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Tharman’s Bill: Challenging FICA principles and highlighting PAP’s blank cheque approach

Opinion: It is proposed that the ‘Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill’ be informally referred to as ‘Tharman’s Bill’, a name that reflects its creation in response to President Tharman’s international roles.

This bill contrasts sharply with the objectives of the Foreign Intervention Countermeasure Act (FICA). By enabling high-level officials to hold positions in foreign organizations, it potentially undermines FICA’s strict measures against foreign influence.

Furthermore, it exemplifies the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) approach of using its majority to pass self-serving legislation, effectively utilizing the ‘blank cheque’ provided by the electorate.

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SINGAPORE: The People’s Action Party (PAP) government, on 6 November, put forth a proposal for significant amendments to the nation’s Constitution. These changes, if ratified, would permit the President and ministers to undertake roles in foreign and international organizations on a personal basis.

This initiative, spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and presented to Parliament on 6 November, aims to enhance Singapore’s diplomatic influence and effectively serve the national interest on a global scale.

Encapsulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill, these proposed amendments target the existing constitutional restrictions that currently prevent the President from engaging in public roles privately. The PMO’s statement articulated this intent: “The Bill proposes amending the Constitution to establish a framework that allows the President to engage in foreign and international roles privately, contingent on the Cabinet’s advice that it aligns with the national interest.”

These amendments also underscore the Cabinet’s advisory role, mandating it to guide the President regarding actions and statements in these capacities and authorize the President to renounce any such position if it’s deemed necessary. According to the PMO, this measure aims to strike a balance between the President’s autonomy in these roles and overarching national priorities.

The PMO further clarified that these amendments are designed to comprehensively encompass high-level government roles, ensuring that Singapore’s international engagement is both effective and transparent. The PMO added, “The acceptance or relinquishment of an office under this framework by the President or a Minister must be disclosed in the Gazette.”

Regardless of how grandiose the PMO puts it, the bill should be named as Tharman’s Bill, for there had been no reason for Singapore to introduce such amendments to the Singapore Constitution before Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam was decisively elected as President on 14 September.

While Mr Tharman stepped down from his political appointments and resigned from the PAP just before contesting in the Presidential Election, he continues to hold prestigious positions, such as the chairmanship of the G30’s board of trustees and co-chairing the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, despite constitutional constraints. Even before the conclusion of the Presidential Election, concerns about potential conflicts of interest linked to President Tharman’s foreign appointments were previously raised.

The legal challenge brought about by Ms Iris Koh and filed by Mr M Ravi was struck down by the High Court, with the judges saying that there was no reasonable cause of action to bar Mr Tharman’s candidacy, which the challenge sought to do.

While that may be true then, as Mr Tharman could always relinquish his foreign appointments after he is elected, one cannot be expected to take such drastic measures even before one is elected. But that is a different thing altogether given that Mr Tharman WAS indeed elected on 14 September.

And what we have today, instead of having Mr Tharman step down from his appointment due to concerns over possible conflict of interests and foreign interference, is amendments to the Constitution so that Mr Tharman can continue to hold those positions without any issues.

Therefore, this bill put forth by the PMO ought to be renamed the Tharman’s Bill.

Furthermore, it appears that the bill’s provisions for the President and Ministers to take up appointments in foreign entities in their personal capacities raise questions about its alignment with the Foreign Intervention Countermeasure Act (FICA) passed in October 2021.

FICA, which is aimed at ‘preventing, detecting, and disrupting foreign interference in domestic politics,’ has faced criticism for potentially undermining civic freedoms, a concern echoed by various stakeholders in Singapore. This legislation grants the Minister for Home Affairs the authority to arrest individuals suspected of knowingly or unknowingly colluding with foreign entities to exert influence in Singapore, and they can be held without bail.

The law sent tremors across the island, leading many individuals working with foreign embassies or missions to question their future or to relinquish their existing arrangements, simply to avoid falling afoul of the law.

Former Member of Parliament Leon Perera, during the second reading of FICA in 2021, highlighted an issue: ministers seem to be exempt from FICA’s overbearing powers of control.

