Is MINDEF not following DPM Tharman’s advice?

By July 17, 2018Current

TL;DR – What exactly is a deferment anyway?

The World Cup just ended. France won. Not that I care much. I’m not that into football. But DPM Tharman is. And he wrote a post on Facebook that is very characteristic of him.

He highlighted that “half of the squad were sons of African immigrants. They grew up in the poor, mainly immigrant neighbourhoods in the suburbs (‘banlieues’) of Paris and Lyon.” He then concluded that “it shows what is possible when a leaf is taken from the French football system, and every young person is encouraged and supported in developing his or her strengths.”

But… are we doing that?

If you have been following the news, we seem to be a distance away from making that happen back here in Singapore, specifically for the case of Ben Davis.

Ben Davis training with national squad (via)

Ben Davis is a 17 year old Singapore teenager. His father is from UK, his mother Thai. He studied in the Singapore Sports School and scored a scholarship deal with Fulham in July last year.  While there, he performed so well that the club decided to offer him a new deal. The club, newly promoted to the English Premier League, announced on 13 July that they will sign a two-year professional contract with him.

This has created an uproar here in Singapore as he is the first ever Singaporean that has be offered a contract with a football team of such standard.

If the deal goes through, Ben will be the first Singaporean to play in the English Premier League.

But standing in Ben’s way is a major obstacle called National Service.

Ben’s parents had applied to MINDEF to defer Ben from NS.

Unfortunately, MINDEF has rejected the application. Because Ben “does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS”.

MINDEF’s statement explained:

“As all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS put aside personal pursuits to dutifully enlist and serve their NS, it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development.”

According to MINDEF, what Ben is doing is considered as pursuing his own career and development. Sure. Ben’s not representing our country in this case since it is a contract given by the club from EPL, but think of the experience he will gain playing for the club. And on top of that, he still can be called back to represent Singapore during international matches, the kind of experience and teaching he can contribute to the national team when that happens.

We get it.

National security is vital. NS is the cornerstone of our defence. We need our boys to serve, our men to do reservist. Letting Ben defer his NS might open the floodgates for more people appealing for deferment.

People might grumble: “How come rich kids who can afford to go for professional sports training can escape NS? I also want to siam NS leh” So perhaps it’s understandable that MINDEF is concerned that approving Ben’s application would undermine the entire NS policy.

Then again, if I may, “If you can play until EPL I also let you siam lah!”. But that’s just me, not MINDEF.

How come some people can disrupt their NS then?

But it’s not as if there isn’t a policy precedence. Sure. So far, only three sportsmen (sailor Maximillian Soh, and swimmers Joseph Schooling, and Quah Zhengwen) who represented Singapore in the Olympics have been granted deferment from NS.

It’s not exactly the same.

As much as we think that there is a precedence set by other sportsmen, this case of Ben Davis is totally new. We have never had a Singaporean that was good enough to be playing in major league football like EPL or even basketballer who can play in the NBA.

The previous rules are relatively clear cut and I will just leave the quote here one more time.

“As all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS put aside personal pursuits to dutifully enlist and serve their NS, it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development.”

As much as them playing in a league is deemed as a personal career, it sure makes every Singaporean proud and could potentially inspire other young sportsmen that such a feat is possible and it’s not just a dream. Perhaps, in this case, his career does not just belong to him, but to the nation as well.

We are not saying that we should just give in to Ben Davis’ request now – or anyone else’s in the future for that matter – but since this is a new case maybe it’s time we review the policy and come up with a win-win solution for both parties?

Currently, there are only two other groups of people who are given deferments. Okay, technically, those two groups are granted disruptions. 

What’s the difference between a deferment and a disruption?

A deferment means start doing NS later. Disruption means the person has already served 6 to 10 months then stop their NS and go do something else. Those two groups are granted disruption to pursue their university studies, i.e. to pursue their own careers and development.

The first of the two groups are males who get a place in to study Medicine in a local university. I think that makes perfect sense. SAF needs medical officers (MOs). They can contribute to the force after their studies. Since the national interests and the personal interests of the guys who qualify for Medicine in a local university are aligned, sure. Let them disrupt. It’s a win-win situation.

But for the second group of Public Service Commission (PSC) scholars, it puzzles some of us why they are being given the same treatment. While we can’t seem to find much info on the PSC website itself that says that PSC scholars are still granted disruption from NS, the FAQ section of MOE’s scholarships states this,

“If you are a male PSC(T) scholar, you will be granted National Service (NS) disruption to pursue your undergraduate studies.”

PSC(T) stands for Public Service Commission Scholarship (Teaching Service). It’s the PSC scholarship where scholars are “tied” to MOE. That site was, apparently, last updated 18 Sep 2017.

So why is it that PSC scholars are granted disruptions to go to university, which is essentially pursuing their own careers and development, while other people can’t? My best guess is because they are going to contribute to the nation with their studies and experience? If we can count on that, probably what Ben Davis can bring onto the table is just as much or even more?

While most angry netizens wish to see Ben Davis play in the EPL as a Singaporean, they are also probably thinking that if Ben Davis can’t get his deferment, it should probably only be fair that these PSC scholars do not get it as well since it does look a lot like “individuals careers and development” at the onset for them.

But that’s just a lose-lose situation and not even a solution to help Ben Davis.

It’s not an easy call.

Of course it is effectively not an easy call especially when it is the first of its kind. We do get why Singaporeans are so affected by this since the world cup is just over and most of these people watch and love the sport. They know how hard it is to have a sportsman of such level especially in Singapore. Look at what happened to our Goal 2010. We are nowhere near it.

The lifespan of a sportsman is very unpredictable. Your prime years are very important and missing two years can mean a lot. But on the other hand, a good healthy football player can have his career probably stretched till he is 40. So how long can we allow Ben Davis to defer or disrupt for? Or should we make him come back to serve the nation during off seasons? Be a coach with Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association team at the end of his career?

There are a lot of things that we probably want MINDEF to do or simply just look into it and make it happen because policies are set by humans and our country is so young and still progressing, we need to adapt. It might potentially be a problem but probably a good problem, but how can we tackle (pun intended) this issue if we are having more of such applicants in near future? We might eventually have to review this anyway so why not now since it has already began?


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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