SINGAPORE — When a Malaysian boy was around 13 years old, he came to study in the Singapore Sports School where his education was subsidised under a scholarship programme.
Lim Ching Hwang, 24, was later granted Singapore permanent residency status under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme. He was required to enlist for National Service (NS).
When it was time to serve NS, however, Lim pursued his university studies in the USA under a Malaysian scholarship.
Lim was sentenced to eight weeks’ jail on Tuesday (9 February), after he pleaded guilty to two of three counts under the Enlistment Act for remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for two separate periods totalling nearly three years. The remaining count was taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Addressing the court in person, Lim, who was a swimming athlete, said that he was “deeply regretful” of his actions and said that he wished to apply for citizenship when his situation settled.
“I was too focused on swimming (and) couldn’t resist the temptation of a Malaysian scholarship to study at a prestigious university to further (my) career.”
He added that he listened to his parents’ ill-advice to finish his studies before completing his NS obligations. In hindsight, he said he should have nudged them to settle his exit permit issues first.
Lim completed his NS on 2 February this year.
In 2010, Lim came to Singapore and studied at the Singapore Sports School until 2013. His training fees and education were subsidised at $25,000 per year by the Singapore government under the Foreign Sports Scholarship Scheme. He later represented Malaysia in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games for the men’s freestyle relay race.
Lim’s application for permanent residency was supported by the Singapore Swimming Association and his status was granted on 4 March 2014.
Two days later, Lim reached the NS enlistment age of 18. He received a notice to register for NS from 12 May 2014 to 31 May 2014. Around the same period, he was offered a scholarship by a Malaysian entity to pursue his university studies in the USA in September 2014.
On 29 May 2014, Lim registered for NS and applied for deferment and he was granted a deferment until May 2017 to pursue diploma studies at Republic Polytechnic.
He left his studies at the polytechnic midway and left Singapore on 17 July 2014. In the same month, he tried to apply for deferment from NS to pursue his university studies, but his application was rejected by the Ministry of Defence.
His family became unhappy with requirement of having to place a bond for an exit permit.
Lim’s family continued to apply to defer his NS enlistment and did not provide any bond. He was informed that he had to book a date for his medical screening prior to enlisting.
In February 2015, Lim’s father told the authorities that Lim had already begun his university studies in the USA and that his son would be renouncing his Singapore permanent residency status as his deferment from NS was not granted.
Lim returned to Singapore on 2 June 2015 and underwent his medical screening. He did so as he was worried that he would not be able to enter Singapore for the 2015 Southeast Asian Games due to his Enlistment Act offences.
On 7 July 2015, Lim left for the USA and continued unsuccessfully to apply for NS deferment. He gave excuses for not enlisting for NS, claiming that he wanted to renounce his permanent residency status as he was unhappy that his deferment was not granted. He failed to report for enlistment on 11 November 2015.
Lim only returned to Singapore on 11 June 2018 after he finished his studies.
“He said that he wanted to resolve his NS offences because he intended to swim competitively in Singapore and pursue a career in Singapore in the future,” Deputy Public Prosecutor R Arvindren told the court.
In mitigation, Lim, who was represented by lawyer Kalaithasan Karuppaya, said that he experienced mental stress and was glad that he was able to complete his NS without creating any problems.
He added that he wanted to “tell all boys” that it was beneficial to serve NS before finishing university as NS exposes young men to leadership skills that a university could not teach.
“I strongly encourage young men to look forward to NS and to serve it diligently as (it is related to) Singapore’s security,” he added.
He told the court that he had a girlfriend and friends in Singapore, and a “promising job lined up” while awaiting for his court case to conclude.
In response, DPP Arvindren said that Lim’s culpability lay in his “unfair advantage” over his law-abiding peers as he was able to pursue his own aspirations.
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