SINGAPORE: A man who defaulted on his National Service obligations for almost eight years to complete his university studies and work in Canada was sentenced to 16 weeks’ jail on Thursday (Feb 2).
Ryan Foong Xue Fei, 26, is the 21st NS defaulter to be sentenced to jail since the High Court set the sentencing framework for NS defaulters in 2017.
Foong was a Singaporean citizen by birth. He migrated to Canada when he was 11, after studying in primary school in Singapore.
He successfully applied for his first exit permit in 2009 and renewed it in 2011, but it expired in October 2012.
After this, the Central Manpower Base sent letters to his Singapore addresses about his NS obligations, but the mail was returned with the indication that Foong no longer stayed at those addresses.
The manpower base also sent Foong an email in January 2013, telling him to report by Jan 28, 2013 for his NS registration, but Foong ignored it.
He knew of the consequences of remaining overseas without a valid exit permit, and used his Canadian passport to travel instead of his Singapore passport.
In February 2020, he sent an email to the Central Manpower Base about renewing his passport so he could return to Singapore to complete his NS.
He was told to return immediately to resolve his NS defaulting offence and fulfill his NS obligations.
He returned to the country in November 2020 and was arrested at the checkpoint.
When interviewed after his arrest, Foong admitted that he did not want to return to Singapore to serve his NS obligations any earlier, as he wanted to first complete his university education in Canada and work for some time.
He finished his university education in May 2019 and continued to work in Canada before returning to Singapore.
In total, he remained outside of Singapore without a valid exit permit for seven years, 11 months and 17 days.
The prosecutor sought at least 18 weeks’ jail for Foong, saying that the punishment for NS defaulters has to be sufficiently severe to deter potential offenders from evading or postponing their obligations to a time of their own convenience.
Foong’s lawyer Amolat Singh asked for a reduction in sentence, saying that COVID-19 restrictions had affected travel, but the prosecutor said Foong could have returned anytime before the pandemic started.
Mr Singh said Thursday was the last day of Foong’s NS, and that Foong took back his civilian identity card and other things that very morning.
He said Foong had reached out to Central Manpower Base himself to surrender, and had pleaded guilty instead of wasting time or quibbling about it.
“He has, in a sense, redeemed himself,” said the lawyer, saying that Foong “has done very well in his NS after he was enlisted” and was noted to have a positive attitude.
“He is not the kind of person who tries to run away from his obligation because he hated SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) or the uniform,” Mr Singh said.
Foong addressed the judge directly and said he had actually contacted the manpower base in November 2019, but the issue was delayed as they could not give him “a firm answer” on the matter.
“I emailed them and they told me they would get back to me. I tried several times, and they did not provide a firm answer, they kept telling me to wait it out and I wanted to respect the process,” he said.
“I didn’t want to rush them and that’s why I waited till mid- to late-February, after which eventually when I booked my ticket to come back without their confirmation, COVID-19 was already starting to become more serious, and it just so happened that the date of travel was about two days after lockdown happened,” he said.
For defaulting on NS, Foong could have been jailed for up to three years, fined up to S$10,000, or both.