When ex-President Tony Tan’s son deferred National Service for 12 years

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The ongoing Ben Davis-NS Deferment saga has raised many questions over who the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will grant deferments to and who it will not.

Yesterday, Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling shared that he “empathised” with Davis and advised the Fulham footballer to “follow his dreams, follow his heart and do what he needs to do”. Interestingly, Schooling is one of three local athletes who have been granted long-term NS deferment in the past 15 years.

According to MINDEF, deferments are only granted to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympics and to those who could be potential medal winners for Singapore.

Additionally, short deferments may be considered for NSFs who are newly employed or have newly established a business; NSFs who need to take examinations; newly married NSFs; new parents; and on compassionate grounds.

Long deferments, however, are not the norm. MINDEF states: “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.”

Despite this policy, several scholars have successfully deferred NS for short periods of time. Take, for example, President’s Scholar Samuel Lim who was supposed to serve in 2010. Since Lim was offered a seat at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a degree in Public Policy, he was allowed to defer his service until 2013.

While significant to some, a three year deferment like the one Lim was allowed is just a quarter of the total time former President Tony Tan’s son was granted to defer his service to pursue medical studies.

While some NSFs are granted deferments to pursue an education in medicine, only one other has received a deferment as long as Tan’s son, Patrick.

Patrick was granted a long deferment way back in 1988. As soon as he completed his Basic Military Training and Officer Cadet Course (Junior Term), Patrick packed off to pursue a pre-medical degree at Harvard University.

Patrick did not return home to complete his service after graduating from Harvard. He, instead, when on to complete his Masters and PhD at Stanford University before finally returning to Singapore 12 years later in 2000.

Patrick served the remainder of his NS as a researcher.