It’s not about *taxing* anyone

By and large, Singaporeans accept the value and import of National Service. Yes, there are genuine situations where things can be done better with far less waste, but as a whole, the long-term benefits of National Service to the citizen, family and country is not in dispute.

The nature of National Service does involve in a big way, the sacrifice of personal time and energy of every able-bodied male 18-year-old for a period of two years. It used to be either two or two-and-a-half years when I did my NS, but it has now been made uniform to just two years. It can be argued whether the length of service should be made even shorter, but that is for another post.

Over the years, we have had a steady inflow of people who took up permanent residency and as the rules go, the children of these PRs (who themselves can become PRs, albeit second generation PRs) are then obligated to do National Service just as any citizen.

That’s the nub of the issue. I know of a couple who moved to Singapore and became PRs and started a family. Because they were PRs, they could buy HDB housing and as luck would have it for them, their block underwent a HDB redevelopment exercise that then resulted in that family getting a brand new HDB unit. That is all well and good. They, even as PRs benefited from the system.

The twist in the story is when their sons (second generation PRs) were due for enlistment, the couple managed to snag some immigration opportunity and moved off to Canada. They then cashed out the HDB apartment, made a killing and now are PRs in Canada and their sons managed to get out of their obligations to do National Service.

We can look at this story (all true, btw) and be disappointed, or look at it positively as they came to this country and worked the system and with all the unintended loop holes, they have benefited immensely.

Where does that leave, We, The Citizens? I too would like the financial windfall and perhaps have my sons not do their National Service as well, but I am not asking for that.

It is therefore, amusing, to read the suggestion by PAP MP Hri Kumar Nair who suggests a “national defense duty” (NDD) be imposed on all PRs and foreigners living in Singapore.

This from the ruling party MP whose party’s modus operandi in solving issues it to tax things (COE, Road Tax, GST etc).

On the surface, his proposal *might* sound plausible. But there are two significant flaws in it.

Firstly, the NDD cheapens the sweat, blood and economic sacrifice Singaporeans (not only the men, but their families as well) make in doing their National Service and reservist duties. “If you can’t do the work, just pay your way out” seems to be the his rationale. It suggests that we have to tax others (labelling it “duty” is hiding the truth) as a form of imposed misery. Do we have to make our neighbours to be poor(er) in order for us to succeed?

The people who come to our shores came here to make a living for themselves and to be economically active. They do pay taxes like the rest of us. If the government wants to really do the Right Thing, they should have the NS Tax Relief not be a deductible BEFORE tax, but an offset after tax assessment.

I recall doing the NS Tax Relief some years ago and found that since it is a tax relief, the real impact in including the NS Tax Relief and not made very little difference (like less than $20) in the taxable income, at least for me. So, while the NS Tax Relief looks nice on the surface and while might be a sincere attempt, it was not what one would have thought it was.

So, Mr MP, no need to place an extra tax. Do the simple change in the NS Tax Relief and you’ve got a reasonable step forward.

A second flaw in the MP’s proposal is that in the event of a crisis, it is us Singaporeans who would have to stand up and defend, not those who paid “NDD”.  They can just as well leave Singapore and return when things are OK. See the difference? Just because they’ve been NDDed, it does not mean that they’ll be picking up anything to help defend. I am sure you are not that naive, or are you Mr MP?


  1. I too, have personally encountered far too many examples you have given above where PR & foreigners have benefited private properties and job opportunities; right up to their children is ready to serve NS, just to see them walked out and return to their country with their new found wealth. So, is Mr Hri’s intention to tax the 1st or 2nd generation PRs, or both?

    There are far better alternatives, getting them to serve community works in labor-crunched areas where resources are short in order to alleviate our local manpower or needs for cheap labor. In addition, we might also require PRs to “donate” a pint of blood per quarter for example where we are also in short supply (which can apply to both genders).

    I get so tired of this absurd, irrelevant solution by dollars and cents. The entire line of discourse is a waste of time. It is in reality a holistic one: How do we get long term citizens (ie. PRs/foreigners who claim to love Singapore, to do what we perceive to be in our own best interests?) Answer: appropriate incentives and disincentives. Make transparent and clear the current immigration rules and requirements so that people can debate and offer the right solution for different segments of people.

