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This report was printed from Singapore Parliament website.
Parliament No: Session No: Volume No: Sitting No: Sitting Date: Section Name: Title: MPs Speaking: 9 2 72 3 22-05-2000 BILLS POLITICAL DONATIONS BILL Mr Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Home Affairs); Mr Chiam See Tong; Mr Goh Choon Kang; Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam; Mr Kenneth Chen Koon Lap; Mr Low Thia Khiang; Mr Sin Boon Ann; Mr Thomas Thomas; Mr Zulkifli Bin Baharudin; Mr Tan Soo Khoon (Mr Speaker);
POLITICAL DONATIONS BILL
Order for Second Reading read. 1.53 pm The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Wong Kan Seng): Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." Introduction The Political Donations Bill seeks to prohibit donations to political parties, political associations, and candidates in parliamentary election or presidential elections by persons and bodies who are not permissible donors. It also requires political parties, associations and candidates to report large donations that they have received. Mr Speaker, Sir, Singapore is an independent and sovereign country. Foreigners should not be allowed to interfere in our domestic politics. It is no more legitimate for foreigners to pay money to support a political association or candidate than it is for them to have the right to support the associations' cause, or to vote for the candidate. Any Singaporean or organisation that allows himself or itself to be used by foreign elements, or collaborates or colludes with them to interfere in our internal affairs, is subverting the independence, integrity and sovereignty of the country. We must not allow this to happen. Politics in Singapore should be for Singaporeans only. But Singapore is not immune to foreign interference. We have had to deal with interference in our domestic politics. In 1959, a Government Commission of Inquiry revealed that two sums of money totalling $700,000 were transferred from New York to Mr Chew Swee Kee, then
Education Minister from the Singapore People's Alliance, the ruling party led by Mr Lim Yew Hock, then Chief Minister. I think many young Singaporeans do not even know about this. The Inquiry revealed that the money was meant as a political gift to the Labour Front (and I quote the report) "for the purposes of fighting
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subversion in the colony" and "strengthening" the Labour Front "as an effective party and bulwark against communism." Then in 1976, the Secretary-General of the People's Front, Mr Leong Mun Kwai, who is still around today, revealed during Police's investigations on the misappropriation of the People's Front's funds, that he was given financial assistance and made use of by a neighbouring intelligence service in a "black operation" against the interests of Singapore. A more recent case was in 1988, when a US diplomat interfered in Singapore's domestic politics. The diplomat actively cultivated Mr Francis Seow. Mr Francis Seow was advised by the diplomat how to establish a more effective opposition in Parliament and to set about seriously to recruit more young professionals into the opposition. This is gross interference in Singapore's domestic politics. We should not condone such activities. Currently, we have no law prohibiting foreign funding of political parties, political associations and candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections. This Bill seeks to put in place a legislative framework to prohibit such foreign funding. Sir, Singapore is not the first country to introduce such legislation. Many countries, such as the United States, Canada, India, France, Japan, Germany, already have laws either prohibiting or regulating foreign political donations. Hong Kong and Taiwan also have similar laws. In South Korea, under their Political Fund Act, foreigners and foreign corporations, except foreign corporations and organisations under the control of nationals of the Republic of Korea, are not allowed to contribute political funds to any party.
The UK also has recently introduced a "Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill", which amongst others, aims to regulate political donations. It is therefore timely for Singapore to introduce controls against foreign funding. We have studied the various examples in other countries and generally adapted the UK Bill to suit our local context. Overview Let me now give an overview of what our Political Donations Bill would cover, before highlighting the main clauses of the Bill. The Bill aims to prohibit political parties, political associations and candidates from accepting donations from foreign sources by treating these as impermissible. Political parties, political associations and candidates are allowed to accept donations, so long as these come from permissible sources. Similar to the approach taken in the UK Bill, we have chosen to define who is a permissible source or who the permissible donors are because it is easier to define who is permissible rather than who is impermissible. Any donations other than those from the defined permissible sources would constitute impermissible donations. If political parties, associations or candidates receive any donations from impermissible sources, they would have to return the donation to the donor. If they are unable to do so, they would have to surrender the donation to the Government's Consolidated Fund. Political parties and associations and candidates would also be required to report large donations, to ensure that they keep proper records of these donations. Who does the prohibition cover? There are three groups of people who will be covered by the prohibition against foreign funding. Firstly, all political parties, such as the People's Action Party, the Singapore People's Party, the Workers' Party, and other political parties registered with the Registry of Societies will be covered by the definition of "political association" in clause 2 of the Bill. They
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would not be allowed to accept foreign donations. Secondly, candidates of any parliamentary or presidential elections and their election agents would also be covered by the prohibition. The prohibition would apply to both candidates fielded by political parties as well as independent candidates. The prohibition against foreign funding applies whether or not the candidates are successfully returned. It is clear why registered political parties and candidates should be covered by the prohibition - they contest in elections, and if elected, can influence the policies and political process in Parliament. They can even form the government if they have the majority in Parliament. The election agent is responsible for all campaign funds (under the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Acts) of the candidate. It is therefore logical that the election agent is also covered by the prohibition on foreign donations. The third group covers any organisation, regardless of whether the organisation is registered as a society, a business or a company, so long as its objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, and it is gazetted as a political association under the Bill. To leave out such organisations from the Bill would present a loophole for foreign interests to interfere in our domestic politics. Although the organisation's activities or objects may not be directed at procuring a candidate for election into Parliament or as President, it can accept foreign donations, promote a particular political platform and influence the political process, but in the interest of its foreign donor. This should not be allowed. The Straits Times, in a recent article on 13th May, "Regulating the flow of money in politics" highlighted an example where a political party in a foreign country is under investigation for allegedly "setting up non-profit organisations that channelled large contributions from foreign donors". Also, in Business Times, on 10th May, and in fact, in today's Straits Times, in reports focusing on the political donations laws in the US and other countries,
highlighted the controversy on the use of "soft money" for purposes like "party-building" and "discussion of national policy issues", which are not directly for election purposes. Indeed, to confine politics to just contesting in elections and electioneering for candidates would leave out organisations who accept or make use of money from foreign sources to seek to change our laws or policies, or decisions of the Government. We have little control over activities and spending by organisations unconnected with candidates or parties during an election. Foreign groups can, through such unconnected organisations, influence local politics. Surely, this cannot be allowed. Such organisations should therefore be subject to the prohibition from accepting foreign donations. The expression "relates wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore" in the Bill is not new. This is adapted from our Films Act. Further, a similar expression - "wholly or mainly of a political nature", can be found in the UK Broadcasting Act 1990, and has already been subject to interpretation by the UK Courts. As regards political activity, we would be taking into account whether: (a) the activity is intended or would likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore; or (b) the activity is, for example:
(i) an election or a national referendum in Singapore; (ii) a candidate or group of candidates in election; (iii) an issue submitted or otherwise before electors in an election or national referendum in Singapore; (iv) the government or a previous government or the opposition to a Member of Parliament; (v) the current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore; (vi) or a political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or
mainly to politics in Singapore, or any such branch of such party or body. To define "politics" and "relate wholly or mainly to politics" as referring to "elections or electioneering activities" only as proposed by some civil society groups is therefore too narrow. All we need to do is to read the Washington Post article as reported in the Straits Times of 18th May this year and in it, there are details on certain groups, although they claim that they are not electioneering, not campaigning for political party or activity or candidate, who are actually influencing the cause of the activities of the candidates or parties. To ensure transparency, the Bill empowers the Minister to gazette such an organisation as a political association for the purpose of the new law and be subject to the prohibition against foreign funding. Such an approach ensures that organisations would be fully aware that, if they are gazetted as a political association, they are prohibited from accepting donations from impermissible sources. If they are not gazetted, then they are not required to follow the requirements of this Bill. In deciding whether to gazette any organisation as a political association, the Minister would have to consider carefully all relevant factors, such as its objects and activities, its links with foreign organisations, and the support it receives from such foreign organisations. Permissible donors Under clauses 8 and 14 of the Bill, political associations and candidates are only allowed to accept donations from permissible sources. All Singapore citizens, who are at least 21 years old, and all Singapore-controlled companies, are considered permissible donors. A Singapore-controlled company refers to a company registered with the Registrar of Companies, and the majority of its directors and members are citizens. All other sources would be considered
foreign in nature and deemed impermissible. Naturally, Singaporeans, who have attained the age of maturity of 21 years old and above, should be permissible donors. Singapore companies are allowed to make political donations, as they are our corporate citizens, and should have an interest in Singapore's well being. After all, political stability is a key fundamental
for economic growth, and provides the environment for businesses to flourish. Unincorporated organisations are not permissible donors. Political associations and candidates therefore cannot accept donations from these organisations. Unincorporated associations include trade unions, societies, charities, mutual benefit organisations, businesses, professional firms and so on. Trade unions, societies, charities, mutual benefit organisations are set up for specific purposes. As it is now, most if not all of these associations are already prohibited from making political donations under their respective Acts or constitutions. Sole proprietors, partnerships and professional firms have no separate legal identities from their owners. That is to say, the profits and losses of the business are the profits and losses of the individual owners. Hence, if they wish to make donations, they should do so as individuals, as long as they are Singaporeans and are 21 years old and above. Anonymous donations The Bill allows a political association to accept anonymous donations of less than $5,000 in any one financial year of the association. Candidates can also accept up to a similar amount of anonymous donations during the period of 12 months prior to his declaration made before nomination day. This is to take into account that some well-wishers may wish to remain anonymous in making donations to political associations or candidates. We have chosen a reasonable limit of $5,000 to strike a balance between allowing wellwishers to make small anonymous donations and not opening up a loophole for significant foreign
donations to slip through as anonymous donations. What is a donation? Clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill deal with the definition of donations and how the donations are valued. These provisions are adapted from the UK Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. Donations are defined broadly to include all goods or services, such as any gifts of money or property, subscription and affiliation fees, loans, property, services and other facilities provided to the candidate or political association that are not on commercial terms. For example, if the goods or services are rendered to a political association at less than commercial rates, the value of the donation would be the difference between the actual cost to the association and the cost which the association would have incurred if it had been provided on commercial terms. Donations would not include any notional benefits of airtime during lawful party political broadcasts, or any postage-free elections communications authorized by written law. These benefits are granted by or pursuant to our written laws, and would not be considered as donations. Like the UK Bill, donations would also not include any voluntary services by an individual. It is neither practical nor feasible to put a value to voluntary services. For example, if an individual contributes, in his own time, professional services within his own sphere of expertise, such as accounting expertise, to a political party, this service would not be regarded as a donation. He could be self-employed, or he could take leave from his employer to provide his service to the political party. As long as he volunteers his services in his own time, it would not be regarded as a donation. However, if the individual is paid by his employer while providing services to a political party, the services would count as a donation by the employer to the political party. The value of the donation is the commercial rate of providing the services.
