Wednesday, December 21, 2005

liverpool 0 sao paulo 1 (mineiro 26)

many people are angry about melvyn tan cos they think he got off too lightly, because he makes a mockery of the importance and significance of conscription liability, and because he was able to get out of it cos he was a rich kid.

well, the first thing is that, by going to the UK to further his talent, he actually renounced Singaporean citizenship. this means he forfeited by choice the benefits of citizenship - cheap public housing, compulsory retirement savings, subsidised education and health care, etc. the issue of whether these carrots of citizenship are really substantial enuff to prevent many people from following in others' footsteps is another matter - his 1st penalty is that he oreidi had to go without them.

the second thing is with regards to his breaking the law. when one breaks the law, he is liable to be tried by the legal civil court. the military has nothing to do with this. the singapore constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech, also states that the judiciary is independent. therefore neither public opinion, assessment of public reaction or the military should influence the court's decision. the court's decision, which is based on a judgment of both the precedents and the severity of the case so as to warrant its penalty, did not justify a sentence more punitive than what already meted out to him. the effectiveness of its deterrence is a separate issue, cos one cannot assume that the verdict is meant to serve a deterrent purpose. should the military attempt to intervene or question the judgment, this may lead to a barrage of international protest or queries over the sanctity of Singapore's constitution and human rights, which may cause more tricky diplomatic problems.

the third issue is his wealth enabling him to submit, and relinquish, a bond amounting to a present day. to get around this problem, an analogy can be made to that of posting bail. When a person is under reasonable suspect of being guilty of a crime, he is detained, but if he is financially able, he can exchange temporary freedom until trial even though this may be detrimental to society. likewise, when a person dies, sometimes his employer (if he dies in service), or his insurance company (where he purchases policies of life security), will cede pecuniary compensation to his family. of course it is never a perfect substitute for a life, but it is a means to approach and assuage the loss in value. therefore it is not whether NS can be quantified in monetary terms - it cannot, but that a huge sum of money is about the best means one can institute to limit NS default. Suppose some other penalty is imposed to deter people leaving the country at a young age never to return - a penalty that is extremely difficult to deliver or face. would people then turn around and argue that this constitutes an unreasonable restriction on personal freedoms, that a person cannot leave Singapore (and he promises by bond to return if not forfeited)? what about the worth that the state can expect to gain when it invests in the departure (whether permanent or temporary) of a talent to tap potential overseas in the hope that he can return to accrue greater value?

the public is rightfully angry about the travesty of justice that is so ostensible in this incident. However this does not involve legal justice, or objective justice, but subjective justice, or perceived justice. As I am not trained in legal jargon, I will need to request that readers bear with me on this assumption of legal licence here. The state's response of reiterating the fundamentals of conscription liability will not pacify because it is precisely that the public has been educated to believe in the necessity of NS that they are indignant about the default.

The state, then, should encourage the public to move on, and to continue advocating the values behind NS. One can draw from the example of the NKF. It is very clear that a travesty of justice has occurred, because public trust and philanthropy have been betrayed by self-seeking individuals and corporate mismanagement. However the need to remember the poor is an enduring value. Therefore the public should not allow an incident imperfection to eliminate their charitability but continue to recognise the value of benevolence. Otherwise the poor will suffer, society will suffer and the nation will suffer. And the public did bounce back from the event. Since $600,000 is considered peanuts, at the President's Star charity, they donated $3.4 million - once again, digging into their pockets to benefit the needy. Likewise for the Melvyn Tan issue. The people must restate and renew their commitment to NS. Otherwise neighbouring countries with possible inimical intent may exploit it to their advantage.

The writer is doing his conscription liability in ____________. He contributed this article to the blog in his personal capacity.


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