He stated, ‘Sir, it overlooks the potential for foreigners to influence senior government figures, including the Minister for Home Affairs. Who checks the checkers? Or, in Latin, ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ – who watches the watchmen?’, emphasizing that this neglects the likelihood that foreigners with malicious intent would first seek to influence those holding more power, namely Ministers.”

Mr Perera’s speech addressed three key themes: the oversight of potential malign foreign influence on government figures, clarifying questions on overreach, and the rationale behind proposed amendments.

He raised concerns about the absence of an independent investigative authority in the Bill to scrutinize cases of malicious foreign influence (FI), whether directed at the Ruling Party or the Opposition. The Bill, instead, grants broad discretionary powers to the Minister for Home Affairs to act against FI directed at others, raising questions about what happens if the FI targets the Minister themselves.

Mr Perera proposed creating an independent Ombudsman’s office, a suggestion previously made by Workers’ Party Members of Parliament, to investigate such cases credibly.

In response to these concerns and his proposal, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam simply stated, “Mr Perera asked who checks the checkers? What if the Prime Minister or the Minister for Home Affairs is suborned? In other countries, if a prime minister or a minister for home affairs is suborned, do the courts intervene? The ultimate check is the people.”

FICA, as Mr Perera pointed out, already faces challenges in overseeing ministers for any form of foreign interference.

The new bill, which explicitly allows ministers and the president to act in the interest of foreign organizations without clearly defining the boundaries between Singaporean and foreign interests, seems to contradict the very rationale behind FICA’s introduction. Additionally, it further muddles the definition of conflict of interest, particularly concerning the PAP’s political leadership.

This situation redefines the phrase ‘ownself check ownself’ and suggests a mindset where the PAP government utilizes the blank cheque granted by the electorate in the General Elections.

The situation becomes even more absurd considering that President Tharman is the authority expected to sign the bill once it is passed—a bill that benefits him personally, as he would not have to resign from his prestigious international appointments. This contrasts with the decisions some individuals were forced to make after the passing of FICA in 2021, resigning out of fear.

And this further raises the question of the sacredness of Singapore’s Constitution as the PAP Government seems to be amending the Constitution at its whims and whims to suit its political agenda.

Examples are how the PAP introduced the race reserved election, heightened criteria for private candidates, which saw the disqualification of candidates such as entrepreneur George Goh, and measures to prevent a “rogue” president from blocking decisions of the Parliament after Presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock nearly won in PE2011.

As Mr Shanmugam highlighted, in the current situation with a PAP majority government, the only deterrent against the PAP’s abuse of the parliamentary process and the law is the electorate’s response at the ballot box.

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CEO of Singtel-owned Optus resigns following Australia-wide outage | The Straits Times
Even in Australia the Optus CEO resigns after an outage!!!
But in Singapore, outage after outage (DBS, MRT, hospitals etc), but the shameless and thick skinned PAP basturds hang on to power like greedy pigs!!!
Shame on PAP basturds!!!
Kick these basturds out!!!

We Singaporeans can’t even get a single job because PAP basturds have brought in millions of CECA Foreign Trash from India to steal our jobs and destroy our lives, and then these basturds want 50 jobs and 50 million dollar salaries for themselves!!!
Kick these basturds out!!!

Last edited 4 months ago by SAFSAF SAFSAF

Not Tharman Bill, but ISWARAN’S
It will save him from jail sentence.

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Ppl has already given TS their mandate. Now it is up to him to live up to the ppl’s expectations. Putting him up for president is a BIG gamble by his boss/party; if the people’s expectations is not met, then GE2024/25 results can be another shocker for the pappies camp. (That’s why I summarized that Loong decided to hand over to LawlanWong rather than face the next election himself).

We have the BEST G ever assembled now. Come the next Election, most opposition can go masturbate into their mother’s chee bye for sure.. Mark my words.

Under his rule young teenager school kids have to turn to hawking going from door to door asking for $ n selling their product. WHY? because this is the only country in the world where there are no cheap phone plans for students. It is a third world country self- labelled as first world

By making Pappy’s “warranted” amendments to our unrecognisable Constitution, allowing SG’s “freelance” Ministers and independent thinking President to take on important positions in world stage in their respective personal capacities the incumbents are exposing Singapore to possible manipulation by world overlords which may implicitly act negatively against that little red dot should it didn’t do whatever it’s asked to do.So sad to see such bad things are happening in our once Sunny Singapore.