What should a political party or a candidate do upon receiving a donation? Clauses 9 and 15 of the Bill require every political association or candidate or his election agent to take all reasonable steps to identify the donor and to determine whether the donor is a permissible donor before accepting any donation received. If the donation is from an impermissible source, the political association, candidate or his election agent must return the donation to the foreign source. If that cannot be done, the donation must be returned to the person who transmitted the donation or to the bank, if the money was drawn from a bank. If that is also not possible, the donation must be surrendered to the Registrar of Political Donations. If a political association receives an anonymous donation, it must ensure that it has not accepted $5,000 or more of such donations in the year in question. Any anonymous donations above the allowed limit must be returned either to the person who transmitted it or the bank, or in the last resort, surrender it to the Registrar. Similar provisions operate with regard to candidates and election agents receiving anonymous donations. Reporting of Donations Sir, the Bill provides for political associations and candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections to submit a donation report and a declaration on political donations to the Registrar of Political Donations. By requiring a declaration to be submitted with a donation report, it would obviate the need for the political associations to list all donations, which would be administratively tedious. The declaration would state that the political association or candidate did not accept any foreign donations as well as anonymous donations beyond the permissible limit, ie, less than $5,000. Political associations and candidates need to list only large donations of $10,000 or above in the donation report. This reporting
requirement ensures that political associations and candidates keep proper records of the donations which they receive. Let me elaborate on the reporting requirements. Political Associations Sir, clauses 12 and 13 of the Bill require political associations to submit a donation report and a declaration to the Registrar within 31 days from the close of its financial year. This is similar to current practice whereby political parties are already required under the Societies Act to submit their annual returns and statement of accounts to the Registrar of Societies within 31 days from the close of their financial year or the Annual General Meeting, if there is one. The political association should list in the donation report all donations of $10,000 or more, whether it is a single donation, or a series of donations from the same source, which adds up to $10,000 or more during that financial year. For example, if the political association accepts three donations from the same individual donor, and the three donations add up to more than $10,000 in the financial year, the political association
should also record this series of donations in the donation report. The political association would also have to submit a declaration with the donation report that it has not received any donations from impermissible sources, as well as anonymous donations beyond the permissible limit of $5,000. The president, the secretary and the treasurer are responsible for the preparation and accuracy of the report. The president, the secretary and the treasurer are the key officers of a political association, and should therefore be responsible for the political donations. They have to ensure that the donation report and the declaration are submitted on time, and declare that the donation report is complete and accurate.
Candidates Sir, clause 18 of the Bill requires every person who intends to take part in any parliamentary or Presidential election to submit to the Registrar a similar donation report and declaration. The donation report and declaration are to be made after the issue of the writ of election, and sent to the Registrar of Political Donations at least two clear days before Nomination Day. The donation report and declaration by a prospective candidate are similar to those by a political association. That is, the prospective candidate must list in the donation report all single donations of $10,000 or more, and any series of donations from the same permissible source which adds up to $10,000 or more, for the year prior to his declaration. He would state in the accompanying declaration that the donation report is accurate and complete, and that he has not accepted donations from impermissible sources as well as anonymous donations beyond the permissible limit of $5,000. Thereafter, the Registrar would issue a political donation certificate to the candidate. The candidate is then required to submit the political donation certificate, together with his other papers required for nomination purposes, to the Returning Officer on Nomination Day. The nomination of his candidacy would only be accepted if he can present the political donation certificate together with his nomination papers and other legal requirements. After the election, the candidate and his election agent would be required to submit to the Registrar within 31 days of the declaration of election results, a second donation report and declaration. This second report and declaration are similar to the first declaration and donation report, except that it covers the period from the time of the first report to the time of the second report. This second report is necessary, as in practice the candidate is likely to receive donations during this second period, when he is campaigning for the elections.
Donors Clause 21 of the Bill requires donors of "multiple small donations" to political associations, which add up to $10,000 or more in a calendar year, to report to the Registrar. This is a counter-evasion measure. It helps the
Registrar to keep track of small multiple donations that add up to a significant amount of $10,000 within a short period of one year. The reporting requirement will also lessen the tedious task of verifying such donations. A donor would not need to declare if the total donation is less than $10,000 in a calendar year. He also would not need to declare if he made a single donation, or a few donations, each of which is $10,000 or more. In this case, the political association should have captured these donations in the donation report. A similar requirement can also be found in the UK Bill. Reports Not Open to Public Inspection The donation reports submitted to the Registrar of Political Donations would not be open to the public. Allowing public inspection of the donation reports could inhibit permissible donors from donating to political associations or candidates. As it is now, political parties, like all other registered societies, are required to submit annual returns and statement of accounts to the Registrar of Societies and these annual returns and statement of accounts are also not available for public inspection. Offences Let me now turn to the offences under the Bill. Sir, under this Bill, accepting foreign donations per se would not be an offence. Instead, the foreign donations would just be forfeited if they are not or cannot be returned to the donor. Clauses 11 and 17 of the Bill enable the Public Prosecutor to apply to a District Court to order the forfeiture of a donation from an impermissible source which a political association or a candidate or his election agent has accepted. Clauses 11 and 17 also provide
for appeals to the High Court against the decision of the District Court. Each of the responsible officers of a political association or a candidate or his election agent would commit an offence if any of them makes a false declaration in relation to political donations. For example, if a political association accepts a foreign donation but the declaration accompanying the donation report declares otherwise, each of the responsible officers would have committed an offence of false declaration, unless he can show that he did not know and could not reasonably have known that the declaration was false. This is reasonable since the political association is in the best position to know the circumstances under which the donations were received. If convicted of false declaration, then each of the responsible officers of the political association would be liable to a fine of not exceeding $5,000 or an imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or to both. Repeat offenders would face higher penalties - a fine not exceeding $20,000 or an imprisonment not exceeding 3 years, or to both. Under the Bill, it would be an offence if political associations and candidates and their election agents do not submit the donation reports and declaration within the stipulated time, for example, for the political association, it would be within 31 days from the close of the association's financial year. If convicted, each of the responsible officers of the political association would be liable to a fine of up to $2,000.
Clause 23 of the Bill makes it an offence for a person to facilitate the evasion of the restrictions on impermissible donations. For example, if an individual, who is a permissible donor, accepts money from an impermissible donor and donates the money to a political association to circumvent the prohibition, the person would have committed an offence. He would be liable upon conviction to a fine of not more than $3,000, or to imprisonment for not more than 12 months, or to both.
Clause 30 of the Bill makes it an offence to alter, suppress or destroy any document he is required to produce to the Registrar, with a view to evade the provisions of the Bill. Clause 27 of the Bill empowers the Registrar to compound any offence under the Act. This provides the flexibility for the Registrar to offer composition of not more than $500 for the less serious offences. Offences which carry a mental element, such as false declaration of donations, facilitating in the evasion of the restrictions on impermissible donations, would not be made compoundable. As per normal practice, the compoundable offences would be prescribed by regulations. Consequential Amendments Finally, clauses 36 and 37 of the Bill make related amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Presidential Elections Act. A prospective candidate would have to deliver to the Returning Officer, together with his nomination papers on nomination day, a political donation certificate issued by the Registrar of Political Donations. If he fails to do so, his nomination would be rendered void and may be rejected. Conclusion Sir, this Bill aims to keep foreign interference out of our domestic political process. It does not prevent political associations and candidates from accepting donations, so long as the donations are from Singaporeans or Singapore-controlled companies. In drafting the Bill, we have kept the framework as simple as possible. No doubt, the associations would have to put in some effort to account for the donations that they receive. But this small effort would go a long way in upholding the independence and integrity of our political process. I have made such a long speech to explain this because I think it is necessary for Members to have a clear understanding of the Bill.
