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No foreign political volunteers, more funding scrutiny for ‘politically significant persons’ including MPs under proposed law

SINGAPORE — Political parties, office-holders and other “politically significant” persons could be subject to increased scrutiny of their funding sources, including funding disclosures, if a proposed law to counter the risk of foreign interference in Singapore’s affairs is passed by Parliament.

To streamline the provisions governing defined politically significant persons, the Political Donations Act will be repealed and its existing obligations ported into the Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, with some extra measures included.

To streamline the provisions governing defined politically significant persons, the Political Donations Act will be repealed and its existing obligations ported into the Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, with some extra measures included.

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  • The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill aims to counter foreign influence and interference in Singapore’s affairs
  • It will apply to politically significant persons including political parties and Members of Parliament 
  • Other individuals and entities could also be classified as “designated politically significant persons” if their activities are directed towards a political end
  • They will have to report single donations of S$10,000 or more, and to disclose affiliations with foreign entities
  • Under the Bill, citizens who are members of foreign political or legislative bodies must also declare their involvement

 

SINGAPORE — Political parties, office-holders and other “politically significant” persons could be subject to increased scrutiny of their funding sources, including funding disclosures, if a proposed law to counter the risk of foreign interference in Singapore’s affairs is passed by Parliament.

Other safeguards include ensuring that no foreigner is allowed to volunteer for these persons’ political activities and that affiliations with foreign entities must be disclosed. 

These measures are part of a Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act. 

It was introduced in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13) to counter foreign meddling in Singapore’s affairs through online means or via proxies here, such as politicians as well as “politically significant” organisations and individuals.

Under the Bill, “defined politically significant persons” who will be subject to the new measures include: 

  • Political parties

  • Political office-holders

  • Members of Parliament (MPs), including Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs

  • The Leader of the House

  • The Leader of the Opposition

  • Election candidates and their election agents

In a statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that a “competent authority” that it appoints could also designate other individuals and entities as “designated politically significant persons”.

This is if their activities are “directed towards a political end, and the competent authority assesses that it is in the public interest that countermeasures be applied”.

WHY THE MEASURES ARE BEING INTRODUCED

MHA said that the existing Political Donations Act prohibits political associations, election candidates and their agents from accepting donations from foreign sources. 

Even so, there are no prohibitions on donations to MPs, political office-holders, the Leader of the House or Leader of the Opposition, MHA noted. 

At present, foreigners are also allowed to volunteer with political parties, election candidates and MPs.

“These are potential avenues for foreign principals to influence our domestic politics,” MHA said, adding that the Bill seeks to close these gaps.

WHAT THE MEASURES ARE

To streamline the provisions governing defined politically significant persons, the Political Donations Act will be repealed and its existing obligations ported into the Bill, with some extra measures included, MHA said. 

Defined politically significant persons, such as political office-holders, must: 

  • Report single donations of S$10,000 or more from permissible donors as well as multiple donations from the same permissible donor that amount to S$10,000 or more in a calendar year

  • Not receive anonymous donations beyond S$5,000 during a "relevant period" or in a calendar year. MHA said that the “relevant period” for election candidates and their agents starts on the first day of the pre-election period of the election and ends on the last day of the post-election period of the election. The “pre-election period” refers to the 12-month period preceding two days before nomination day while the “post-election period” starts two days before nomination day and ends 31 days after the electoral results are published. For other politically significant persons, this period spans the entire calendar year.

  • Maintain a separate bank account to receive political donations, so that there are proper records of money relating to their political activities

  • Not allow foreigners to volunteer for their political activities 

  • Disclose affiliations with any foreign entity

Should there be an increased risk of foreign meddling, the authorities may prohibit such persons from having affiliations with foreign principals.

As for designated politically significant persons or organisations, they must: 

  • Report single donations of S$10,000 or more from permissible donors, and multiple donations from the same permissible donor that amount to S$10,000 or more in a calendar year

  • Disclose affiliations with foreign entities

If there is an increased risk of foreign interference, the competent authority may issue “stepped-up countermeasures” ranging from more disclosures or prohibitions matching those that apply to defined politically significant persons.

