Exceptional treatment for exceptional individuals?

Patrick Tan Boon Ooi

Rumour has it that Patrick Tan Boon Ooi, son of Tony Tan, received exceptional treatment in his NS disruption and NS posting.

Some argue that his exceptional skills justified the exceptional treatment.

Others are unhappy that Patrick Tan was not deployed in frontline duty.


[Updated August 2nd] Some additional interesting reads:

Jessica Tan pops the question

Original Article

Take a deep breath – this will be a long one. We did lots of digging. We even approached netizen Jessica Tan for help (as she first highlighted it in Temasek Review), but she didn’t reply.

1. Did Patrick Tan enlist with his cohort?

From what we can find online, Patrick Tan finished A-Levels in 1987 and then enlisted with his cohort in 1988, completing BMT and OCS (Junior Term).

2. How did Patrick Tan disrupt NS to study Medicine overseas?

Patrick Tan took a President’s Scholarship and Loke Cheng Kim Scholarship for medical training in the USA. In the late 1980s, it was possible to disrupt NS for overseas medical studies.

3. Why is US medical training so long? Why do US doctors take a Bachelor of Arts / Science along the way?

US medical training is longer than in the UK and Australia. Students have to do a 4 year Bachelor’s degree (“pre-medical”) before starting the medical component of training, which is usually 4 years.

4. Why did Patrick Tan spend 4 years pre-medical BA + 8 years medical training? Did he take time out or drop out of course?

Patrick Tan did a MD/PhD course. This takes longer than the usual MD or MBBS. Based on this USA website, the combined MD/PhD is usually 7 to 8 years, but can extend to 10 years.

So it adds up to 4 years BA + 8 years in MD/PhD — yes, that’s long!

5. So why isn’t Patrick Tan practising as a doctor?

After medical school (MD, MBBS or MD/PhD), graduates must do 1 year housemanship in a hospital, to get medical registration and a licence to practice.

From what we can ascertain, Patrick Tan returned to Singapore in 2000 after his BA+MD/PhD and resumed his Full-Time NS, without doing housemanship. So he would not have been able to practice as a doctor.

6. So doctors must finish housemanship, otherwise they cannot become Medical Officers in SAF?

Yes, that seems to be the case. Without medical registration (which comes after housemanship), Patrick Tan cannot go for MOCC or be deployed as a SAF MO.

SAF MOs, in addition to deployment in field units, also are deployed to HQ medical centres. Some postings are harsher than others. But all of them require the doctor to finish housemanship, otherwise he cannot go for MOCC.

Given that Patrick Tan is now doing research full-time, it is possible that he has given up practising medicine altogether. His doctor contemporaries would have been well into their careers by the time he came back.

7. Why does he have a 3SG rank without going through SAFINCOS or SISPEC?

Cadets who go out-of-course (OOC) after part of OCS may get an enlistee rank such as Corporal (CPL). It is possible that Patrick Tan, having had a 12 year gap between OCS Junior Term and his return, was deemed OOC.

We hear that some senior clerks with additional duties were promoted from CPL to 3SG during NS. It is possible that Patrick Tan was promoted for similar reasons. Only MINDEF knows for sure.

8. What is this Melioidosis disease that Patrick Tan was working on during his NS?

Melioidosis germs

Melioidosis is caused by a germ found in soil and muddy water (Burkholderia pseudomallei). It affects soldiers in the field, and a potential bioweapon.

More information on Melioidosis can be found at the US Centers for Disease Control.

9. Is Melioidosis really that dangerous? Do any Singaporeans actually die of this disease? Have any SAF servicemen died of Melioidosis?

In 2004, the BBC reported that from Jan to July 2004, 57 Singaporeans were diagnosed with Melioidosis and 23 had died. Officials investigated whether Singapore had been targeted by a biological warfare attack, although this was ruled out.

Thanks to Google Scholar, we found a 1997 article about Melioidosis in the SAF. From 1987 to 1994, there were 23 cases in persons serving the SAF. Most were fit and healthy young men – but 4 servicemen still died.

"Panel Selects Most Dangerous Select Agents"

10. Is it just Singapore that thinks Melioidosis is dangerous? I don’t trust Singapore media.

A United States Federal panel has classified the Melioidosis germ (Burkholderia pseudomallei) as a dangerous Tier 1 Agent. [news from Science magazine]

According to the website GlobalSecurity.org, Melioidosis is an “easily obtainable, easily manufactured potential biological agent” and “can be difficult to accurately diagnose”.