Sir, I beg to move. Question proposed. Mr Goh Choon Kang (Marine Parade)(In Mandarin): Mr Speaker, Sir, I support this Bill. Money and politics seem to be frequently linked together. It has troubled the politics of many countries. Recently, we read in the newspapers that the Prime Minister of a certain country wept openly because his
political party was baffled by money politics. In the recent presidential election in Taiwan, we also saw the "black gold" politics prevailing over Taiwan. According to newspaper reports, some people in the United States alleged that China had attempted to make political donations to the Democratic Party, and created a huge hue and cry out of that. Now, let us come back to politics in Singapore. I think we are fortunate because we do not have such problems. The reason is that the PAP Government has consistently maintained its stand on keeping politics clean and transparent here. All these years, the Government is against and resists foreign interference in our domestic affairs, including the influence through financial means. Now that we have this Bill before us, we should be able to further enhance and institutionalise clean government, to safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of our country, and to promote the development of transparent politics. Therefore, I think this Bill is in keeping with our national interests. Mr Speaker, Sir, does this Bill disadvantage the opposition parties? I do not think so. Everyone is equal before the law, the opposition parties and the ruling party alike. Every party must come under the law, and so this Bill will not hamper the development of any opposition party in Singapore. Under a clean political system, whether a candidate wins or loses an election is dependent on whether or not he gets the support of his electorate. I think the key does not lie in whether this candidate or his political party has the money, or
whether the party has political donations. The key lies in whether this candidate or the party has the platform that is in the interest of the country and the people, and can be identified by the people. The financial power of the candidate and his party is irrelevant. The next question is whether this Bill will affect the civic organisations or civil society. I do not think so. On the contrary, I feel that this Bill will encourage civic organisations to develop and prosper. This is because we are now encouraging active citizenship, encouraging our people to take part in our public affairs, to show their concern in the society and the community. So if you have a civic organisation whose objective and motivation is very clear, transparent and proper, then why should they fear? Why should they worry at all, unless they have ulterior motive, and they have to act very surreptitiously. As to whether this Bill will deter people from donating money to political parties, I do not think so. Ours is an open and transparent political system. Unless a person has some ulterior motive, unless this person has incorrect objective, he has nothing to fear or worry at all. Why should he worry about donating money to support a certain candidate or a certain political party? He can donate money to a party or a candidate that he believes can represent his interest. Mr Speaker, Sir, this Bill cannot give us 100% protection or safeguard. In other words, it cannot fully and completely deter certain people, particularly those people with ulterior motives, to work through loopholes to try and influence the political process in Singapore. But I think that overall, with our strong political structure, we can maintain clean, open and transparent politics. Ultimately, it will depend on those who take part in politics themselves - whether such people have the moral conduct. Therefore, I feel that even with this Bill around, it can only give us certain protection and safeguard. But we must still continue to insist that all
those who take part in politics must have the integrity and good moral conduct, so as to continue upholding our transparent, clean and open political tradition in Singapore. That Singapore has this clean, transparent and open political tradition is, to a large extent, attributed to our political leaders who themselves maintain very noble moral standards in politics and they have established the good example for all to emulate. Therefore, even though we now have this Bill, we must continue to defend and uphold this tradition. Mr Kenneth Chen Koon Lap: Mr Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill. This Bill is nothing new, as most countries prohibit external political donations. Although it is not in our political culture to allow external influence to undermine our political system, it is timely to legislate this in case some political parties are tempted to become puppets of outside agency. Singapore is a very small country, strategically located both geographically and politically in this region, and therefore we always play a significant role in the global political arena, and may be courted by other countries for their own political agenda. We must therefore ensure that our independent stand on international affairs should never be compromised and come under any influence by other nations, big or small. Because of our openness, we must ensure that Government must not be subjected to any outside political pressure to influence the way we govern ourselves. We must maintain our national integrity at all costs. Donation of any kind from foreign sources invariably means influence of our politicians involved as those who pay out of funds must have their own ulterior motive and agenda. Therefore, it is necessary that we introduce the Bill to ensure that our political parties and candidates taking part in any of our parliamentary or presidential elections uphold their independence and not be subjected to any outside interference. I am glad that the Opposition Members, Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia
Khiang, have come out in support of the Bill, as was reported in the press. However, when they raised objection to some of the provisions to safeguard the administration of the Bill, they betrayed their sincerity in their support for the Bill. What is the use of having a legislation with no safeguard for its implementation, if the legislation is so easily circumvented, and if one can find so many ways to get around the rules and regulations governing the Act? Surely the introduction of the Bill becomes meaningless. In fact, on Thursday, 18th May, the Straits Times reported that in the US, a member of the Federal Election Commission lamented that, "The Federal Election law is in serious gravity of losing all effectiveness." The aim of the law enacted 25 years ago has eroded over time because despite the tight rules and regulations in place, the US Election is being influenced by people who found ways to exploit the loopholes to achieve their personal objectives. Therefore, far from being too stringent in the provision of all safeguards in the Bill, such as those laid out in clauses 8, 12, 13 and 14 which maintain that the candidates or political parties be transparent in receiving any donation from permissible sources and state their conditions in which political parties can accept political donations, in actuality, it would not be sufficient to cover all the loopholes which can be exploited by those intending to exert influence on our political parties or candidates and for those in the same party or candidates who want to act as proxy for some outside agency. Today, in the Forum page, a group of readers is concerned that the definition of political association in the Act would affect adversely the group of civil societies in Singapore. I am puzzled because civil societies are supposed to be non-partisan and they are supposed to be concerned citizens who speak up for Singaporeans on matters relating to Government policy governing Singapore. They should not be supporting any political
party or candidates and definitely have no reason to receive donations from foreign sources for these purposes. Therefore, to call for
the re-definition of political association to mean two-thirds of an organisation's annual funding and activities being spent on supporting the election of political candidates is meaningless. Associations or societies are either political or non-political. It cannot be two-thirds political and one-third non-political. It is absurd to see how an association or society which is committed to a cause can be so wishy-washy and be so indecisive as to which role they are to play. Besides, if the term is being re-defined, what is to stop political parties from establishing civil societies or associations as a fund to channel foreign funds for their political use? It is precisely this and I feel that there are still many ways in which one can circumvent the Bill. Offhand, I can think of two. Firstly, what if a political candidate writes a book, never mind the substance of the contents, and an outside agency buys up 1,000 copies at an inflated price to generate the necessary funds intended to be given to the party or the candidate? Secondly, a political candidate can be invited to give a lecture in another country and be given a huge honorarium which is not commensurate with the substance of the lecture, but purely as a means to justify the donation. This is definitely not acceptable. If the candidate is a respectable statesman or someone who is being held in high esteem by the international community, then the honorarium can be justified. But if some unknown political aspirant is given a huge sum of honorarium for such a lecture, then obviously something is very wrong. These are just two examples which can be used by unscrupulous foreign sources to generate funds for the political party and candidate they intend to assert influence, and I am sure there are many more if we do not comprehensively tighten all the loopholes. I would like the Minister to consider ways to tighten the Bill by introducing a clause where the onus is on the political party or candidate to prove that any funds received by any means should be bona fide and not as a cover for such funds to be generated for political use from outside
sources. It is also necessary to monitor other channels where the funds can be made that have not been covered by the Bill. The Registrar of Political Donations should be given more power to investigate funds which he is not totally satisfied that they are being donated in accordance with the Political Donations Bill. I support the Bill. Mr Speaker: Order. I suspend the Sitting and will take the Chair again at 3.15 pm. Sitting accordingly suspended at 2.49 pm until 3.15 pm.
Sitting resumed at 3.15 pm [Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Debate resumed. Mr Jeyaretnam: Mr Speaker, Sir, may I first thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak at this early stage of the Second Reading. This Bill particularly concerns the opposition parties and it is very vital for the opposition parties. I thank you for recognising that and you have given me the opportunity to speak. Sir, let us make no mistake about this Bill. This Bill is going to have far-reaching implications on the political development in this country. Let no one misunderstand that. This Bill, I say, is sounding the death knell for political development along the road to a greater democracy in this country. That is what it is all about. We have heard this afternoon from the Minister but what he has said does not, even in one iota, tell us the need for the introduction of this Bill in Singapore and particularly at this point of time. It is completely silent on that. May I tell the Government that questions have been raised outside and I have spoken to others and they say, "Why do you think the Government is introducing this Bill now?" They need to be answered. So I ask the Minister, when he replies, to try and answer that question. What is the burning necessity for this Bill to be introduced in
Singapore at this particular moment? And furthermore, there are a number of other things wrong about the way this Bill is being presented in Parliament. It was read for the first time on the 9th of this month. Barely 12 days after that, we are asked to pass this Bill. What is the great haste? Because this Bill concerns Singaporeans, it is a question that concerns Singaporeans, the growth of political development in this country. Every Singaporean should be interested in that. Where are we heading in the way of political development? Why is the Government rushing this Bill through? There have been no opportunities given for discussion on this Bill outside Parliament. There has been no opportunity given by way of a White Paper explaining the reasons for this Bill. It will be passed as though it is just an ordinary Bill, and people should not worry too much about it. This is no ordinary Bill. Sir, I rise to oppose this Bill, not only myself but also my Party. The previous speaker mentioned that the Member for Hougang from my Party supported the Bill. I have clarified this with the Member. It would appear that he was quoted out of context. Of course, the Workers' Party is second to none in not wanting foreigners to come and tell us how to run our country. But what does this Bill do? This Bill, for all its high-sounding words from the Minister, is attempting to dry up for the political parties in Singapore getting monies to further the cause of democracy for Singapore. The People's Action Party, I am quite sure, is flushed with funds. We have not been told how much they have got in the kitty. Would they like to tell us? We will then tell you how much the Workers' Party has, but I am sure the Government knows what the Workers' Party has. I do not speak for the other opposition parties but I am sure that they do not have anything like what the PAP can boast of in the way of funds. May I ask: is that a healthy state of affairs for Singapore that whilst the Government ruling party is able to tap money, the other political parties which oppose the Government are starved of any funds?
