SINGAPORE: Red Dot United (RDU), Singapore’s alternative party, has expressed concerns regarding the new provisions introduced under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA), particularly those about Politically Significant Persons (PSPs).
In a recent statement issued on Thursday (21 Dec), RDU questioned the assumption made by the Government concerning a simplistic and linear financial trail associated with foreign influence.
“We are concerned that the Government might be missing the woods for the trees with this new requirement for PSPs,” said Ravi Philemon, secretary-general of RDU.
FICA was passed in Parliament in October 2021. In a statement on 12 December, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the new provision will impose strict regulations on “politically significant persons” acting as resident proxies.
Under FICA, PSPs include political parties, officeholders, MPs, party committee members, election candidates, and their agents.
They are prohibited from accepting voluntary labour or professional services from non-Singaporean citizens.
Additionally, they must disclose any affiliations with a “foreign principal,” which includes foreign governments, government-related individuals, foreign political organizations, foreign public enterprises, or foreign businesses.
Furthermore, they are barred from receiving anonymous donations exceeding S$5,000 within a calendar year and must report donations of S$10,000 or more from permissible donors.
RDU challenges the government’s simplistic view of foreign influence money trail
However, in the recent statement, RDU emphasized the complexity of foreign interference in a nation’s politics, noting that the tactics employed by foreign agents to influence Singaporean politics extend well beyond a straightforward financial trail.
These methods involve leveraging cryptocurrencies for funding, utilizing third-party intermediaries to obscure fund flows, and employing non-monetary strategies like disinformation campaigns and hacking.
Consequently, conventional bank account monitoring proves insufficient for identifying those responsible.
RDU also questioned the effectiveness of the FICA’s latest provision to prevent foreign interference and the practical implications on political parties.
PSPs are required to set up and declare a bank account for receiving donations under the FICA.
“The seemingly straightforward demand for a dedicated bank account seems to assume a linear and simplistic money trail associated with foreign influence. ”
“However, malicious foreign agents are adept at executing sophisticated strategies that may circumvent or exploit such legislative measures,” added RDU.
RDU affirmed that the politics of Singapore must be determined by Singaporeans alone, while expressing their willingness to support authorities in deterring actions that threaten this autonomy, contingent upon clear evidence of such actions.
RDU’s chief, Mr Philemon, voiced concerns regarding the government’s intense focus on the new requirements for PSPs, cautioning that this singular emphasis might overshadow broader concerns.
He drew a parallel to the case of Mas Selamat, Singapore’s most-wanted terrorist in 2008, highlighting how despite a massive manhunt, the authorities’ singular focus on the search overlooked the fact that Mas Selamat was receiving assistance from his immediate family.
“It serves as a reminder that a singular focus on specific measures, like stringent requirements for PSPs, could inadvertently lead to oversight of broader issues. ”
“If only the authorities had gone to the most logical source earlier and more thoroughly investigated Mas Selamat’s immediate family, they would have solved this case much earlier and avoided much public embarrassment,” he added.
Mr Philemon cautioned that the Government’s pursuit of specific security measures could inadvertently neglect the intricate and interconnected nature of potential threats.
“Striking the right balance between targeted security efforts and a comprehensive understanding of the complexities involved is vital to ensure that the Government does not lose sight of the larger picture.”
Highlighting the significance of a bill aimed at curbing foreign interference in Singaporean politics, Philemon critiqued the FICA for its shortcomings.
He noted that FICA’s swift enactment through a rapid legislative process, lacking substantial stakeholder consultation and despite objections from all opposition Members of Parliament, renders it inadequate in its current form.
RDU expresses fear over FICA’s potential misuse given government’s history of suppressing dissent
In September 2021, upon FICA’s introduction in Parliament, RDU expressed concerns regarding the legislation, highlighting its potential to grant extensive powers to the Executive without sufficient checks and balances.
Citing the Government’s history of using laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA), Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), and Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to target critics and dissenters, RDU feared that FICA could similarly be misused to silence opposition voices and Singaporeans criticizing the Government.
RDU advocated for the establishment of a Multi-Party Select Committee to conduct open hearings and engage in public consultations, aiming for a thorough debate and potential amendments to FICA before its enactment into law.
Observing the government’s arbitrary decisions concerning FICA, RDU emphasized the necessity for the broader consultation they had proposed.
“This need for accountability and transparency will be something that we will continue to champion as a responsible opposition party in Parliament.”
Civil society voices resounding critique against FICA
On 5 October 2021, FICA was passed in Parliament with 75 votes in favour, 11 against, and two Nominated MPs abstaining from voting.
Notably, all 10 MPs from the opposition Workers’ Party and Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai voted against it. WP MPs advocated for amendments to the FICA Bill that would have addressed these concerns.
FICA faced criticism from various quarters, including academics, legal scholars, civil society activists, and numerous citizens.
The criticisms centred on several aspects, including the hurried passage of the Bill without formal consultation, the broad powers granted to the Minister based on suspicions, the “ouster” clause limiting judicial appeal against Ministerial decisions, the lack of transparency regarding the Minister’s actions under FICA, and the absence of countermeasures against foreign interference targeting Ministers and the Prime Minister.
Under FICA, the Minister for Home Affairs is authorized to appoint a “competent authority” tasked with designating individuals and organizations as politically significant persons, subject to specific conditions.
The Minister is authorized to appoint a “competent authority” tasked with designating individuals and organizations as PSPs, subject to specific conditions.
The legislation further mandates that Singapore citizens—regardless of being designated as PSPs—must inform the competent authority if they are affiliated with foreign political or legislative bodies.
Individuals involved in such entities before February 1, 2024, are required to declare their association by March 1, 2024.
Subsequently, Singapore citizens joining these organizations after February 1 will have to declare their involvement within one month of joining, as stated by MHA.
The authority is granted the ability to issue a “transparency directive” to any licensed newspaper or media outlet, compelling them to reveal specific details regarding foreign authors and their principals responsible for publishing articles or programs.
“The Transparency Directive addresses, for instance, situations where foreign writers masquerade as local writers penning articles relating to Singaporean political matters and seek to influence public opinion,” MHA said.
This timing for the full implementation of FICA appears apt, especially with mounting anticipation surrounding a highly likely early General Election in 2024 following PM Lee Hsien Loong‘s intention to pass on leadership responsibilities to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the upcoming GE and PAP’s 70th anniversary next year.
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