Draft foreign interference law: Workers’ Party proposes changes to prevent abuse and enhance oversight over powers
SINGAPORE — The Workers’ Party has filed amendments to a Bill aimed at discovering and preventing foreign interference in Singapore’s politics, it said on Wednesday (Sept 29).
- A draft law to protect Singapore from foreign interference gives the Government power to deal with such acts
- The Workers’ Party said it believes in countering foreign threats, but disagrees on the Bill’s wording
- The party’s parliamentarians filed a notice to amend the Bill
- One proposed change is to exempt activities where foreign individuals or publications comment on Singapore politics in an “open, transparent and attributable way”
SINGAPORE — The Workers’ Party (WP) has filed amendments to a Bill aimed at discovering and preventing foreign interference in Singapore’s politics, it said on Wednesday (Sept 29).
In a filing to Parliament, the opposition party called for changes to the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill to allow greater judicial oversight over the proposed executive powers, as well as a “more precise scoping” of such powers to prevent abuse, among other changes.
In response to media queries on the proposed amendments, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that the proposals will be discussed in Parliament next week when the Bill is debated. It also noted that WP appears "not to be objecting to the principles and various aspects" of the Bill.
If passed, the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, will be used to counter any attempts to influence domestic politics and national security, and WP wants greater clarity and transparency on the identities of these entities and individuals who are deemed as threats.
In its current form, Fica would allow the Government to issue directives compelling organisations and individuals to furnish the authorities with information about suspected online interference campaigns, as well as to disrupt such operations from continuing by taking them down.
The Bill, which was introduced on Sept 13, will be debated at the next parliamentary sitting.
The amendments to the Bill by WP were filed by four of its Members of Parliament (MPs).
The opposition party said in a statement:
“While The Workers’ Party believes in the legitimate need to counter malign acts of foreign interference, we disagree with the current form of the Bill in achieving the said objective.
“WP MPs will canvass fuller arguments at the parliamentary debate on the Bill.”
On Monday, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Leon Perera, MPs from Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), as well as Associate Professor Jamus Lim and Ms He Ting Ru, MPs from Sengkang GRC, filed notices to amend the Bill.
An online petition on Change.org calling for a “rethink” of Fica has attracted more than 4,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
WP’s suggestions to alter the Bill include striking out a portion of a proposed clause that defined which activities are “directed towards a political end in Singapore” and can therefore be targeted by directives under the law.
The party proposed to remove the inclusion of activities that “influence public opinion” on a matter of public controversy, as well as any actions that promote or oppose political views that have become the subject of a political debate in the country.
The High Court should also hear appeals against decisions made under this new law, as opposed to the current wording of the Bill, which only allows for an appeal to be heard by an independent reviewing tribunal, WP said.
The reviewing tribunal consists of a sitting High Court judge and two persons outside of the Government.
WP also proposed to exempt the following activities from the proposed law:
Activities undertaken by Singaporeans to exercise their right to discuss politics by expressing their own views on political matters, unless they are agents of a foreign principal
Activities undertaken by foreign individuals or foreign publications reporting or commenting on Singapore politics in an open, transparent and attributable way, even if their comments may be critical of Singapore or the Government
Several proposed amendments for the Bill also have to do with making directives more transparent, such as creating a registry of the people who will be classified as “politically significant persons” under the proposed law, and for the authorities to make it clear why it has issued a directive.
Such information should be made publicly accessible for free, WP’s filings stated.
MHA said in its response that WP's proposals will be discussed in Parliament next week when the Bill is debated.
On the proposal for the publication of designated persons or entities on a publicly accessible platform, MHA said it has already previously said that it will publish these details.
"The Workers’ Party appears not to be objecting to the principles and various aspects of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill. In fact, they have confirmed they believe in the legitimate need to counter malign acts of foreign interference," MHA said.