I see that the PAP Treasurer, in a statement to the papers some days ago, mentioned that quite a substantial sum comes from the members themselves and he picks up the monthly pledges or donations made
by the Ministers. Of course, the Ministers can afford to give out of their huge salaries that they are being paid from public monies. May I ask: is that one of the reasons why Ministers are paid such huge sums so that the Party may get some of the money? But he makes a valid point, and that is this. This is the Treasurer of the People's Action Party, and he says this Bill may prevent people who have given donations anonymously in the past to think whether they should continue to give any donations anonymously. There you have it. This is to try and cut off from the other political parties people who would like to give money to the political parties but who wish to remain anonymous. They will not. Of course, they will be quite happy to give donations to the People's Action Party and even have their names recorded so that the Party knows that they are good Singaporeans who support the Government. I ask the Minister: is there any evidence? Let us be serious about this Bill. Is there any evidence that opposition parties have received funds from outside Singapore? Have you got any evidence? Let us have it instead of making glib statements that we must tell our political parties not to be funded from outside. Let us have it here and now. Is there any evidence, other than foreign interests, that vested interests in Singapore are using opposition political parties for their own ends? Let me tell the House that no company in Singapore will want to make any donation to an opposition party. That is the grim state of affairs in Singapore. While they will be ready to open their purses for the PAP, they will not make any donation to the opposition. What are the opposition parties to do? They will be crippled. This is an attempt to further cripple them. The Minister refers to other countries but there has been public disquiet about huge funds going to political parties by
people trying to influence policies and decisions. We know all that. Do we have that in Singapore? There is a Bill before the UK Parliament. I have tried to get hold of the Bill but I was not able to get the whole Bill, but I have seen a little bit of it. There, it was because of disquiet among the public over huge sums of money being paid. Quite honestly, let us have it. What is the motive and purpose for this Bill at this present moment in Singapore? I shall have a lot to say more, Sir, on the lack of any public discussion, but time is running on and I want to try and explain why I think this Bill has been introduced. The Minister refers to past instances and I see he has brought in the Chew Swee Kee episode. That was the sum received by the Government in power, not by an opposition political party. I know all about that because I took part in that inquiry before Justice Buttrose. How is that an instance of the need for this Bill at this particular stage? Then he brings in Mr Francis Seow. Was there any suggestion that he received any monies? Did the PAP have any evidence that the US Embassy was giving him large sums of money? I ask the Minister to explain in this House whether this is not another instance of the PAP Government crying wolf to further strangle opposition parties? This is not mere rhetoric, Mr Speaker, Sir. This Government has a history of crying wolf whenever it wants to introduce legislation or take decisions which they think the people may not be ready to accept. I want to instance four such cases. In 1972, at an election rally, a PAP candidate seeking election to Parliament uttered a monstrous lie that the Workers' Party had received $600,000 from Malaysia. $600,000 - my foot! We took him to court for uttering this monstrous lie, but this was all part of the PAP's plan then. Because even before the elections, there was publicity about opposition parties, particularly directed against the Workers' Party, which I had joined in 1971, of being used by foreign agents and foreign powers. He did not seek to justify his statement. There was no truth in that statement. But we lost our case because
the Judge, the late Mr Justice F A Chua, dismissed the action on a purely technical reason that we had not pleaded the Hokkien text, or was it some other dialect text, in our statement of claim. Then, showing greater concern, the Constitution was amended to ensure that the sovereignty of Singapore was not surrendered, except only upon a referendum. This is to keep up the pretence, Mr Speaker, Sir, that opposition parties will be ready to surrender Singapore's sovereignty to foreign powers. Then, next in line, is the amendment to the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act which came in 1974. I stand corrected. And I spoke on this Bill when I moved a motion for the setting up of an independent newspaper in Singapore sometime last year. There, the reason for that Bill was that foreigners were using the newspapers to influence politics in Singapore. I mentioned of speeches in this House by Members - there was no Opposition Member in Parliament at that time - saying, "We can't allow foreign devils, foreigners, to take over our newspapers. We've got to stop all this." They said, "There was also evidence that foreign embassies were using the newspapers with their advertisements." All well and good, outwardly. But what was the real purpose? Speaker after speaker spoke of the need for Singaporeans to control the newspapers. Yes, but what was the result of that Bill, as I said last year? The result was to pass over total iron-fisted control over the press to the Government. The Government had to be consulted through its two classes of shareholders the ordinary and preferred shareholders, who had to be appointed by the Government. And every appointment of any staff had to be made by these preferred shareholders appointed by the Minister. So, what was previously a de facto control of the press became legal with the passing of the 1974 Bill. The Government could then point to the section and say, "There you are, we've got the section here. You can't appoint so-and-so as editor. You've got to have the permission of all the preferred shareholders." So, that is another instance of crying wolf that there was a great
danger to Singapore that newspapers were being taken over by foreigners. And then came the arrests in 1987. This was not a Bill. This was an Executive decision to arrest 22 persons. Some of them were accused of being proxies for foreign agents to take over the Workers' Party. One can see that all this was directed at the Workers' Party. The Government was saying that these people were going to take over the Workers' Party, and so, as I said then, a fanciful case was built up, that Marxists were taking over the Workers' Party. They had to be stopped. The Workers' Party had to be saved. Well, it was a lot of nonsense. And why? The PAP saw that the Workers' Party was becoming a real threat. After the 1981 election, the PAP vote dropped 121/2%. This is not fiction. This is a fact. Never before had the PAP vote dropped to that extent. So, the writing was on the wall for the PAP. And so the Workers' Party had to be branded and some of us were prosecuted and I had to leave Parliament, purely out of convictions which the Privy Council said were wrong. Then there was an amendment to the Constitution to bring in an Executive President. Again, the reason and the rationale that was put out for public consumption was that the opposition parties, if they were allowed to continue and take over the Government, would squander our reserves. So we have got to somehow put a brake on that. There was no question about the PAP safeguarding its reserves. The PAP will safeguard the reserves. It was the opposition parties that would squander and so we had an Executive President. But now, as it turned out, after all that show, the President was not given the powers. Things continued in much the same way, but the PAP was crying wolf to try and bring in that dramatic change in the way this country is run. So, I would ask the Minister, when he replies, to try and direct his mind to my question and not tell us
about the 1959 donation received by a Government Minister, not tell us about Mr Francis Seow, because they are all completely
irrelevant. They are things of the past. We want to know whether there is a need now. Why are you introducing this Bill now? What is the danger to Singapore now? It is like whenever I ask any question about the defence expenditure, they say, "Oh, we've got to be ready to meet threats." When I ask where is the threat coming from, they say, "Oh, no, we can't answer that question." It is all in the mind. Would the Minister please be specific about the need for this Bill at this point of time? Or is it merely an attempt, seeing that elections may have to be held within the next year or so, to further strangle the opposition parties from putting up a proper fight at the next elections? The history of this Government has been one long series of attempts to cripple, obstruct, opposition parties making headway. Are we not interested in greater democracy in this country? Will you tell us now? Is it the intention of the Government that Singapore should continue as it has with the PAP in government, decreeing what has to be done in Singapore without the people's participation? People need to know all this. Are you for or are you against greater democratic development in Singapore? Are you for or are you against greater participation by the people in political decision? The Minister concentrates on foreign donations. But what he does not realise, or he perhaps tries to hide, is that it dries up our own people here through the fear that exists in their minds. Are you capitalising on that fear? Mr Low Thia Khiang: Yes. Mr Jeyaretnam: Thank you. The Member for Hougang says yes. Mr Speaker: Order. Your time is up, Mr Jeyaretnam. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Mr Speaker, Sir, may I have permission to clarify a statement made by my Secretary-General? Mr Speaker: Mr Low, it is your turn to make your speech.
Mr Low Thia Khiang: My Secretary-General mentioned just now that the Straits Times misquoted me. I wish to say that the Straits Times has not misquoted me. I have indeed told the Straits Times that I am of the view that political parties and politicians aspiring for public office should not accept donations or funding from foreign sources. I stand by what I said. But holding that view does not automatically put me in a position that I would accept or support the view as presented in Parliament. I suppose the problem arises because a Member might have misquoted the Straits Times. (In Mandarin): Mr Speaker, Sir, there are three objectives of this Political Donations Bill. Firstly, legislating to require supporters donating to political parties to furnish their names, residential address and identity card numbers, so as to clip the financial resources of the political parties, thereby diminishing the development capacity of the opposition parties.
Secondly, to provide the PAP Government with better access to information on the financial sources of the opposition parties and background of the supporters so as to hit at the opposition parties whenever necessary. Thirdly, to avoid the event of the pseudo-phenomenon of the so-called opening up under "Singapore 21" unintentionally resulting in civic organisations turning to support the opposition parties. As we all know, when a political party involves itself in political activities, it needs to have a lot of funds, particularly in the situation of Singapore, where it is said that "no money, no talk". For example, if an opposition party wants to hold a forum or a mass rally, it needs money to pay for the rent of the stadium and the various venues, and the printing of publicity materials. But the PAP does not need to incur these expenses because they can make use of the CCs, RCs and other Government machinery to spread the news. They can even make use of the Feedback Unit to collect information and convey the PAP's philosophy and policies.
On operating expenses of a political party, we can see that the party headquarter's rental itself will exceed $5,000 a year. The PAP has a team of highly paid Ministers who can donate to the Party and there are many, many more MPs than the opposition parties. Getting huge sums in donations to the PAP is no problem at all. But for the opposition parties, they do not have such substantial and stable donations. The opposition parties depend on donations of the ordinary citizens and proceeds from sale of party newspapers and petty donations from the people, ranging from 50 cents to less than a hundred dollars. When accumulated, these donations can add up to more than $5,000 in a year. The Bill provides that in the event of anonymous donations amounting to more than $5,000 in a year, the Government can confiscate them. This amounts to saying that for even a 50-cent donation, we need to record the identity card number of the donor to show that the donation comes from a permissible donor; otherwise the donation will be confiscated. In the past, no receipt was issued for this type of donations. Another type of donation comes from anonymous supporters who are willing to financially support opposition parties or the individual candidates. But in view of the present political environment in Singapore, they do not wish to be placed on record that they have been donating to the opposition parties. So even if we issue official receipts to them, they would normally request that we put it under "anonymous". With the passage of this Bill, the opposition parties would not be able to accept their donations, and their financial strength will thus be diminished. On the other hand, with the emergence of the Internet, the opposition parties now have more effective means to post their bank account number on the website so that donations can be deposited into their bank accounts directly, without worry. But with the passage of this Bill, if the donors do not provide their personal particulars, they become anonymous donors. Eventually the donations will be confiscated by
the Government. Even with the donors' particulars provided, the responsible officers of the opposition parties are unable to ascertain whether the donors are permissible donors. If they choose to accept these donations, they face possible prosecution in court. So this Bill has attained its first objective of clipping the opposition parties' financial resources, thereby causing the opposition parties to be short of financial resources needed
for their development. Secondly, let me talk about the second objective of this Bill. The Bill requires that the political parties submit annual donation reports to the Registrar, giving details of the donors' names, addresses and IC numbers, and also the Government can require the parties to submit other information, at any time. We do not know what sort of information they want in respect of each donor, and how this information may be used. I think only the PAP will know. The most absurd provision is that any person who donates more than $10,000 in a year to a political party or a political association is required to submit a donation report to the Registrar; failing which he can be charged in court under this law. Sir, when the PAP Government introduces such a Bill, it is invading the rights to free donations of the ordinary people of Singapore. In future, they will not dare to donate, because once they donate money to the opposition parties, they are inviting trouble for themselves. This Political Donations Bill covers also other political associations. The Minister can, at any time, gazette any organisation as a political association to be covered by this Bill. The PAP Government has been talking about opening up a civil society. There are a lot of intellectuals in Singapore who are actively contemplating participation in our local politics. The introduction of this Bill is a heavy blow to them. The message the PAP Government wants to convey is very clear, that is to say, if any so-called civic organisation wants to criticise the Government or even to challenge the
Government, then it will be simply categorised as being similar to an opposition party and it will be nipped in the bud and given no room to develop, just like the opposition parties. They cannot criticise the Government's policies, as an independent organisation, because if an independent civic organisation is to criticise the Government, it is like enhancing the strength of the political party. It is said that "money can do wonders". Indeed, money has great magical power. If a politician is overly dependent on huge donations from a certain source, his political sense may well be manoeuvred by this benefactor of his. I believe that any politician or political party should not accept any donation from foreign sources, otherwise it would subject itself to manoeuvering by the foreign power. However, under these major premises, the Political Donations Bill has caused anxiety to ordinary citizens who wish to donate to opposition parties and indirectly blocking the donations to the opposition parties. I must clearly state that I oppose this Bill unless this Bill is further discussed by a Select Committee. So from this Bill, we can see very clearly that the PAP Government is making use of the human weakness to maintain its one-party superiority. At elections, it uses the threat tactics on the people and then they make use of this superpower under the ISA to detain people without trial. Now, with this Political Donations Bill, it is casting a shadow on those who aspire to participate in politics and creating a psychological fear in them. So anyone who wants to support the opposition party will have to openly reveal his identity, failing which he will automatically lose his political rights. I urge all those who want to support the opposition to stand up courageously and fight for their due citizens' political rights. Do not cause a psychological barrier to be generated just because your identities will have to be revealed when making donations to the opposition parties.
