STB should not sidestep media queries on Kwan’s NS status

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The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has been coy when asked about its dealings with author and film producer, Singapore-born Kevin Kwan.

On at least two occasions in the past week, the STB completely avoided reporters’ questions on what it knew about Kwan’s National Service (NS) status at the time the STB entered into agreements with the producers of the film, Crazy Rich Asians.

Questions of whether the STB, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) have knowingly supported a NS defaulter were raised following news that Kwan did not report for enlistment.

Kwan, 45, is the author of the book which has been turned into a movie of the same name. He is also the executive producer of the hit movie which is currently playing in the theatres here.

Kwan left Singapore when he was 11-years old for Texas, in the United States, and subsequently became an American citizen.

Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (Mindef), however, said on 23 August that Kwan has failed to enlist for NS in Singapore, and has thus committed an offence under Singapore’s Enlistment Act.

“Mr Kevin Kwan failed to register for national service (NS) in 1990, despite notices and letters sent to his overseas address,” Mindef said.

“He also stayed overseas without a valid exit permit. Mr Kwan is therefore wanted for defaulting on his NS obligations.”

Kwan himself had said in earlier interviews that he has visited Singapore on several occasions since, but the Singapore authorities have said that there are no records of his visits from 2000, and that pre-2000 records were too voluminous to sift through.

Meanwhile, the STB and the SFC supported the making of Kwan’s film.

The SFC “provided a production assistance grant and facilitated filming at various locations here, among other things”, according to the TODAY newspaper.

The STB “supported Singapore cast members in Los Angeles by pitching them for interviews and press opportunities in the US,” the Straits Times reported.

“STB and SFC did not say, however, how much they spent supporting the movie.

“The statutory board has also been marketing Singapore as a tourist destination to overseas audiences through various film-related initiatives, including a three-day event earlier this month in Los Angeles known as the Crazy Rich Singapore Week.”

When the Straits Times asked the STB on 23 August when it became aware of Kwan’s NS status and “whether it was a consideration in its decision to support the film, STB did not address questions on the author…”

“It would say only that it is working with film distributors Warner Bros to organise marketing activities around the film and that it sees the movie as ‘a natural opening to pique viewers’ interest in visiting Singapore,” the Straits Times said.

A week later, on 29 August, TODAY attempted to get answers to the same questions.

At the launch of the second wave of its Passion Made Possible campaign, the STB would not be drawn into the controversy over Singapore-born author Kevin Kwan – whose book of the same title forms the basis of the movie – defaulting on his National Service commitments,” the paper said.

TODAY said that “STB brand director Lim Shoo Ling would only comment on how the movie, a romantic comedy that was filmed in large part here, has helped to build the country’s brand.”

It is unfortunate that a statutory board such as the STB has chosen to avoid entirely questions of its dealings with an NS defaulter.

National Service is a serious matter, as the Defence Minister made clear in Parliament recently, when he spoke on the case of 17-year old footballer Ben Davies.

To avoid enlisting for NS is an offence under our laws, and offenders have been sentenced to jail for doing so.

The STB should come clean and be accountable to Singaporeans, especially those who have abided by the law and given their time in serving the nation.

The STB (and the SFC) should provide answers to the following questions:

  1. When were you aware of Kwan’s NS status?
  2. What were the considerations made when you decided to go ahead and support his film, despite knowing of his NS status (if indeed you were aware of his NS status)?
  3. How much of taxpayers’ money was spent on supporting his film in total?
  4. How and where were your negotiation or discussions with Kwan held?
  5. Did you seek advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers before entering into any contractual agreements with Kwan (or his team)?

It really does not look good on a statutory board if it supports an NS defaulter knowingly, and then refuses to come clean, avoiding direct questions raised by the media and the public.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry should look into this.