GlobalSecurity also tells us that the USA and Soviet Union both researched Melioidosis as a possible biological weapons agent, and that reports suggest the Egyptian bioweapons program also researched Melioidosis.

11. Why was Patrick Tan sent to a Defence Lab instead of a field posting?

Only MINDEF knows for sure. His special skills may have played a role.

With a high enough salary, a foreign scientist with the skills could be hired – but a foreigner might not be trustworthy. Given the role of Melioidosis as a possible biological weapon, security clearance would have been very important.

But only Patrick Tan and MINDEF know his security clearance, and neither are talking about it.

12. Is Patrick Tan the only NSman to have received exceptional treatment because of special skills?

The SAF Sportsmen scheme allows athletes with strong medal potential to have time off and Full-Pay Unrecorded Leave during Full-Time NS, to train and participate in major competitions. MINDEF also defers NS on a case-by-case basis for sportsmen – e.g. national sailor Justin Liu. Footballers also receive support.

NSFs who are qualified lawyers are often deployed as military prosecutors, which are the equivalent of Deputy Public Prosecutors in the public Courts – but on NSF pay.

Some returning scholars are also given SAF regular’s appointments during Full-Time NS, despite being on NSF pay.

When the SAF deploys highly-qualified individuals who disrupted from NS but have now returned, it is a “cheap” way to get manpower as only NSF pay is given. Certainly MINDEF got Patrick Tan at a bargain price, for the 3SG pay.


So what does it all mean? Patrick Tan has unusual talent, and has received unusual treatment. The big question is whether his treatment is because of his skills and the SAF’s needs at the time, or because of his family background.

We have brought you the facts – it’s up to you to decide.


13 Comments on “Exceptional treatment for exceptional individuals?”

  1. Kenneth Koh says:

    Thanks for the valuable info. If the above still cannot convince the “truth seekers” I don’t know what can.

    Frankly, if these guys are really interested in the truth, they should be hitting the questions at Dr. Ng and not Dr. Tan.

    Thanks again.

  2. ET Come Home says:

    Thanks. Perhaps you can also do a time line of Patricks studies / NS service against Dr TT’s ministerial appointments? I believe Dr TT was not Defence Minister in 1988.

  3. Oh Really? says:

    Has any other SIngaporean NSFman obtained a 12 year deferment after only serving a few months in NS?

  4. Singaporean Singapore says:

    How did you come to the conclusion he had unusual ‘talent’? There are countless fields of scientific studies, no one would call a researcher unusual for being a researcher. ‘Talent’ is also a PAP rhetoric that is meaningless but divisive in its impact.

    Your facts were well presented but PAP supporters generally do not possess a reasonable level of intelligence. You could add on questions to help promote critical thinking for these people. Examples could be: 1) Why was he even given a disruption given how relatively trivial his reason for disruption was? 2) Why is he given a disruption especially so given the conflict of interest involved? 3) It was completely unnecessary for him to serve in the non-existing vocation of ‘researcher’, so why was he allowed to do so? 4) Did MINDEF really looked 12 years into the future and planned what he should study so they could have the researcher they want? 5) How did MINDEF know Melioidosis would be a significant issue 12 years into the future?

    There’s plenty more questions raised than answered.

    [Comment edited as it included something which might get people sued. We don’t have a big legal defense fund. But we are very happy to receive inputs and facts from the public so we can shed more light on the questions above.]

  5. Dan says:

    Thanks for your hard work diggings and sharing of facts.

    Nevertheless, I think MINDEF should come out to clarify the issues. They are the deciding party, in the best position to explain why they made all these decisions. This is important. We don’t want to see somebody’s name being wrongly tarnished. Besides, more importantly, fairness in NS treatment is crucial for people to have the faith to support the NS.

  6. Dan says:

    Hi, just something comes to my mind.

    “Dr Patrict Tan spent 10 years hard study to get his PhD, but he did not do his housemanship, as a result, not been able to practice as a doctor.” Wow, it’s such a waste!

    I don’t think he acted so just to avoid MO’s role. It would be too stupid to do so. However, only he knew the reason.

    Thinking over, if I were the person in the MINDEF to decide his vocation, I would likely make the same decision. The key purpose of NS is to provide defense for Singapore. Making NSmen suffer is not the purpose. With his skills set, isn’t it the best role for him to serve?

    Nevertheless, MINDEF Should explains their decisions.

  7. Fox says:

    Doing a residency would take time away from his research activity. Dr. Patrick Tan was probaby no longer interested in being a medical practitioner by then (even though that was what the SAF disrupted him for). I would say that his failure to attempt a residency/housemanship is constitutes an abuse of the privilege granted to him as a medical disruptee.