POLITICAL DONATIONS BILL
Debate resumed. Mr Zulkifli Bin Baharudin (Nominated Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, I give my full support to the provisions of the Bill that seek specifically to ban political parties from receiving contribution or donation from foreign sources. Some in Singapore may feel that the Government may be crying wolf because we have not experienced recent incidents of foreign sources attempting to influence the outcome of political elections in Singapore. But I personally think that we should be extremely careful and vigilant because experiences in many countries have shown that once money politics take root in a political system, it would almost be impossible to eradicate. We now have laws limiting the amount of money candidates seeking parliamentary or presidential office can spend during elections. This is a good thing. Our present system of capping political spending has been effective and has made it possible for independent candidates not affiliated to established political parties to seek political office. This is due mainly to the absence of financial barriers to participate in elections. This is one aspect of our political system that must be preserved. Experiences in many other countries have shown that informal financial barriers of entry have corrupted the electoral process. I also support laws imposing stricter and more transparent financial housekeeping rules as they will provide for more accessible means to scrutinise the financial accounts of political parties and support a more objective assessment of any organisation in any investigation process. Therefore, this Bill to check and control the source of income of political
parties is timely and appropriate. Unlike Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam, I have no problems with any of the provisions of the Bill in so far as it applies to political parties, if it is about catching the wolf, although disguised in sheepskin. However, Sir, I have reservation and concern about the implication this Bill would have on civil society. I fear that civil society may become the unfortunate victim of this Bill. Therefore, I would like to raise some of the issues and give feedback received by me from members of civil society to the Minister. I urge the Minister to perhaps consider excluding political association from the provisions of this Bill because it will pose all kinds of problems to civil society, the majority of whom have neither the capacity nor objective to influence either the electoral process or outcome of elections, but will nevertheless be adversely affected by the Bill. Even if we have good reasons to do so, I would urge the Minister to consider amending the definition of "political association" as it is too broad. Because I am persuaded to accept the fact that civil societies and organisations can become disguised fronts of political parties. It would also appear to me that, for example, the Democratic Socialist Club and the Political Science Association of the NUS whose main objective is not to influence party politics, but to provide a platform for intellectual discussion among university students, would be considered a political association. In this regard, I am curious to find out the Minister's definition and how this will apply to the PAP Community Foundation, whose activities are purely educational, but is part of the PAP. Also, personally, for me, how would the Minister regard the Roundtable and whether it would be gazetted
as a political organisation? What I attempt to show to the Minister is that we have three different groups with three different types of activities, but, by sheer definition, may all be subject to the provisions of this Bill. Therefore, what constitutes wholly or mainly politics in Singapore is problematic to interpret. The discretionary powers given to the Minister, in my view,
may be too wide and will put the Minister in a no-win situation, as it would be convenient for critics to accuse the Minister of wanting to have this provision possibly because its views are inconsistent with the Government. I would like to offer some other suggestions which would perhaps achieve the same purpose of preventing foreign influence and, yet, perhaps remove some of the inconvenience that may hamper the activities of nonpartisan civic groups. (1) Organisations registered under the Societies Act and whose activities relate to the politics in Singapore can have, in their constitution, provisions disallowing its members to become members of any political party or engage in any partisan politics, failing which then perhaps such organisations should be deemed to be political organisations under this Bill. (2) We can have provisions where organisations can be deemed to be political organisations where, for example, there is a large membership size although the objective of the society is to be very broad based. Or where there is a large amount of operating expenditure, we can draw a difference between an organisation with a $2,000 bank account and one with $2 million in operating expenditure to fund its activities. (3) Where such organisations have a significant portion of their income deriving from foreign sources, quite logically, they should be gazetted as political organisations and subject to this provision. So I hope the Minister can accept these points, and that amendments and refinements to this Bill can be made so that we can achieve the major intent of this Bill without jeopardising the activities of civil society. There are also other problematic implications which I wish to highlight and seek the clarification and assurance from the Minister: (1) For many of us in civil society, the Internet, globalisation and the maturing civic movement in Singapore have meant greater collaboration and cooperation
with civil societies in other parts of the world. In fact, my own experience has shown how surprising foreigners are about the growth of civil society in Singapore over the last few years. However, this growth will be affected because a large part of the activities of civil society are through seminars and conferences overseas. It is common for foreign organisations to contribute towards travel and accommodation expenses when inviting Singapore participants. But this Bill will deem these organisations as non-permissible donors and therefore disallow such contributions. Conferences, seminars and discussions are vital lifeline to civil societies. Presently, many civil societies have difficulties raising funds locally to carry out such projects. I have raised this matter at the last Budget debate and here I am repeating my earlier call for greater Government's support towards civil society. Personally, the Roundtable, for example, has carried out fund raising projects, for example, a childcare
centre called Haripasad in Ang Mo Kio. This is a good thing for civil society to be engaged in beyond discussion. But I fear the future of such activities as donors may have their own reservations and interpretations about having their identities recorded. Many would err on the side of caution and would be reluctant to support such organisation. (2) The definition of "permissible donors". For a company, the definition of "permissible donor" is such that a donor has to be a Singapore-controlled company which carries out its business wholly or mainly in Singapore. Therefore, it excludes Singapore-controlled companies but whose business activities are wholly or mainly outside Singapore as they are termed "non-permissible donors". This Bill may appear to be out of touch with the regionalisation realities of companies. My question to the Minister is: why can we not separate corporate identity and registration from the geography in which they do their business in? The reality is
that there will be some Singapore-controlled companies which derive most of their income from outside Singapore. Why should these companies be excluded or discouraged from contributing to civil societies in Singapore when what we really need is exactly the reverse, that they continue to contribute to the various social causes in Singapore so that they remain rooted to this country? What about donations from a private trust and foundations which are also a main source of income to civil societies? I wish the Minister could clarify on this point. Next, the meaning of "donation". Clause 3(2)(f) prohibits the collection of fees and subscription paid by foreigners to a political association. My question is: why do you have an organisation, say, a think tank formed to discuss regional security issues and have members and experts from around the region? This Bill will then prohibit the organisation from collecting fees and subscription from such members. Next, the value of donation. This Bill requires the organisation to value all donations and gifts only on commercial terms. Again, this provision may be problematic. Depending on how you value some of these contributions, it may exceed the amount required to be reported to the Registrar of Political Donations which is $10,000, and an error may subject a person to prosecution and a fine simply because of his underestimation of the value of the contributions given to the organisation. This will cause some problems for civil societies. We have also seen recently the emergence of the individuals who stand for parliamentary elections. They get help from friends and families who do so in their personal capacities, or maybe as proprietors of their own firms. The interpretation of this Bill will make it problematic for friends and families to get help, except on purely commercial terms. Sir, I have given my qualified support for this Bill but would appeal to the Minister to consider some of the amendments and suggestions that I have made. I hope that the Third Reading of this Bill
can be deferred to the next sitting so that some of these inputs from civil societies can be taken into consideration. Sir, we have come so far, I think this is a good Bill and has good intentions. But if we can make some amendments and allow civil societies' inputs to be considered, many of the unnecessary constraints imposed on civil societies can be avoided. I do not think that it is such an urgent matter that we cannot wait for another month or so. Mr Thomas Thomas (Nominated Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, as all good Singaporeans, we want the destiny of this country to be decided by our own citizens and by Singaporeans, and in wanting to exclude or
have rules to prevent foreigners from trying to control and unduly influence the outcome of our society wins my support. At the same time, while we try to have controls to prevent foreigners coming in, we must still encourage the participation of our citizens in our political life and civil society. Democracy and democratic institutions can be strengthened if more of our citizens participate and take an interest in politics and civil society matters. Therefore, the challenge here is to get the right balance between controls and free involvement. We should not have too much controls in that the free involvement becomes constrained. I think the art is getting the right balance. But before we even talk about balance, when we talk about the need for funds, the biggest need for funds is actually to participate. Therefore, if you make it cheap and not too expensive for people to participate in politics and stand for elections, then the need to raise funds and be dependent on too many sources of funds become unnecessary. Therefore, having the elections where you have limits on expenditure, ie, $2.50 per voter, does not make it really necessary to raise funds. And we should still work at great expense to keep expenses of conducting elections and being involved in public life affordable, and barriers for entry as low as possible, so that any Singaporean who aspires to get into politics through a party, or as an independent candidate, can freely do so.
