24 year old Ekawit Tangtrakarn, a Thai national, has pleaded guilty to defaulting on Singapore’s National Service (NS) requirement. He is set to receive his sentence on September 18.
What makes Mr. Tangtrakarn’s case rather difficult to decide are the circumstances surrounding it: he returned to the country of his own volition to face the care of defaulting on NS, and yet, he was not liable for NS in the first place because he was neither a permanent resident nor a citizen of Singapore at that time, at least, according to his defense lawyer, S. Radakrishnan.
Born of a Singaporean mother and a Thai father, Mr. Tangtrakarn was born and educated in Thailand, and for three years served in the Royal Thai Army. But because he was technically a Singaporean citizen until the age of 22, he entered a guilt plea to the charge of staying outside Singapore with no valid exit permit between April 2010 and October 2015, which constitutes a breach of the Enlistment Act.
This Act states that male Singaporeans and permanent residents from 13 years old and up must submit an application for an exit permit for studies abroad, or even if they have been living abroad from their younger years. This provision was put in place to make sure that these men would return for compulsory National Service.
His mother registered Mr. Tangtrakarn as a citizen of Singapore at the age of one, despite the whole family relocating to Thailand even before his birth. He officially stopped being a Singaporean citizen three years ago, in 2015.
Mansoor Amir, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) has asked for a 9-week sentence for Mr. Tangtrakarn. This is shorter than the 14-week usual sentence, since Mr. Tangtrakarn had surrendered himself of his own free will, and this was taken into consideration. Mr. Amir reiterated that Mr. Tangtrakarn entered the country again as a non-Singaporean citizen, when he was not obliged to serve his NS duties anymore. In the past he had been informed that he was classified as a defaulter more than once, but had elected to finish his engineering studies at the University of Bangkok instead of coming back to face the charges leveled against him.
According to his lawyer, “For all intents and purposes, he was born, lived, studied, served national service and found a job in Thailand, and identifies as a Thai national. He has spent his entire life to date residing in Thailand. He has never received any benefits from any social, economic, or educational services rendered by the Singapore government or its statutory boards.”
And therefore, he had no inkling that the charges against him were so heavy, and that he would be accountable for defaulting on his NS requirement.
It was Mr. Tangtrakarn’s mother, Genevieve Lim, who remained in contact with the statutory board overseeing NS enlistees, the Central Manpower Base (CMPB), which is under the Ministry of Defense.
She told the CMPB when her son was only 7 years old that he wanted to give up his Singaporean citizenship, but was informed by them that he would only be allowed to do this at 21 years old.
Ms. Lim tried again seven years later to secure an application for an exit permit for Mr. Tangtrakarn, but she could not pay for the S$75,000 bond requirement, and neither could anyone else among their family and acquaintances.
Mr. Tangtrakarn, who now works as an engineer, entered the country recently to face the charges against him, willingly surrendering himself and wishing for a resolution to his case. He does not desire to become a Singaporean citizen anytime in the future.
His lawyer has asked for a fine in lieu of jail time.
It is the prosecution’s contention that at the time of the offenses, Mr. Tangtrakarn was still a citizen of the country. And DPP Mansoor disagreed that Mr. Tangtrakarn never took advantage of his citizenship, since he once used his Singaporean passport to travel.
Additionally, the CMPB was willing to allow Ms. Lim to apply for an exit permit without first paying the bond, both in 2006 and 2007.
The DPP also said that what matters is that Mr. Tangtrakarn was not in the country when it was the time for him to serve his NS requirement.
Judge Ng, who presides over the case, has admitted that it is not an easy case to resolve.
Mr. Tangtrakarn may possibly face up to 3 years in jail or a fine of S$10,000.
This is the second time in the past few days that NS defaulters have made the news, the first, of course, being Kevin Kwan, the author of Crazy Rich Asians, who is also accused of defaulting on his NS requirement. Mr. Kwan moved to the United States as a child and did not file for an exit permit.