Leong Mun Wai’s claim that ‘citizens by registration are not doing national service’ is inaccurate & misleading: Ng Eng Hen


Every young male citizen must do National Service (NS), said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in his ministerial statement on Aug 2.

“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,” said Minister Ng, who was responding to recent assertions made by Progress Singapore Party’s Non Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leong Mun Wai.

In his supplementary question on July 5 this year, Mr Leong said: “Citizens by registration are not doing national service.” He also took to Facebook to repeat the assertions.

Source: Leong Mun Wai’s May 27 Facebook post
Source: Leong Mun Wai’s July 1 Facebook post

“Mr Leong’s assertion is inaccurate and misleading. Since 2000, on average 3400 new citizens are registered each year, who have been or will be enlisted, like all male Singaporeans to serve the national service duties. MINDEF had provided all relevant facts of NS liabilities for new citizens in a written answer to his (Mr Leong’s) parliamentary question that he had filed for that same sitting in July,” the defence minister explained.

“On a topic as important as NS, Mr Leong should have waited for MINDEF’s reply, or sought the full facts.”

The minister then went on to reiterate that young male citizens will be enlisted at 18 years or older to perform full-time NS and thereafter they must fulfil their operationally ready NS duties – which is universal and equitable.

However, if a foreigner becomes a citizen as a mature adult, usually in his 30s or 40s, he is exempted because he did not enjoy any social economic benefits, like young Singaporeans do, and also he will be too old to enlist for full time, Minister Ng explained.

Increasing proportion

The defence minister also shared that permanent residents and young male new citizens have formed an increasing proportion of NS enlistees over the years.

In the early 2000s, they formed about 5 per cent of all full time national servicemen enlisted each year. Today, it is about 20 per cent of all NSF enlisted. Of the 20 per cent, slightly more than half are citizens by registration with the remaining permanent residents.

“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 the extra inject of new citizens and PRs. Our smaller birth cohorts would have impacted SAF manpower needs more acutely,” he said.

Important to correct misleading statements

In closing, the minister said that it’s important for him to correct Mr Leong’s misleading statements because they “strike at the foundations of equity and universality that underpin NS in Singapore”.

“Just think about it: If pre enlistees are misled into thinking that new citizens of their age are exempted why will they have the heart to serve NS? The correct facts must be put out to reassure the national servicemen in the SAF and the Home Team.”

He then reminded members have the duty to ask questions and debate policies but not make misleading statements that can weaken the bedrock of the SAF and national defence that is NS.

“National Service is the bedrock of the SAF and our national defence. MPs have the duty to ask questions and debate policies, including national service policies in this house, but they should not make misleading statements that can weaken national service, the SAF and Home Team,” he concluded.