Opposition to NS defaulter Melvyn Tan's SSO performance

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Melvin Tan will be featuring in Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concert and there is opposition to his performance here in Singapore.

Mr Tan is a national service (NS) defaulter. His parents sent him to the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 12 in 1969, and when the time came, they put up a security deposit of $30,000 as assurance that he would be back to serve NS. They lost the deposit when he did not return. In 2005, Mr Tan returned to Singapore and voluntarily surrendered himself. He was fined $3,000 by the Court for the offence he committed.

Many Singaporeans expressed strong views about the sentence which was meted out to him. Melvyn Tan’s case became a debate on the fault lines in our society – of a class divide between the rich and the poor. Minister for Defence, Mr Teo Chee Hean, had to address the public’s concerns that the sentence was too light.

Mr Teo at that time said, “In the case of Melvyn Tan, the way he was dealt with is exactly the same as the way that other people in similar circumstances as him were dealt with, both by Mindef and by the courts and the sentencing for people in these circumstances has generally been a fine. There are different classes of cases and in the class that Melvyn Tan fell in, the courts had decided not to impose custodial sentences.”

Since his conviction, Mr Tan has returned to Singapore several times to perform. There have been objections to his performances every time he had done so.

This time, it is no different. Nathan Chin Leong, who describes himself as “a member of the armed forces and a current reservist” has written to Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean to intervene and prevent Mr Melvyn Tan from ever performing here. Nathan has also asked the DPM to declare Mr Tan a persona non grata.

In his correspondence to the DPM, Nathan said “to me and veterans – both men and women in the armed forces – allowing a defaulter to go on stage to perform is a disgrace and a sully to the National Flag and the emblem of the Armed Forces”.

Commenting on another performance of Mr Tan’s in 2013, defence blogger David Boey had this to say:

“When NS defaulters who paid their fines are turned away by immigration at the point of entry, you can bet people will see that MINDEF means business.[If Dr Goh Keng Swee was still in charge as DM, am sure he would know what to do.]

To be sure, Melvyn will suffer his just desserts as he will not enjoy free SAFRA membership (For one year. Terms and conditions apply). Neither will he receive up to $100 in vouchers as part of the Government’s Thank You to all NSmen and full-time National Servicemen as part of celebrations that marked 45 Years of NS in 2012.

Pity the Singaporean families who heeded the call to arms. Every Singaporean son who served NS must be wondering how different their future might be had they met the girl of their dreams, furthered their studies, started work or started a family with a two-year headstart and no reservist obligations to fulfil.

One can say with full and undiminished confidence that families who paid the ultimate price for their freedom would gladly trade $220 a month for the chance to see their loved ones alive and well again.

What do you say to these families about people like Melvyn?

Sure, he had his day in court and has long since paid his fine.

And Singapore society must not be so petty, hard-hearted and unforgiving as to nitpick on a lifestyle choice Melvyn made in his youth.

Or should we?”