The constant constitutional additions, variations and /or extensions, … showcases the ever changing needs and musts of this regime and its “members” !!!

Given their “strong mandate”, … it’s literally “anything and everything goes” !!!

I’m surprised that some, are act~tually surprised, … by such brazen and blatant abuses of power, position and privileges !!!

The man whom most thought was the most honourable in the PAP is turning to be the worst. He has never revealed HC’s salary when he was finance Minister. He never gave an explanation on the $50billion loss as MAS chairman. Now , the worst of all he is going to sign a bill benefitting himself. Once he does it, he will lose his credibility internationally and locally. He is better of sending someone else to replace him internationally. The US does not invite us for the democratic countries meeting. Don’ be surprised if we are slowly excluded after the… Read more »

Ah Loong has been unable to unite Singaporeans, having gotten 3 of the WORST election results during his terms (aka internal failures). Now he wants the President to get international recognition and power-roles (aka external influences). So, in honesty, WTF has Loong been doing – cannot gain internal traction and did not gain external influence on his own merits? We must remember he was given 20+ years of OJT, had a very long runway and paid highest salary in the world. For what results???

Lessons will be repeated till it is learnt.

Voters here do not recognise which part is the lesson.
PAP knows that.
So voters will continue to vote PAP,
get chicken wing, and then say ( say only) that they will “vote them out”..!!

On election day, sudden loss of memory.
Hand gets possessed.. and the ‘X’ is marked in the box next to PAP..

After seeing the chi kok pek of TKL, is better to have the indian snake tharman than anything else. After all the Government can do what they wanted, so long they giv our monies to our pockets.

PAP can do whatever it wants.
Voters have given and will give them the blank cheque.

The rest of us here can shout, scream. scold… useless.

Next General Election will be very easy & simple, the PAP way:

“By default, you have voted for the incumbent, that is the People’s Action Party.
If you wish to vote for another party, please apply herein.”

Voters are happy to have a holiday, without having to queue up and vote.
They can drive up to JB, gfo Batam play golf etc..

Happy citizens…!!

Did our Constitution also say can change a M to I so as to fulfill the requirement for the Reserved President? PM can hijack parliament to air his own kangaroo court on his personal family issue?

“….This initiative, spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and presented to Parliament on 6 November, aims to enhance Singapore’s diplomatic influence and effectively serve the national interest on a global scale.…” ————— What a laughable excuse/nonsense. Did our 1G leaders needed to have such provision(s) to gain world respect and ability to influence outside of SG? Is the 3G and 4G teams so Kayu, must have loaded dices so that the rest of the world would even notice them? Are our current leaders so INSECURE (or rather only the Golden One)? At only about 60% votes (including at least… Read more »

I suggest we throw away our constitution, so troublesome for the PAP. Everytime PAP wants to do something for its own benefits must debate in Parliament.

It is already changed so many times until Singaporeans have no ideas what is it now!

Or if we must have constitution, just have a blank constitution. Any time PAP wants to do anything just use pencil to fill in up.

In other democratic countries, they need a Referendum to change the constitution, why it is not required in Singapore ?

As mentioned many, many times – once they can kelong a PE, they can (and probably will) kelong ANYTHING to empower themselves.

This is a good opportunity for Tharman to uphold his PE motto of Respect For All – let’s have a public referendum on this Bill, let EVERY voter has a say on this matter. Otherwise, always Ownself Say Ownself is respecting all Singaporeans right to a public say, meh?

Ownself give ownself jobs, good jobs
besides Ownself check ownself?

Sillyporeans keep on giving away good jobs.

Sleepy fishing village community still believes in the ‘Constitution’?

In Fantasy Island, flipping roti prata is harder than flipping the ‘Constitution’!
Don’t believe?

No conflict of interest later hor. When they established their empires internationally … and absolve their responsibility for Sgrean by importing their international workers and so on …

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