The Straits Times
Published on Feb 25, 2013

Defence tax proposal does not put a price on NS obligations


THE editorial ("NS tax would cheapen a solemn duty"; last Saturday) says all the right things, but avoids the difficult issues.

The editorial agrees with me that distinctions between Singaporeans and foreigners "can be sharpened", but warns against the danger "of going too far".

But what is "too far"? The editorial also acknowledges the problem I highlighted of permanent residents skipping their national service obligations, and states that "measures... can be tightened". Again, the crucial question is how?

Motherhood statements are fine, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

It is also wrong to label proposals to sharpen the distinction "xenophobic", because that assumes that current policies are already fair and incapable of rational change.

We should not resist reviewing and changing existing policies, provided such changes are logical and principled, and in the interests of Singapore.

My proposal of a defence tax is a specific proposal. It does not put a price on NS obligations.

NS obligations are important and must be enforced by law and punishment if necessary.

But what about those who escape their NS obligations or who have no such obligations? They benefit from others doing NS. They should contribute too.

Taxation is not a unique solution. A Swiss citizen who is liable to perform military service, but is unable or fails to complete his obligation must pay an exemption tax. It is a practical response to a practical problem. It is not seen as cheapening national service.

My proposal does not go so far as the Swiss. I do not agree that anyone should be able to avoid NS obligations by making payment.

It is easy to use a loaded word such as "cheapen" when talking about taxes. But it is unfair.

If we offer tax breaks for families to have kids, are we "cheapening" children? And did The Straits Times label the $9,000 grant to national servicemen announced by the Prime Minister as cheapening NS?

The fact is that taxation is a legitimate means of distributing benefits and burdens.

All I am suggesting is to have foreigners and PRs share the burden that our NSmen already shoulder.

Hri Kumar Nair

The writer is an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC

EDITOR'S NOTE: NSmen have rightly been given grants and awards in recognition of their service to the nation. The proposed NS tax would be paid in lieu of such service. The two are not the same, and the former approach is better, in our view.