Friday, 15 February 2013

Levy national defence tax on PRs, foreigners

Proposal for non-citizens to also contribute towards national security
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2013

TO SHARPEN the distinction between Singaporeans and non- citizens, a Member of Parliament has mooted an annual national defence tax to be levied on permanent residents and foreigners.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair called the tax "national defence duty" and suggested it be in the form of additional income and property tax.

In making this proposal in a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Nair observed that non-citizens also benefit from the security that is due in part to those who serve in the armed forces, and should make a contribution.

He said he planned to raise the proposal during the Budget debate next month.

"In short, we do duty, they pay a duty," he wrote.

All male Singapore citizens and second-generation PRs around the age of 18 are liable for two years of national service (NS), unless they are exempted.

But PRs have the option of avoiding conscription if they give up their residency status, a policy Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh said should be changed during last week's White Paper debate. In 2011, the Ministry of Defence said that one-third of NS- liable 18-year-old PRs chose this escape clause.

Mr Nair's post drew swift reactions from fellow MPs and other observers, with some saying the proposal would reinforce the message that Singaporeans remain at the core of the Government's policies.

Under the proposal, families with sons liable for NS would be exempted from the tax. But, those who send their sons away before enlistment or make them give up their PR status must pay back taxes and penalties.

And rather than channelling the revenue to state coffers, Mr Nair suggested putting it into an NS trust fund that can supplement the pay of less well-off national servicemen.

The money can also be used to compensate NSmen injured during duty, or families of those who die.

Emphasising that he did not want to add to the "xenophobic hysteria", Mr Nair said his proposal tries to "equalise an anomaly".

"Singaporeans doing NS have to sacrifice their time for everyone else. We are just addressing a current imbalance. It will be xenophobic if you discriminate without reason."

He had written the post in response to perceptions that citizens were not being treated as fairly as they should be.

Mr Singh said the proposal would differentiate further the perks of citizens and PRs, after recent tweaks in health care and education policies.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, suggested making second-generation PRs who study in local schools pay back education subsidies they enjoyed if they skip NS.

The NS tax could also be extended to companies which employ foreigners, Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said.

"There's talk that some firms prefer foreigners as they don't get called up for reservist. Perhaps they can contribute to this NS fund too, as their employees are also enjoying the stability provided by the army."

Still, putting a price on NS may not be right, said Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Leong Chan-Hoong, who is looking into the various reasons why PRs choose not to do NS.

"I'd rather revoke the PR status of parents whose children skip NS," he said, but acknowledged that that would be "draconian".


Singaporeans doing NS have to sacrifice their time for everyone else. We are just addressing a current imbalance.

It will be xenophobic if you discriminate without reason.
- Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair, on whether his proposal would be seen as anti-foreigners


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