National Service is a rite of passage for every Singaporean male. As part of your citizenship, you get to enjoy the numerous benefits of living in Singapore. However, you also have to do your part to defend it. After all, if it ever falls, we won’t be able to reap the rewards of living here anymore.
Well, for one reason or another, there are a few who want to push back or be exempted from National Service entirely. One of them, in a relatively recent case, is Ben Davis. He was signed to a two-year contract with Fulham, a Premier League (EPL) club, and is the only Singaporean to have ever been offered a contract. MINDEF’s decision to reject his deferment request has sparked controversy among football fans and coaches alike. I guess it shows that even stars aren’t exempt from National Service.
Some are claiming that undertaking National Service will hamper his progress and growth as a footballer, while others are claiming that it won’t and that it’s better to get it out the way as soon as possible. While there are merits to both sides of the argument, there are many intricacies to National Service that Singaporeans may be unaware of. Words such as “disruption”, “exemption” and “deferment” all have different meanings and context in the eyes of the SAF. Here is a quick guide to NS terms such as deferment, disruption, and what they all actually mean.
Disruption is typically reserved for when a full-time national serviceman (NSF) has to disrupt his National Service to further his studies. Here are the details, from the CMPB:
- Disruption will only be granted for courses conducted by educational institutions that are funded by the Ministry of Education (e.g. Singapore Institute of Technology) or those that confer their own qualifications. For example, a full-time National Serviceman (NSF) will not be allowed disruption to pursue a foreign degree course conducted by the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) since the qualification is not conferred by SIM.
Disruption is also not granted if you want to pursue pre-university qualifications such as getting a GCE ‘A’ Level certificate or a polytechnic diploma because “there are sufficient opportunities for you to attain pre-university qualifications prior to enlistment”.
However, this rule does not apply to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates who manage to secure a placement at a polytechnic (or equivalent qualification such as LaSalle College of the Arts) during their National Service and were unsuccessful before enlistment. These servicemen will be allowed disruption in their 2nd year to pursue the course they qualified for.
However, they have to continue serving National Service afterwards in one continuous period.
GCE ‘A’ Level Holders (Enlistment Date: Jan-Apr)
You may be disrupted from the first Operationally Ready Date (ORD) from your local ‘A’ Level cohort (in November of the 2nd year) or a week before your local course commencement date, whichever comes later. For overseas studies, two weeks of disruption is given.
Diploma Holders (Enlistment Date: May-Oct)
You may be disrupted from the first Operationally Ready Date (ORD) from your local diploma cohort (in May of the 2nd year) or a week before your local course commencement date, whichever comes later. For overseas studies, two weeks of disruption is given.
How To Apply For Disruption
Applications for disruption are to be submitted through your Manpower Officer or Personnel Nodes to MINDEF/SAF Human Resource Shared Services Centre for approval. You must show documentary proof of your placement offer in an institution and the institution must be funded by the Ministry of Education or confer its own degrees. The application must be submitted 3 months before the disruption date. If your submission is late or incomplete, it may be rejected! It’s best to do it as soon as possible.
Most students should be familiar with deferment from National Service. Students are granted a deferment to full-time studies up to GCE ‘A’ Level, polytechnic diploma or their equivalents (known as first education bar qualification). Note that if you wish to retake your first education bar qualification (and below, such as GCE ‘O’ levels), you will not be able to defer. You will also not be able to defer if you took your first education bar qualification overseas and want to retake it. Degree courses are also not eligible for deferment.
If you are pursuing your studies overseas, up to the first education bar qualification, and are younger than 19 years old (Secondary 4 students) or 20 years old (Secondary 5/ITE students), you may also be given deferment.
However, you may be required to apply for an NS Exit Permit and furnish a bond. You can learn more here and later in the article.
If you are returning from overseas studies, do contact CMPB with your overseas studies documentation. They will advise you further.
Here is the deferment cut-off age list. You have to meet the criteria to be eligible for deferment.
Deferment may (not guaranteed) be given for these reasons:
- New employment or newly established business
- Marriage and honeymoon
- Birth of a child
- Compassionate grounds (e.g. serious illness or death of next-of-kin)
You also need to submit the supporting documents as proof.
Exemptions from National Service are very rare, and are usually granted to those who are medically unfit for service. Unfortunately, there is no set criteria for being unfit for service, and is decided by the Armed Forces Council. There have been exemption cases due to mental illnesses.
Trying to renounce your citizenship will get you nowhere in skipping National Service. Firstly, here are the requirements for the renouncement of a Singapore citizenship, under Article 128(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore:
- You must be at least 21 years old
- You must be a citizen or about to gain citizenship of another country
- You must be of sound mind
However, for male citizens, there is an additional part.
Section 2(b) basically means that if you are subject to the Enlistment Act, the Government can (and will) withhold your request to renounce your citizenship if you don’t serve National Service. There’s pretty much no way to get around this unless you have some special circumstances. Many have tried, and many have failed.
NS Exit Permit
If you are travelling (and remaining) overseas for 6 months or more, you must have an Exit Permit. You must use it within 3 months to the date, or you will be required to cancel it within 7 days before expiration.
If your Exit Permit was granted for study, you must not change the course you took or where you are studying without approval.
Once you reach the statutory age, 50 and 40 years old for Officers and WOSEs respectively, you do not need to reply for an Exit Permit anymore. Finally! Those exempted from National Service are also not required to have an Exit Permit.
Do note that not having a valid Exit Permit makes you liable to a fine of $10,000 (or under) or imprisonment for 3 years (or under) or both. Failure to cancel an unused Exit Permit or changing your course/where you are studying without approval will also land you a fine of $2,000 (or under), imprisonment for 1 year (or under) or both. Be sure to get all your documentation in order, so you don’t end up wasting your precious dollars and time!
By Muhd Farhan