The Straits Times
Published on Feb 23, 2013

Tax a fairer way of distributing true cost of defence


I DISAGREE with Mr Kenneth Lim's commentary on the defence tax ("Defence tax for foreigners will hurt S'pore ultimately"; last Saturday).

The true cost of defence goes beyond the 4 per cent to 5 per cent of gross domestic product we spend every year. In receiving a token allowance for their service, Singaporean men are in fact subsidising a huge part of that cost, and they pay for it with their time, sweat and blood.

Defence is a public good; its real cost should be borne evenly by all who enjoy it. A fairer proposal would be to pay full wages to national servicemen as you would regular soldiers, with the increment funded by the defence tax. Part of these payouts can be in Central Provident Fund top-ups, which can be used to pay for their homes. This in turn gives Singaporean men added motivation to defend their country.

It has been highlighted that the essence of a conscription army lies in motivation and shared responsibility. As such, Singapore cannot conscript only a part of the population.

In the 1970s, when citizens and permanent residents (PRs) made up over 90 per cent of the population, compulsory conscription ensured that everyone contributed their fair share.

However, with the number of Singaporeans and PRs standing at only 71 per cent of the population today, we are exempting a significant portion of the population from that responsibility.

This undermines the very foundation of national service and is dangerous, given the projected decrease in the percentage of citizens. Singaporean sons are already finding themselves unfairly disadvantaged in their own country.

Foreigners add vibrancy to our community and contribute to the more dynamic economy we all enjoy today. We must not discriminate against them.

The defence tax should not be viewed as a tool for discrimination but as a fairer way of distributing the true cost of defence.

A defence tax would be beneficial for society as a whole. Those who do not serve, in contributing to the tax, recognise the true cost of security and would take ownership in preserving peace in our shared society.

The defence tax is a step towards a more egalitarian Singapore, one in which everyone plays his part in making this island a safe home for all.

Glenn Goh Keng Hwang