong asked again: “My clarification is, what are the number of new citizens who have not performed NS? Because the number the Minister has given only forms a subset of the new citizens.” 

The Defence Minister responded: “His question has been replied to.” 

The PSP representative then said he has his own estimate of the figures, and was waiting for more numbers from Dr Ng. 

“I accept that and I’ll file a PQ (parliamentary question) again,” said Mr Leong. 

Source: CNA/hw(gs)
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