These tighter measures mean that those designated as politically significant must: 

  • Receive donations only from permissible donors

  • Not receive anonymous donations beyond S$5,000 in a calendar year

  • Maintain a separate bank account to receive political donations

  • Prohibit foreigners from holding leadership roles or membership of the organisation, or both 

  • Not allow foreigners to volunteer for their political activities

The authorities may also prohibit designated individuals and entities from having affiliations with foreign principals.

POLITICAL ASSOCIATIONS TO BE RECLASSIFIED

In response to queries from TODAY, MHA said that should the new law come into force, all political associations gazetted under the existing Political Donations Act, consisting of non-governmental organisation Think Centre and human rights group Maruah, will automatically be designated as politically significant persons. 

Thus, they will be issued directives under the new law. 

“Once it comes into force, Think Centre and Maruah will continue to comply with the following obligations as per the Political Donations Act,” MHA said.

This includes submitting annual declaration of donations of S$10,000 or more from permissible donors, and being prohibited from receiving donations from impermissible donors. 

“In addition, Think Centre and Maruah will also have to establish and maintain a dedicated bank account to receive their political donations, and declare their foreign affiliations (if any), which are new obligations under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act,” MHA added.

OTHER SAFEGUARDS

1. Declaration of immigration benefits 

Politically significant persons here may also be required to declare if they had been granted immigration facilities, or benefits, by a foreign government, even if they did not voluntarily claim or apply for these.

This can include being offered a foreign passport, or entitlements or privileges to work in the foreign country, or for a foreign government. 

Immigration facilities ​​confer tangible benefits or prestige, which may make individuals beholden to the foreign country, MHA said. 

2. Disclosure of affiliations by publications, content contributors

Under the Bill, the authorities may also direct publications to disclose their affiliations to foreign entities. 

Newspapers authorised under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, media outlets licensed under the Broadcasting Act or any politically significant person who publishes matters on political issues relating to Singapore could be directed to disclose the particulars of any foreign authors or foreign principals, or both, for whom or at whose direction an article or programme was published, MHA said. 

To reduce the duplication of powers exercised, the competent authority will consider other means of regulating such entities, such as through laws such as the Broadcasting Act, before using this measure, the ministry added. 

3. Disclosures by major donors to political parties, politically significant persons

Right now, there is a requirement under the Political Donations Act for any person or entity who has made donations of S$10,000 or more in a calendar year to political parties to disclose their donations to a competent authority. 

This provision will be moved over to the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, where the provision will continue to apply to such donors but will be expanded to include donors to “designated non-individual politically significant persons" as a stepped-up countermeasure. 

MHA said that “designated non-individual politically significant persons” can include any registered entity in Singapore, who may be involved in the country’s political processes or pursue a political cause if their activities are directed towards a political end, “and the competent authority assesses that it is in the public interest that countermeasures be applied to safeguard against foreign interference”. 

The expansion of the provision will allow MHA to monitor larger donations to political parties and designated organisations that are deemed politically significant, it said. 

4. Declaration by Singaporeans of involvement in foreign political, legislative bodies 

The new law will also require Singapore citizens who are members of foreign political or legislative bodies to declare their involvement.

MHA said that foreign states might try to cultivate Singaporeans to influence the country’s domestic politics through their involvement in such bodies.

“It is necessary to have oversight over such individuals as they may potentially be exploited to influence our political processes.” 

APPEALS

Those wishing to challenge their designation as politically significant persons or the measures imposed on them may file an application for the competent authority’s reconsideration or an appeal with the Minister for Home Affairs, MHA said. 

“The Minister for Home Affairs may consult an advisory body when he hears appeals regarding designation and stepped-up countermeasures.” 

Related topics

foreign interference Parliament law MHA Politics

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