  8. Cheeky says:

    To counter that concept of posting based on ‘skills’ or ‘talent’, I known of an assistant professor who is well-versed in high energy physics but is only a clerk during his NS days.

  9. […] our previous article went viral, we have received many updates via our secure mailbox. Not easy sifting the rumors from […]

  10. Siow T R says:

    There’s lots of talent all around, but not enough people to carry rifles and do the basic job of killing the enemy, that’s what the chief of army once said. Not everyone can get to do what they normally do in the civilian life, so put your life on hold for 2 years, and do your fucking time in the field. I think that’s a fair enough statement.

    This melioidosis research thing was obviously not planned. He wasn’t sent on a scholarship for 13 years specifically to study melioidosis so that he can come back to defend Singapore. It sounds like they were looking for something he could do (since he can’t even be a MO after 13 years). If MINDEF was so worried about melioidosis, they would have sent more experienced scientists overseas to learn more, rather than wait for a rookie to come back from his studies?

    Editor says:
    Yes, some things still do not add up. If you have more info about this, please feel free to send through the “Submit a query” link above.

  11. dolphin81 says:

    I think 3SG Pat Tan himself is not the main problem. It is the way MINDEF/MHA has managed the NSF & NS system.

    In the initial years, NSFs had a lot of problems. However, the slower pace of life meant the opportunity cost of doing NS was lower.

    Over the years, the PAP regime did try to improve the system and minimize unnecessary inequalities eg applications for disruptions became more stringent.

    Another eg was that from 1992 onwards, an early enlistment scheme was also started for 17 year olds so that people would not be wasting their time waiting for enlistment.

    The earlier efforts began to disintegrate when Goh Chok Tong went on a massive expansion of immigration. Large number of young foreign males were able to study, work and reside in SG in a fulfilling way without having to serve a single day.

    As a result, the opportunity cost of NS shot up significantly. People became more critical more of the system.

  12. […] didn’t work. The facts came out. See this (esp 1-7). Any queries should be addressed to Mindef, not the Tans. But because the now infamous […]

  13. george says:

    The assumption in the absence of official details must be that he was allowed by Mindef to proceed to the US to study so that he can become a doctor to serve in the units or even the Mindef medical services HQ.

    That he was allowed to ‘change horses’ mid-stream is a question to be highlighted and explained by Mindef if it would condescend to answer Singaporeans on this. He would have to see PRIOR Mindef’s concurrence, for instance.

    That there is no ‘receiving’ vocation to classify him on his return also needs to be explained. If he was on a classified ‘mission’ to study melioidosis he would have been appropriately placed on his return. But he was not. According to one source his ‘medical scientist’ vocation is not listed as an SAF vocation. Can one assume then he was NEVER destined to serve in the SAF? There are certain classified vocations which Mindef would not publicly list, but nevertheless they are still officially emplaced and established in Mindef’s vocational listing. This is HIGHLY unlikely for he cannot be the only medical scientist nor the only one to be trained to study the disease. This sort of thing requires a TEAM and teamwork which is precisely his current situation/position. Furthermore, the term ‘medical scientist’ is simply too general and generic to differentiate or indicate any sort of specialization.

    Was it some sort of adhoc basis? Who then in Mindef has such authority to decide. Given that he is a ‘white horse’ and a serving minister’s son at that, one can safely assume that his case must have been ‘processed’ at the HIGHEST level and received the blessing from it.

    One more point is this: DO YOU HAVE TO BE TRAINED IN THIS WAY IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO STUDY MELIOIDOSIS EFFECTIVELY? WOULDN’T THE RIGHT SORT OF TRAINING BE THAT OF A MICROBIOLOGIST? The causal organism is a bacterium -which is right up the alley of a microbiologist. Patrick Tan don’t have to have such extensive MEDICAL TRAINING in order to do what he is currently training, it would seem.

    One last point. Since his return, and the by now his decades of involvement in the study of this disease, what sort of medical SOP has been introduced originating from his or his lab regarding medical protocol on prevention, protection, treatment of soldiers in the field for melioidosis?

    Until these and others perfectly logical and legal questions are answered, one has to take the stand that there is a prima facie case for Mindef and Dr Patrick Tan himself to answer, clarify and account for. Otherwise, it is not wrong, given all the facts and circumstances of the case, for Singaporeans to remain skeptical, cynical and to look askance at the relevant authorities and PT.

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