If the government does not act fast to rectify Ogawa Ryuju’s citizenship, someone somewhere will make political hay of it. And not just for the present; this is the kind of case that has the potential to be cited again and again for years to come to make a political point.
His story is on Yahoo’s Fit To Post. Briefly, it is this: Ogawa’s citizenship has been revoked because he failed to take an oath of allegiance prior to his 22nd birthday. This is a requirement for all persons who are born abroad and claim citizenship through descent via one parent.
Ogawa was born to a Japanese father and Singaporean mother in Japan, but has lived in Singapore since age 10 and has even completed his National Service.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) claims they sent him two notices to take the oath of allegiance. He claims he never received these notices. The only letter he received came a month after his 22nd birthday, informing him that his citizenship had been revoked.
This sounds to me like one of the many bureaucratic imbroglios the average Singaporean faces every day. The law is rigid, civil servants are even more rigid and the man in the street is just frustrated beyond belief. In Ogawa’s case however, being rendered stateless is a very serious matter. It has been two-and-a-half months since 31 August 2010, his 22nd birthday, and the fact that it is making the news indicates that the wheels of our bureaucracy are simply not turning.
It should be obvious that this is a guy who identifies as Singaporean, who lives here and is rooted here, who wants to be a citizen and who has done his part by completing National Service. If indeed for whatever reason he failed to comply with legal requirements, someone somewhere should have quickly looked for another legal way to rectify the situation. We register new citizens every day; what is so difficult to just make him one?
Ogawa is not a high-flier. According to Yahoo, he has merely an N-level, though since he is only 22, there is every possibility that he could pursue more qualifications in the years ahead, though I would hasten to assert that a person’s true worth is not measured by qualifications. But it is precisely because he is not a high-flier that his case can be used to bite the government politically.
Just two weeks ago, both the Straits Times and Today newspaper trumpetted the news that Stanchart Bank’s regional head for Southeast Asia, Ray Ferguson (left), had acquired Singapore citizenship. Neither of UK-born Ferguson’s parents were Singaporean. He had not been educated in Singapore, nor had he done National Service, and yet our propaganda machine wants us to think it is such great news that he has chosen a pink identity card and a red passport.
It does not take much for someone to tell voters: See? The Singapore government is laying out the red carpet again to total foreigners simply because they are part of elite ranks while treating true-blue Singaporeans like dirt. If you have an N-level, they don’t even want you to be a Singapore citizen. But before they chuck you out, they extract two years of National Service from you first.
Once planted into our political discourse, this example will be impossible to remove from people’s minds.
(Actually, it would also be good if Ferguson, exercising his new citizen rights, would stand up and say: Give Ogawa citizenship now.)
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What exactly is the law?
It is found in our constitution, Article 122 of which says:
It appears that Ogawa qualified per Clause (3) while he was a minor, thus explaining his pink identity card and his liability for National Service. However, Clause (4) tripped him up.
Maybe the law is so rigid that he cannot now take the oath after his 22nd birthday, but any civil servant acting with sincerity and sympathy should be able to find a way around it. Article 123 of the constitution for example, which is used to register new citizens such as Ray Ferguson, can easily be used to re-register Ogawa.
As far as I can see, he meets all conditions (a) to (e) of Article 123.
The ICA should assign an officer to fasttrack his case and sort this problem out before it causes further distress to him and morphs into a political issue.
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[Post-script, 12 March 2011: It was reported in the news a few days ago that Ogawa has been reinstated as a Singapore citizen. He has taken his oath of allegiance alongside several new citizens.]