SINGAPORE: A Singapore-born Australian citizen was jailed for four months on Wednesday (Jun 17) for defaulting on his National Service (NS) obligations and staying outside the country for more than eight years without a valid exit permit.
Remington Fhang Lim, 28, pleaded guilty to one count under the Enlistment Act of remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit from June 2008 to March 2017, with a second charge taken into consideration.
Lim has since completed his full-time NS in the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and is the 14th man to be jailed since the High Court set out the sentencing framework for NS defaulters in 2017.
The court heard that Lim was born in Singapore to parents who were Singapore citizens but are now Australian citizens.
The family left Singapore for Australia in 2003 when Lim was 11, completing his Primary School Leaving Examinations here and continuing to school in Australia, where he eventually obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical and mechatronic engineering.
He successfully applied for two Singapore passports, valid up until June 2005, and last used it in 2003 to enter Australia.
He knew from his time growing up in Singapore, as well as from interactions with Singaporeans in Australia, that male Singaporeans have to serve NS when they are about 18 years old.
HIS FATHER DID NOT TELL HIM ABOUT NS LETTERS: DEFENCE
Lim's lawyer told the court that his client found out about the offences only in 2016, as his father had been corresponding with the authorities since 2009 without telling Lim about it.
In June 2008, a registration notice was sent by post to Lim's parents for Lim to register online for NS. He turned 16-and-a-half on Jun 18, 2008, when he became subject to the Enlistment Act.
A reminder was sent by post to his parents again the next month to remind Lim to register online for NS, but he did not do so.
Neither did he report at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) despite a further reporting order sent to his parents' address on Jul 24, 2008.
His parents had rented out their home in Singapore and the tenant sent the notices to his parents' real estate agent, who forwarded them to Lim's Australian address.
After receiving the message, Lim's father sent a letter to CMPB, saying that Lim wished to renounce his Singapore citizenship and further his studies in Australia.
CMPB replied to Lim's father, asking for supporting documents by a certain date and reminded him that holding foreign citizenship did not absolve male Singaporeans from NS obligations.
His deferment application was not successful, and CMPB informed Lim's father in March 2009 that Lim had committed an offence by remaining outside of Singapore without a valid exit permit, asking him to report to the base to register for NS.
Lim did not report to the base, and his father tried to appeal the deferment outcome, saying that the date for his son's reporting was during his High School Certificate examination period.
CMPB informed Lim's father on Jul 10, 2009 that the appeal had failed and that Lim had to fulfil his NS obligations.
They advised Lim to report to the base to resolve his offences without delay, as he had been classified as an NS defaulter, but Lim's father did not respond thereafter.
LIM DISCOVERS THE OFFENCES
Lim found out himself about his offences when he tried to renounce his Singapore citizenship in 2016, when he was 25.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority informed him that his application was withheld by the Government, and Lim contacted the NS Call Centre to ask about his NS status.
He was told that he had committed offences for remaining outside Singapore without a valid permit and for failing to register for NS.
He was advised to return to Singapore and report to CMPB to resolve his offences.
Lim sought legal assistance, and eventually reported at the base on Mar 7, 2017.
The prosecution sought at least 20 weeks' jail, while defence lawyer Danny Quah asked for a fine of S$10,000.
He said Lim's father was born in Malaysia, while his mother was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and both were "unfamiliar with the concept of NS".
Lim was born a month after his parents received their Singapore citizenship, and the family moved to Singapore in 1988 when Lim's father was offered a job here, moving to Australia when he was transferred there.
Lim did not return to Singapore after, spending 14 years of his life in Sydney.
HE WANTS TO RENOUNCE SINGAPORE CITIZENSHIP
Mr Quah said Lim "was kept in the dark regarding his father's entire correspondences with the Central Manpower Base".
"While Lim knew that Singaporean males had to enlist for NS, it was Lim's belief that NS was to train men to defend the country, so that all men could take up arms in defence of Singapore if it were ever under attack," he said.
"Having left the country, and living away, obtaining citizenship in a different country, he thought that this then would no longer apply to him, as he would not be around to defend Singapore anyway, and had migrated and was a citizen of another country, Australia."
After discovering the offences, Lim made "substantial preparations" to return to Singapore to complete his NS, with Mr Quah saying his "Christian conviction to fulfil all righteousness, regardless of personal cost", compelled him to do this.
He said Lim has no immediate family, job or future life in Singapore, identifying himself with Australia and intending to renounce his Singaporean citizenship and return to Australia as soon as he can.
The judge said she found it commendable for Lim to return to serve NS and face his charges, but said she was bound by a decision in the High Court.
Claims of lack of knowledge are not a lawful excuse, she said, reiterating that high priority must be placed on the issue of national security in Singapore, and that the principle of general deterrence must be applied "with uncompromising force".
For staying outside Singapore without a valid exit permit, Lim could have been jailed for up to three years, fined up to S$10,000, or both.