    • Anything that warrants an additional burden on our guests is I think fundamentally wrong. They are not expected to defend Singapore. They have the right to leave and so any of the models to penalize them is missing the point.

      It is far better to *benefit* the citizens, like the NS Tax Relief I mention, than the other way around.

  2. Hi,

    You misunderstand the NS tax proposal. It is not about letting PRs pay their way out of NS. Instead, it recognises that the existing penalties imposed on PRs who evade NS are insufficient ( a proposition I’m sure you agree with) and proposes harsher penalties on PRs who evade NS.

    With regard to your second point, I don’t see how the NS tax has anything to do with PRs who evade NS to defend our country. Nobody is suggesting this in the first place.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t think I am misunderstanding the proposal. I think it is wrong to impose a tax on anyone just because they found a way around the NS-for-PR loophole. It is beggar-thy-neighbour that this is proposing. I am not sure if you are entitled to the tax relief as a NS man, but if you are, don’t you think it is FAR better to reward reservists with a deduction from the tax payable amount RATHER than the before tax amount?

      The 2nd point suggests that if there was any thought that if there indeed was such a tax on PRs, we cannot expect any one of them to wait around to help when there is a crisis. It would be even more damning if those who paid *expected* special treatment as well.

      It is interesting that you have chosen to use the word “tax” instead of the euphemism that the MP used – “duty”. Call it what it is.

      It is very disappointing to see the PAP MP come up with a suggestion that does not directly benefit us citizens. At the risk of repeating, beggar-thy-neighbour is NOT the solution. It is a cop out and a really bad one at that.

      • Interesting that you raised Siew Kum Hong’s argument. But his argument isn’t entirely sound, albeit attractive. Let’s explore this further:

        You (and I suppose Siew) have proposed carrots, and hope that this will encourage PRs to allow their children to serve. It emphasises their voluntary submission and desire to perform their duty to this country that has served them well. No one disagrees with that. In an ideal world, a grateful family will encourage their sons to serve.

        However, people do not always respond to carrots. Let’s look at our littering campaigns, and other campaigns for better social graces. I will put it down to selfishness of mankind. It’s a human thing.

        Therefore, we need a little bit more than just carrots to encourage people to perform certain acts. Here we have the stick – and that’s the function our laws perform.

        For example, in the case of speeding we can see it this way: “Tell you not to speed, think of your family and you don’t listen? Never mind, we will fine you when we catch you speeding.” When Ah Beng sees his friend Ah Seng pay the fine for speeding, he thinks twice too before gunning his civic.

        Sometimes, we need the combination of both the carrot and stick to compel people to do things, and behave in a certain way. So this proposal recognises the fundamental flaw in humanity and seeks to act against that.

        What are your thoughts?

      • I am not looking at the carrot and sticks argument.

        We do currently have a NSman Relief in the tax system. It is a relief that is computed before the taxable amount is derived. I am suggesting that the NSman Relief be applied to the derived taxable amount which will make it a worthwhile benefit.

        Will that encourage PRs who dodge NS liabilities? I don’t think so. It is not a carrot to them. The suggestion of the NDD (national defence duty) is a strange stick that does not make it better. Fining a speeding person, even after being politely advised not to, is not going to stop him from speeding anyway subsequently.

        National Service is of a higher calling. It appeals to the higher human ideals of nationhood, of being part of a bigger whole, a value of the person’s worth to a society, a society that expects the person to give the ultimate sacrifice. I feel comparing that with speeding and littering is reducing the inherent worth of service to the nation.

        I did my full time service in the Police (1978-1980) and my early reservist years in the Police until 1985, when I and a whole bunch of my fellow reservice Police Inspectors were transferred to the newly setup Singapore Civil Defence Force. My personal experience of NS has been positive by and large. I learned a lot about myself, people and society at large – a lot of it in compressed time. I cannot say that it is the same today or if I were to go into NS (as my sons would in a few years time) my experience will be positive. But at least, if we were to have a positive acknowledgement that this is a sacrifice of a higher calling and recognized in tangible ways, it will augur much better for this nation we call Singapore.

        Should those of us who do NS become bonded by the immortal words in Shakespeare’s Henry V “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”?

Leave a Reply