But having said that, we also need a few clarifications. One of the clarifications is we need to define a little bit more on the political associations other than political parties. And one of the best ways is for the Minister to give examples, and even if he has the examples and he has to gazette, it is good to give ample notice to a concerned organisation. And I would support that more than a political party should be defined as "political association" because many could be third parties who can influence outcomes. The US presidential election is a clear cut example where a lot of third-party people under great or strange names are influencing the outcome. I do not think we should have that in Singapore but we should at the same time be very clear who we are referring to and how we want to do it. The other provision is in clause 3(2)(e) about sponsorship. It is quite widely defined and we do not know what exactly it means. If somebody invites you for a dinner and is a political association, and you pay for the dinner, would it be considered sponsorship? Or if they have a publication and people advertise, would it also be sponsorship? What about cost of seminars and conferences? Would it be all right to sponsor research programmes, or somebody's political organisation, because the research programmes could have impact on the positions to take? Therefore, this clause needs a bit more clarification. I have a few suggestions. First, the limit on anonymous donations. I have looked at the British Bill. In UK, they say up to pound 50, it is anonymous. You only declare if it is more than pound 50. It seems we have modelled quite a lot on the British Bill. We can take a similar approach and say that if it is less than S$100, it can be considered anonymous. Because I do not think anybody with $5,000 would go and ask 500 people to donate $100 each. It is too troublesome and it would not do. The other point is only the big donors will be the ones who can exert undue influence. Therefore, to keep political societies and political parties independent, it is better
to have small donors but widespread and mass organisations, because after all winning election is by getting mass support. And if they do not have ideas that can induce or encourage the ordinary men to contribute, then the idea dies.
The next point is about corporate donations. Corporations cannot vote in an election. It is individuals. The country is made of individuals. And I do not support the idea of companies making contributions or donations to political parties. If you want to have rules, let us completely prevent companies or corporate bodies from donating. In the UK law, they ask for a general meeting of members to decide to give or not to give. But in UK, the trade unions also have funds to contribute to political parties. Societies do. But in Singapore, our trade unions do not. Our Trade Unions Act prevents that and there are good reasons for that. Many of our societies do not do that. Cooperative societies do not do that, and we have good reasons for that. And we should also not allow individuals to support political parties or political issues with corporate big business money. We should not come to a state like in the United States where big businesses have undue influence in our political process. Therefore, if anybody wants to donate, let them donate as individuals and let them be identified. Let us be transparent about it rather than through the veil of a corporation. Finally, I also want to say that as long as we keep the other pieces of legislation on elections and allow free media access for people to express their ideas, there will be less danger of us having to worry about the need to implement this Bill. In that sense, I support the Bill. Mr Sin Boon Ann (Tampines): Sir, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on the Bill which I rise in support of. Sir, it is important that in any country, public confidence and the integrity of the political system must be maintained at all times. Members of the public must have no reason to believe that political parties, policies and indeed any politician have
been influenced by large donors. As a sovereign and independent country, with a Government that is democratically elected, the legitimacy of the Government would depend on the trust that people have. They must not doubt that the leaders in power decide policies that work in the long-term interest of the country. Where the perception exists that leaders of the Government or politicians take instructions from people who donate large sums of money, public trust in Government would surely be undermined and with it, its effective governance. I therefore welcome the introduction of the Bill. Having said that, while I support the Bill, as a matter of general principle, there are a number of areas which the Bill will require clarification and further consideration. I shall dwell on some of these. First, the Bill distinguishes between foreign and local donations. In the case of foreign donation, the Bill provides generally that every political association, party, or candidate must not accept a donation if it is offered by a person who is not a permissible donor. The Bill defines a permissible donor, inter alia, as either an individual, a Singaporean who is at least 21 years of age or a Singapore-controlled company which carries on business wholly or mainly in Singapore. The Bill further defines, inter alia, a Singapore-controlled company to mean a company incorporated in Singapore and the majority of whose directors and members are citizens of Singapore. While a direct donation by a foreigner is not possible, it would be relatively quite easy for a foreigner who seeks to circumvent the restrictions of the Bill by channelling a donation through a permissible donor. As I said earlier, the definition of a Singapore-controlled company basically defines the company as one that is incorporated in Singapore, where the majority of directors and members are citizens of Singapore. It would be possible in certain situations where such conditions are complied with, where you have minority
shareholders who are foreigners who are able, in their own ways, to exert
influence on the majority shareholders or even on the Board of such companies. In such instances, while these companies still qualify as Singapore-controlled companies, I am not sure whether or not the company itself may not be subject to the control of a foreign party. If the Minister can clarify this point, it would alleviate our concern on this area. Secondly, I note that under clause 2(5), it provides that any donation received by a candidate or a political association by way of a donation via a trustee in his capacity as such shall be regarded as a donation from a person who is not a permissible donor. The question is: who is a trustee? A trustee is not defined in the Bill. One can look to the common law for its meaning. Arguably, it can be said that if a person who transfers property to a permissible donor with the direction that the latter be asked to make a gift of that property to a political party or a candidate, clause 2(5) would be triggered and in any event, clause 23 would equally apply in respect of such arrangements. However, Sir, it is possible to get around restrictions in a number of ways. For instance, a foreign donor can give these gifts to a permissible donor absolutely such that the permissible donor is not the trustee of these gifts. Once it is determined that these gifts are not held in trust by the permissible donor, the money can then be channelled to the political party or candidate with whom the permissible donor and the foreign party are equally sympathetic to. Thirdly, one does not have to, as a foreign donor, transfer property to the permissible donor in order to make such donations. Where a foreign donor has strong business influence over a Singapore-controlled company, it would be possible for the Singapore company to make donations under the influence of the party or the foreign party. Any donation made can be compensated in the future through some generous contractual means between the Singapore-controlled company and the foreign party. In citing this as an example, I am mindful that there are other provisions in the Bill that prevent or restrict the circumvention of such restrictions by other means. Clause
23, for instance, makes it illegal for a person who facilitates such transactions. But as we all know, it is quite possible, if one is aware of the restrictions in clause 23, to even circumvent these restrictions. In sum, it is not a foolproof and water-tight provision and it would be possible under certain circumstances for foreign parties to indirectly make a contribution through a permissible donor in Singapore. Additionally, if the purpose of the Bill is to maintain public confidence in the political system by preventing money politics, I do not see why distinction has been made between a foreign donor, and for that matter, a local donor who has substantial sums of money and can equally be in a position to influence Government policies through monetary contributions. Allowing that person to have an influence on policies through financial resources would strike at the very heart of our system of democracy which seeks to represent the interest of all Singaporeans and not just the moneyed few. It is not inconceivable that with the booming economy, there would be many local companies and individuals with hoards of cash. It would generally be conceivable that in an environment that is more liberal, some would consider putting money through the political system. At the moment, there is nothing to stop rich local individuals from donating money to political associations and candidates. Fortunately, this party has always maintained the highest level of integrity. We have never allowed money to influence our decisions. However, since institutions exist in perpetuity and man does not, it is vital that we institutionalise our values by regulating all manner of donations and not just confine the present Bill to foreign donations alone.
Fourthly, this Bill, at another level, should not be seen as one of regulating the influence of foreign parties on local policies. Against this backdrop, there is a larger issue of money politics. Up until this point in time, as I have said earlier, there is an absence of substantial spending on political campaigns and advertising. This has helped to keep the cost of running for a political office low.
However, it would be difficult in trying to win the hearts and minds of the electorate not to rely on the mass communication media in the future to reach out to the constituents. If this happens, the need for funding would obviously increase. On principle, there is nothing wrong with getting the public to donate to political parties. What is at issue is the extent to which donors have the ability to influence policies through donations. One way to overcome this concern is to create a greater atmosphere of transparency in the whole process. I note that the Bill only requires accounts to be filed with the Registrar for donations above a certain level. There is nothing in the Bill which requires public disclosure of all donations. It is important that if you want to have a transparent system that such disclosures be made to the public. Making the system and process transparent would also have a way of checking the conduct of political parties and candidates in its dealings with donors. Additionally, by making such disclosures, voters can also make informed choices in an election. Sir, just some final words about what the opposition has said. They have lamented and griped about how the Bill is yet another example by the Government to stifle the opposition. They have stated that the Bill does not proscribe local donations. There is nothing to stop local donors from giving money to opposition members. They have harped on the fact that this Bill will discourage local donors from making a donation because particulars of their donations would have to be disclosed to the Government agency. Underlying that statement is the assumption that because they have made a donation, prosecutions, or in their term, persecutions would necessarily follow. If I may just ask the opposition Members whether they are able to cite instances where such has happened. And indeed, in previous years, we have found a more liberal climate and environment where people are more prepared to speak up against Government policies. This is a given. And in this kind of climate, it would be quite difficult to see how this would gel
with the general climate of fear that the opposition Members have painted that the members of the public are suffering under. The opposition Members have also made a second assumption, and that is, the politicians are able to discern in respect of the monies that were given, and still be able to stand up for the principle that they should not be subject to the influence of money in the way in which they make decisions. I believe this to be very naive. No established society can run away from the fact that money does influence and the greater the sum of money, the greater the extent of the influence. I doubt if we can say sincerely that all politicians, if subject to the influence of money, would not be influenced in the way in which they decide. Sir, it is precisely because of Singapore 21 that we have confidence in our people, in our system, that ultimately, when it comes to the crunch, when there is a viable alternative, if for some reason, the integrity of the present party and the leadership is compromised, there is nothing to stop the citizens of Singapore from supporting the opposition. There is nothing to stop them from coming out in the open with large monetary contributions to support an alternative view that will surely take us on. If we do not perform, if the people go without homes or health services are not looked after, then I certainly do not think that a restriction like this is going to stop people from making contributions to the opposition parties.
