Earlier this week, on Sep. 13, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) introduced a new bill known as the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill.
The bill is aimed at countering deliberate, hostile campaigns of misinformation by foreign countries in Singapore’s domestic policies, and endows the Home Affairs Minister with powers to investigate and counter hostile information campaigns.
You can read more about what powers the Minister gains in the story below:
Politically Significant Persons
Another key feature of the bill is the introduction of “Politically Significant Persons”, or PSPs, who will be will be subject to certain measures to mitigate the risk of foreign interference.
Political office holders
Members of Parliament (MPs), including Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs
Leader of the House
Leader of the Opposition
Election candidates, and their election agents
These PSPs are known as “defined PSPs”.
Political Donations Act to be repealed
In order to streamline the provisions which safeguard defined PSPs, the Political Donations Act will be repealed, said MHA, and its existing obligations will be ported into the new bill, with some additional countermeasures.
Defined PSPs have to comply with the following restrictions:
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 any calendar year.
Not allowed to receive anonymous donations beyond the cap of S$5,000 during the relevant period or in any calendar year.
Maintain a separate bank account to receive political donations, so that here are proper records of monies relating to their political activities.
No foreigners will be allowed to volunteer for their political activities.
To disclose affiliations with any foreign entity.
In addition, a competent authority, appointed by the Home Affairs Minister, can also designate other individuals and non-individuals as PSPs, if their activities are directed towards a political end, or if it is assessed that it is in the public interest that counter measures be applied.
These will be known as “designated PSPs”.
According to MHA, while the Political Donations Act (PDA) currently prohibits political associations and election candidates and agents from accepting donations from foreign sources, there are no prohibitions on donations to MPs, political office holders, Leader of the House or Leader of the Opposition.
In addition, foreigners are currently allowed to volunteer with political parties, election candidates and MPs.
MHA said that these are “potential avenues for foreign principals to influence our domestic politics,” and that the new bill is meant to address these gaps.
Possible stepped-up countermeasures
In addition, designated PSPs will also be required to comply with a number of following restrictions:
Report single donations of S$10,000 or more from local and foreign donors, and multiple donations from the same local or foreign donor that amount to S$10,000 or more during the relevant period.
Disclose affiliations with foreign entities.
If there is an increased risk of foreign interference, the competent authority can issue stepped up countermeasures, ranging from more disclosures or prohibitions to match that of defined PSPs, including:
Only receive donations from permissible donors, and not allowed to receive anonymous donations beyond the cap of S$5,000 in a calendar year.
Maintain a separate bank account to receive political donations.
Prohibit foreigners from holding leadership positions and/or membership in the organisation.
Not to allow foreigners to volunteer in their political activities.
Prohibit designated individuals and non-individuals from affiliating with foreign principals.
Other restrictions under the new bill
There are also a number of other restrictions included in the new bill.
PSPs must declare their migration benefits
Individual PSPs, both defined and designated, will be required to declare if they had been granted migration facilities by foreign countries, even if they did not voluntarily claim or apply for these.
According to MHA, the rationale for this is because immigration facilities present “opportunities for cultivation”, as they confer tangible benefits or prestige, which may make the individuals beholden to the foreign country.
Media outlets may be directed to disclose particulars of foreign authors
The competent authority will be given powers to direct any newspaper licensed under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, any media outlet licensed under the Broadcasting Act, or any PSP (both defined and designated) that publishes matters on political issues relating to Singapore, 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 also said that to reduce duplication of levers exercised, the competent authority will consider other means of regulating such entities, through laws such as the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and Broadcasting Act, before issuing the countermeasure.
Major donors must disclose donations to designated non-individual PSPs
Currently, under the PDA, any person or entity who has made donations of S$10,000 or more in a calendar year to political parties must disclose their donations to the competent authority.
This provision will be ported to the new bill, and will be expanded to donors to designated non-individual PSPs.
“This will allow us to monitor large donations to political parties and designated non-individual PSPs,” said MHA.
Citizens must declare involvement in foreign activities
In addition, MOH said that foreign states may also attempt to cultivate Singapore citizens to influence Singapore’s domestic politics, through their involvement in foreign political and legislative bodies.
The new bill will require citizens who are members of foreign political or legislative bodies to declare their involvement.
“It is necessary to have oversight over such individuals as they may potentially be exploited to influence our political processes,” said MHA.
PSPs may submit appeal to the Minister
PSPs that wish to challenge their designation or stepped up countermeasures imposed on them may submit an application for the competent authority’s reconsideration, or an appeal to the Home Affairs Minister.
The Home Affairs Minister may then consult an advisory body when he hears appeals regarding designation and stepped up countermeasures.
However, unlike the appeals process against Directions issued by the Minister against hostile information campaigns, the appeal against a PSP-related action will not be made to an independent Reviewing Tribunal.
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