Skipping National Service is a big deal in Singapore, enough to send someone to jail. A former Malaysian national swimmer is the 17th person to go to jail for this reason.
Lim Ching Hwang pleaded guilty to two charges under the Enlistment Act and was sentenced to eight weeks of jail time. Another charge was taken into consideration during the trial.
Lim moved to Singapore in 2010 at the age of 13. He studied at the Singapore Sports School until 2013 with subsidised school and training fees. In 2014, he was granted Singapore permanent residency under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme. He was 18 then and it made him eligible for the Enlistment Act. The Singapore Swimming Association also supported his application to be a PR.
In March 2014, Lim received a notice asking him to register for NS. He also received a scholarship offer from Sime Darby, to study in the United States. He registered for NS on 29th May, two days before the deadline and was granted a deferment to pursue a diploma at Republic Polytechnic. The deferment was to last until May 2017, but he left Singapore on 17th July. Instead, he ended up taking the Sime Darby offer and pursued a Business degree at the Ohio State University.
Lim and his parents tried to request for deferment to attend university, but the Singaporean Ministry of Defence rejected it. According to Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) R Arvindren, deferment for university studies are not typically granted. Lim’s parents also failed to put up a bond for an exit permit which would allow Lim to leave Singapore. Instead, they continued to apply for NS deferment in 2014 and 2015.
In 2015, Singapore authorities said Lim had to undergo medical screening for his enlistment. Lim’s father then told them that his son would be renouncing his status as a permanent resident since he was not granted deferment for university studies. Lim however, did return in June for the screening as he was worried he would be barred from taking part in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games (SEA) held in Singapore. He competed in the games under the Malaysian flag and left Singapore again.
In August 2015, Lim was notified to report for enlistment on 11th November. He told the authorities that he wanted to renounce his status as a permanent resident and did not turn up for enlistment. A police gazzette was then issued against him. He returned to Singapore on 11th June 2018 after completing university.
The 2013 Asian Youth Games gold medallist enlisted on 3rd April 2019 and completed his NS on 2nd February 2021. According to Lim, he wanted to resolve his NS offences as he has plans to swim competitively for Singapore. “I’m deeply regretful of my actions. I committed them as a boy and now that I am more mature, I have come back to face the consequences as a man.”
Lim explained that he had been too focused on swimming when he was younger and “couldn’t resist the temptation of a Malaysian scholarship to study at a prestigious university“. He intends to apply for a citizenship in Singapore as he has a girlfriend and a promising job offer too good to resist in Singapore. In hindsight, he admits, he should have persuaded his parents to sort out his exit permits and not listened to their ill-judged advice to finish his studies before serving in NS.
He is glad he was able to complete NS and said “I want to tell all boys that it is beneficial to serve NS before finishing university as the leadership skills that young men are exposed to is nothing a university can teach.” His jail term will begin on 23rd February.
He could have been jailed for up to three years, fined up to S$10,000 or both for leaving Singapore without an exit permit.