A 32-year-old law graduate who defaulted on his national service (NS) obligations for almost 13 years was on Monday (October 22) sentenced to 13 months’ jail, after the prosecution successfully appealed against his 10 month prison term handed down by a district judge.
Douglas Tan Chin Guan, who has dual Malaysian and Singapore citizenship, had earlier pleaded guilty to remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for 12 years, 11 months and 19 days – from 12 March 2003 to 29 February 2016.
Tan, who was born in Singapore, also failed to register for NS for 11 years, 5 months and eight days – from 24 September 2004 to 1 March 2016. This charge was taken into consideration in sentencing.
Tan, who has since completed his full-time national service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force, had also filed an appeal against the 10-month sentence, seeking for a fine instead.
Tan said he lived most of his life in Malaysia, and claimed that his parents neither told him about his Singapore citizenship nor of his NS obligations.
Disagreeing with Tan’s claims in the High Court on Monday, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, who heard the appeals, said, “In my view, it could not be said that the accused had been unaware of his NS liabilities, or that he had believed that his parents had resolved the matter for him.”
“The accused resided in Singapore for two years while studying at the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) in 2000 and 2001 (at the age of 14 to 15) without the need for a student visa. He paid the subsidised rate of school fees for local students, and took up a Music Elective Programme scholarship which is open to Singapore citizens only,” she said.
“Further, it is in my view inconceivable that, having studied in Singapore for two years in an all-boys school, he would not have been exposed to the fact that male Singapore citizens have to serve NS,” she added.
The court earlier heard that Tan’s Singaporean mother and Malaysian father left Singapore when he was three weeks old. He grew up in Malaysia, with a Malaysian passport and identity card.
Tan asserted through his lawyer Koh Kok Kwang that his parents became aware their son was a Singaporean and liable for NS in 2004, when a registration notice was sent to them – while he was studying in the University of Nottingham. But Tan said he only learnt of his obligations in December 2008 when he was 22.
In his appeal, Tan said he voluntarily surrendered and served his NS “with distinction”. His surrender also carried huge costs, including the risk of losing his Malaysian citizenship and being guilty of treason in his own country.
As for the prosecution’s appeal, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ho Lian-Yi said, “the evidence suggests that the accused and his parents had blatantly and knowingly gamed the system to take advantage of the accused’s dual citizenship in Singapore and Malaysia”.
Tan paid subsidised fees while studying in Singapore, the DPP pointed out, adding that his mother had admitted to sending him to study here because his parents wanted him to experience life in Singapore so that he could decide eventually on where to make his permanent home.