The Bill seeks to prevent foreigners from interfering with the ability of Singaporeans to determine their own destiny. Unless of course the hon. opposition Members are saying that they should sell themselves to the foreigners, I believe they have no alternative but to support this Bill. Mr Chiam See Tong: Sir, I would say that, at this point of time, this Bill is quite unnecessary. The Government has always boasted that in Singapore, we do not indulge in money politics. As far as I know, there have been no reported cases in any
election since Singapore became independent in 1965 of candidates wanting to buy votes or to spend large sums of money to influence voters. So why the necessity for this Bill at this point of time? Mr Jeyaretnam has a point when he wants to know the rationale and the reason for this Bill. I think the Minister should oblige. The only case I know of was in the 1976 elections, although Mr Jeyaretnam said it was 1972 when a PAP candidate who was returned to Parliament accused the Workers' Party of accepting $600,000 from a foreign source. Mr Jeyaretnam: 1972 election. Mr Chiam See Tong: 1972. I am much obliged. Of course, he was roundly sued by the Workers' Party for defamation and the PAP candidate was unable to prove that the Workers' Party took any money at all from a foreign source but, nevertheless, he won the case based on technicalities. The fact that remains till today is that neither the ruling party nor the opposition parties indulge in any form of money politics. I believe the Government is very proud of that fact and has said so many times. In that case, I thought that the status quo would remain. This Political Donations Bill therefore comes as a surprise to me. Money politics has not been part of the political culture of Singapore. As far as I know, all opposition candidates who took part in the election run their election campaigns on a shoestring budget. I believe that generally, the PAP candidates spend more on the elections than the opposition candidates. We can see that the PAP election rallies are much more posh than the opposition ones. We also notice that in some PAP election rallies, at least at the ones held in Potong Pasir, the PAP spent money on hiring huge buses to ferry supporters, especially old folks, to attend the election rallies held there. The opposition, as far as I know, has not spent any money to transport any supporters to their election rallies. The people just come spontaneously to attend opposition rallies. Therefore, the opposition, up to today, has not spent much money and certainly has not received any money from foreign
sources. For that reason, I wonder why this Bill is necessary. Sir, in Singapore there is also a cap on election spending. Candidates are limited at one time to only 50 cents per voter. But now, the Parliamentary Elections Act has been amended to allow a candidate to spend $2.50 per voter. As far as I know, opposition candidates have never exceeded that limit set down by the law. I, for myself, have always spent very little money. When I first started in 1976, I spent only $3,500 per election. And at the last general elections, I spent not more than $10,000. But then again, my constituency of Potong Pasir is the smallest in Singapore. It has only 19,000 voters. It can therefore be seen that there is no
need to spend lots of money to win an election, but only plenty of time and sweat. Therefore, we ask again: what is the necessity to enact this law? Why does the Government suddenly want political parties and also other organised bodies, whose main activity is in politics, to declare donations given to them? In any event, the law already requires all candidates in elections to declare the amount of money they spend on each election. I am just wondering whether the Government has introduced this Bill as it envisages that there is a possibility of candidates advertising themselves on TV. When that comes, of course, I say lots of money will be needed. Like in America, the cost of election campaigning escalates dramatically. In the Presidential elections, I believe that each candidate can spend up to $200 million. But, in Singapore, as there is no election campaigning through the TV media, I do not think there is a need for large sums of money. At the moment, of course, candidates are only allowed party political broadcast for a few minutes over the local TV. The time allowed depends on the number of candidates and, of course, this is very unfair to the opposition parties, because many of the opposition parties fielded less than six candidates and are not allowed even the 21/2 minutes broadcast. The opposition says that there is no need for such a law at this point in time.
The only reason for wanting this law is to curb the opposition further. People who give money to the ruling party do not mind revealing their names. But in the context of Singapore today, in our culture, people are still generally fearful of being seen to be supporting the opposition. For this very reason, I think this law is a great disadvantage to the opposition. Sir, it will leave the opposition parties with a lot of problems in raising funds. Any political party which cannot account for large sums of money it receives can easily be discredited. So there is no need actually for this law. In the past, there was a case when a Minister in the ruling party accepted money from the Americans. This has been mentioned. His name is Chew Swee Kee. When he was found out, the PAP relished at it. The PAP, at that time, was in the opposition. It publicised the fact and helped the PAP to win the elections in 1959. The point is that if any political party is found to have received money from abroad, it will definitely be discredited. Any party which wants to accept money from foreign sources will have to think twice before it does so. Because, once it is found out, the political effect will be disastrous. People will wonder whether that party is working for the interest of Singapore or for some foreign powers or foreigners. A party that accepts money from foreign sources will be seen as a tool of foreigners and cannot be trusted. As this is a very important Bill, I would also support that it be sent to a Select Committee for further deliberations. Sir, I have just got two more points to raise in regard to the provisions of the Bill. I think the $5,000 limit for anonymous donations is definitely too low. I do not know how the Minister has plucked this figure from the air. I do not know on what basis this figure of $5,000 has been decided. I would suggest that anonymous donations be allowed up to the limit of at least $23,000, which is about half the amount of election expenses allowed under the Parliamentary Elections Act for Potong Pasir constituency, which is the
smallest constituency in Singapore. I think that is a fair basis to take, half of the election expenses which is allowed for Potong Pasir constituency. I think that cannot probably even support two candidates. So what harm can it do?
The next provision I would like to comment is on clause 12 - annual donation report. Sir, this is important. I heard from the Minister that it cannot be divulged to members of the public. If it cannot be divulged to members of the public, it must at least be divulged to the opposition. Sir, the PAP is the Government. It can, at any time, see the political donations report. Is the Registrar of Political Donations going to swear under a statutory declaration that he will not show those reports to anyone, even to members of the Government? Sir, on this point, I think the Government must be transparent. If the Government is not transparent, I am certain that people will believe that the Government can have a chance to peep at those reports but no one else can. In other words, Sir, this is like playing cards where I show you all my cards, but you keep your cards only to your chest. I think members of the public would like to know who are the people who donate to the PAP, even if it is their members or the Ministers themselves. I think this must be seen to be transparent. If it is not, I am afraid the Political Donations Bill will have no credibility at all. Sir, the opposition would demand for complete transparency, as far as this point is concerned. Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, I will try to answer as many as possible the points raised by Members. Generally, I think Members support the need for the Bill. As to why we want to prohibit foreign funding to the political parties and political associations which have an effect on the political activities and development of Singapore, we all agree that Singapore's politics is for Singaporeans, and not for others to come and interfere via any means, whether by financial means or other assistance. Because, whatever form the assistance takes, there is no question that the recipient will, in
some way or other, be beholden to that foreign organisation. And I do not think any Singaporean organisation or political party will want to put itself in that position of being beholden to a foreign organisation, and I think this point is rightly pointed out by Mr Chiam. In Singapore, we actually do not need a lot of money for elections. The Parliamentary Elections Act lays down quite clearly how much each candidate can spend, ie, up to $2.50 per voter, and that is the cap. And it is not an expensive affair to run a campaign in Singapore. Unlike the case of many other countries where candidates have to spend millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, to secure even a primary candidacy, or as a candidate for, say, the American Presidential elections. In Singapore, there is no such need and therefore it is easy. The cost of entry into politics by any Singaporean who has an interest to take part in elections is easy. Secondly, for the PAP, we have taken upon ourselves to observe very strict rules about donations to the party. No money goes to the Ministers or the MPs direct. Whatever donation does not go to the individual. It goes to the party. And we also make it clear that whoever give the donation can expect no favour and can expect no preference in whatever dealings they may have with the Government or with the party. They do donate and we tell them that they do it because they believe that the PAP has been running the country well and they want to support an organisation like the PAP to perpetuate the prosperity of Singapore, not for any other reason. It is not to support the PAP to favour them in their business or in their personal affairs. That is the basic rule of the PAP. Having said that, this Bill does not prohibit anyone who has an interest to donate to the political party or association, so long as he is a permissible donor. And we must have the rules such that we can ensure that the donation comes from permissible donors. On the occasion that it is not, because a Singaporean donor or a permissible source is prepared to allow
himself to be used as a conduit for a foreign organisation, then he will have to take full responsibility for that and answer for the consequences. So, it is not possible, like Mr Kenneth Chen suggests, to cover all loopholes, or even Mr Goh Choon Kang's suggestion to ensure that we have no loopholes. There will be some and I think we will have to learn from the experience as we operate this Bill, which eventually becomes the law. There is a general point whether this will really affect the growth of civil society. I do not think so. Even for the civil society or any organisation that has a civic purpose, there is no reason why it should depend on foreign funding in whatever form. They must depend on themselves. They must depend on Singaporeans who believe in their cause. We do not want a situation where a foreign organisation will say, "Yes, this is the cause I believe in and therefore I champion your cause for you by providing you with money." And I have explained in great detail what we consider to be politics and what we consider to be political activities. I even outlined six or seven conditions under which we will consider those to be politics and political activities, and I think they were clear enough. Of course, when it comes to an actual case, I think judgment will need to be applied and we will need to distinguish between activities by groups which want to promote a social cause for the public good, not leading to a change in the political structure, not leading to a change in the law, not leading to the way we want to do our own things, and we want to decide that for ourselves. On the other hand, there are also groups that will want to push very clearly for a political or partisan agenda to alter our political system. That is a distinction we want to make. But again, it will have to depend on the circumstances. So I cannot answer very specifically in such a situation whether we will allow or not allow. In the end, it will have to depend on the circumstances and eventually when a decision is made to gazette an organisation which is not a political party as a political association and subject to this Bill, I will make the rationale known and why we do this
and this can be challenged. The association can go to the courts for a judicial review of the Minister's decision. That is a completely transparent system. But to ask me now to detail from A to Z what is covered and what is not covered, it is not possible. I cannot speculate on hypothetical situations. But I can give an example. For example, organisations which receive, say, funding from a UN organisation, UNDP or UNICEF, to promote a social programme to address the needs of children, are obviously the organisations in the first group that I will not consider to be organisations that are within the prohibition of foreign donations, because for these associations, they are actually doing a social programme to help children or battered wives for that matter. On the other hand, if local organisations accept foreign funds, say, from a foreign body like the Soros Foundation network to help them promote in Singapore a political programme based on what they think Singapore's society or political structure should be, we will deem them to be in the second category, that they will be a political association covered by the Bill, if these Singapore associations do accept money from such foreign sources. If Singaporeans truly want to have a political society of whatever form, whether it is the NUS Political Association, whether it is the Democratic Socialist Club, the Roundtable, Socratic Circle, or whatever, let it be supported by Singaporeans. It is only fair that whatever activities propagated by these organisations should be supported by Singaporeans, and not by foreign sources. So it is not the intention of this Bill to retard the growth of any civil society group. In fact, it is the Government that has generated this interest. The Government generated this interest by having a Singapore 21 Committee chaired by RAdm Teo Chee Hean
involving a lot of Singaporeans. We say, "Come and take part. Make sure that you have an interest in Singapore, its continued prosperity and success. Therefore, do not just leave everything
to the Government and have a say in things that will interest you or affect you." So it is the Government that has generated this interest and there is no particular reason why the Government wants to restrict the growth of these civil societies. On the other hand, should such groups or organisations come to the Government to ask for money, the question to ask is: should Government money be used for their purpose or should it be for a general purpose of all Singaporeans? We cannot, on the one hand, say, "Please, give me money." And next say, "Please, let me be independent and completely be left alone." When they receive Government money, they will be subject to Government influence in some way or other. But if they want to be totally independent, then they must depend on themselves and on people, Singaporeans, who will support their cause. Then they will be completely independent. Mr Thomas asked me to define "sponsorship" and whether dinners, research, etc. are considered as "sponsorship". Again, I really cannot explain in great detail what is and what is not considered as sponsorship. We will have to look at the whole circumstances and the context before a decision can be made, which eventually can be challenged. On anonymous donations, he asked why not limit to less than $100 and therefore has no limit of $5,000 in total. We have applied different rules according to our own circumstances. In Britain or America, they cannot have an anonymous donation of more than pound 50 or more than $50. If they can generate 100,000 donors, so be it. In Singapore, we think that $5,000 a year is pretty reasonable. If, over time, we think that that sum is not enough because the political associations' expenses have grown and so on, we will look at that. This is the first time we have a Bill and this is the first time that we have started something like that after examining all the examples of other countries, and we say, let us give it a try. It will not be cast in concrete and stone.
