SINGAPORE - When swimmer Joseph Schooling was allowed to defer National Service (NS) in 2013 to train for the Olympics, that was "based on known conditions" - and if he continues to meet those conditions, the deferment should be able to continue, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen told reporters on Sunday night.
He was replying to the question of what Schooling's Olympic gold medal, clinched on Saturday morning, meant for his NS deferment.
"I think the whole of Singapore is elated, filled with pride over Joseph Schooling's historic achievements," replied Dr Ng.
"When we deferred him in 2013 so that he could compete - train, compete for the Olympics - it was based on known conditions that I already explained to Parliament. And if he continues to meet those conditions, I don't see why not."
In Parliament in 2013, Dr Ng had said that NS deferment "may be granted in exceptional circumstances to individual sportsmen, who are assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games and bring national pride for the country."
Individuals will have to show why deferment is necessary for them to train full-time and compete successfully at international competitions, and each case will be assessed individually in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
"The conditions have been always quite clear and if sportsmen achieve those conditions we've had no problem in granting (them) deferment."
Asked on Sunday night whether Schooling would be exempted entirely from having to serve NS, however, Dr Ng replied: "I think we should take it a step at a time. Let's see how it unfolds."
At this point in time, Singapore should focus on congratulating Schooling, he said.
"And really it's both his efforts, his parents' support as well as the community that has allowed him to achieve such heights even at a young age. So let's use this moment to just come together and congratulate him and his achievements."
Noting that Parliament will move a motion to congratulate and formally recognise Schooling on Monday, Dr Ng added: "I think other questions can wait till then."
Dr Ng was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event in Toa Payoh Central where he is adviser to the grassroots organisations, Songs of Yesteryears, which featured performances and singalongs of evergreen Chinese songs.
He was also asked for his views on the blasts that happened in Thailand earlier that week. Noting that the Thai authorities are still determining the cause and perpetrators, Dr Ng said that the lesson for Singapore is that small arms and explosives are now easier to obtain by illegal means, so Singapore has to step up its vigilance.
"No country is immune, there are plots against us so I think Singaporeans will have to be vigilant. Our security agencies and forces have already stepped up their activities and security arrangements."
"But if any attack occurs, I think we have to make sure that we hold together," he concluded.