With the experience that we have gained, and difficulties that we may experience, we will amend the Bill as time goes on. The question which two or three of our opposition Members want to know is: why have this Bill now? What is the urgency? I do not think there is any better time than having this Bill now. Consciousness has been raised on political funding, soft money, soft advertisement and all kinds of things that have happened in other countries for years. If Members remember the 1996 Presidential Election in America, it has long past for years, and now the controversy still rages on. In our newspapers the last couple of weeks since the Bill was made known, the newspapers have run many stories, and Singaporeans ought to know that there is such a problem in other countries. In Singapore's case, the PAP Government always thrives on its ability to anticipate problems. We are not saying that the problem will come straightaway tomorrow, in the next election, but we will never know. So let us have the law ready. Today is as good as any other day. If Members say, do not bring back the history of 1959 or do not talk about 1976 or 1988, these are real examples of how foreign governments, whether it is a government directed at the top or by somebody at the top, or somebody else doing the job, or a foreign intelligence organisation, like the 1976 case, or just one diplomat in an embassy, these cases happened and they are real examples. Do we need to wait for more
examples before we say, "Let us do something about it." What will Singaporeans say? They will say, "There you are, you are not doing your job. You should know that these have been happening in other countries and yet you are slow in responding. We thought we pay you a lot of money to do a good job." So let us not fool ourselves. We do not know that such a problem will come about. Neither do we want such a problem to come about. But there is no reason why we should not have a law like that today. Because today is better than never. It is better than tomorrow.
Mr Low Thia Khiang is worried about anonymous donations and now he cannot raise money because even people are afraid to give him 50 cents. That fear is really not well founded. If Singaporeans want to give him money, what is the difficulty in saying, "I am a Singaporean. This is my identity card. Please record it." What is their worry? It is a simple thing. That procedure does not apply to the Workers' Party or to the SDP only. It applies to the PAP as well. It applies to all the PAP's 83 branches. When I briefed my GPC, they said this is going to cause problems for them to keep detailed records. I said so be it, because we want this system to be established today. The Party will set up the structure, a record keeping method, to make sure that we record. If the opposition is really shorthanded, and cannot find people to help them understand the system, I have asked my officials to come up with a simple guide to help them to capture such records. We hope that can be useful to them. But it is up to them. They can keep their own records. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Without any administrative assistants how do we keep records? Mr Wong Kan Seng: The Member is paid $250 and $500 to employ a secretarial assistant and legislative assistant respectively. He can use that money. If the Government were to give more money to the Member to employ an administrative assistant to keep records, we will only give it to two opposition Members, one from the Workers' Party and the other from SPP, and the rest will go to the PAP Members. He will then say this is unfair because the PAP has more MPs. We will settle our own problems. He settles his and we will settle by our method. Mr Chiam is concerned that the list of donors is only made known to the PAP. That would not be the case. No member of the public will have access to this record. It is only the officials. He asked me whether the Ministers will see the list of donors. There is no need for us to do so. The purpose of this Bill is not to find out who donated to the Workers' Party, SDP or
whoever, or even the PAP. It is up to them to decide who they want to receive the money from. If we know who their donors are, so what? How does that affect them? Are we going to chase after their donors? Is the PAP going to run after their donors so that they will say, "Let us have your money instead of it going to the Workers' Party?" Let us be realistic. We do not need the people who give them the money. We have other people who give us money. We give the money ourselves. Most of the money that goes into the Party for election purposes comes from the PAP MPs and Ministers. We paid for our expenses. Of course, there are also other well-wishers who help us. So be it. If others want to help the opposition, fine! Go ahead. But nobody is interested in knowing who their donors are and I do not think that we need to make known the list of donors. In fact, by making known the list of donors, it will discourage people from donating. They may say that in that case they would rather not be known, whether to be known to be supporting the PAP or the Workers' Party or the SPP. What for? Why all the hassles? Let us keep our money and enjoy ourselves. So
it is better that we do not disclose the list but only to keep it for record purposes and use the records when necessary. Mr Jeyaretnam's long list of other points really just boils down to one thing. He thinks that this is going to stifle the Workers' Party, and the failure of the Workers' Party to get money and people is the fault of the PAP. How can this be so? He has led the party for 28 years since 1972, and maybe even before that. For 28 years what has changed in the Workers' Party? Not very much, but yet the world has moved on. It has changed a lot. What has changed in the Workers' Party? People will know that it has not changed very much. What has changed in the PAP? A lot. And that is how we have kept ourselves relevant and stayed relevant. That is why the people say, "That is the Party I want to run Singapore, and we will continue to vote you, not the party that cannot even get its acts together." If they cannot even get their acts together, how
can they get Singapore together? Let us face it. So do not blame their problems on us. If they cannot attract people to join them, do not blame us. If they cannot get people to donate money to them, do not blame us either. They only have themselves to blame. His other litany of things is about digging up the background. Actually he dug up all the background himself. I have even forgotten about the case in 1972 when the Workers' Party tried to sue one of the PAP MPs and the case went to court and failed and that led to all his troubles eventually. That has got nothing to do with the PAP. It is the courts. He believes in the court system. He took the case to court and lost. He challenged it and he still lost. How could that be our fault? Whether it was a technical reason or whatever it was, he lost. If he believes that F.A. Chua had been biased, he should have taken up the case. He said that because of this case in 1972, we amended the Constitution to make sure that we cannot surrender our sovereignty to a foreign power or foreign country without a referendum. He has forgotten that this change came about because the Workers' Party, he himself in particular, was calling for the re-merger of Singapore. All right, if he wants to do that, he must go through a referendum. Supposing it happened that the Workers' Party came into power in 1972 or 1976 --Mr Jeyaretnam: May I ask by way of clarification? Mr Speaker: Is the Minister giving way? Mr Wong Kan Seng: No. Please sit down. Mr Speaker: He is not giving way. Resume your seat, Mr Jeyaretnam. Mr Jeyaretnam: All right, I will take it up. Mr Wong Kan Seng: If his party were to come into power and say we would re-join Malaysia, I think Singaporeans would have a right to decide. Therefore, we said, let us amend the Constitution to provide for a referendum should Singapore decide to surrender its sovereignty.
Is this a Bill against political development? How could it be? We have got political development. But if the
opposition have not progressed, that is not our fault. Singaporeans have progressed. Singaporeans are more vocal. Singaporeans have supported many organisations, set up websites, etc. And I think they have also grown in the political process. But we cannot allow any foreign organisation, any foreign power, any foreign individuals, to come and tell our organisations, Singaporeans, associations, what they should do in order to propagate their interest. That is not right. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Mr Speaker, may I seek clarification from the Minister? I would like to know from the Minister what is the basis for the $5,000 anonymous donations that are allowed in one financial year. And why does the Minister prefer a capping of anonymous donations to $5,000 in a financial year, unlike in some countries where they cap a single donation, thereby allowing small donors? By doing that, is the Minister aware that he is actually imposing a very tedious process on the opposition, especially opposition parties which basically receive small sums of donations? Is that purposely making it difficult for the opposition to keep accounts and to make it more difficult for the opposition to receive small sums, knowing that we depend a lot on small sum donors whereas I believe PAP would not need the money? Mr Jeyaretnam: May I ask my question as well. Will the Minister quote chapter and verse of the statement he says that the Workers' Party made calling for a merger again with Malaysia? When was it made, where, and where was it reported? Could he let us have all that? Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, Mr Jeyaretnam's memory is very short. I think we should leave it to him to do his own research and find the information for himself. I am not here to re-educate him. Mr Jeyaretnam: You tell me.
Mr Wong Kan Seng: Mr Low asked why we cap at $5,000. Of course, we can choose the other way, like what the British and Americans do, cap at pound 50 or $50, which means that they can at most receive anonymous donations of $50 or less, and they can receive a lot of such small donations. Frankly, I do not even know that the opposition receive a lot of small donations and neither am I bothered about it. But, as I said, for the $5,000, it is just a macro number, it is a total sum, it makes it easier for them to receive small sums of anonymous donations up to $5,000 without keeping record. If they have to keep record, and we make the limit at $50, I think they will be very much troubled by it. And if $5,000 eventually is not enough, when we amend the Bill the next time, we will look at it. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Further clarification, Sir. Is the Minister aware that if it is more than $5,000 in a year, any single donation, even 50 cents, in order to keep that amount, you will have to have records. It is more tedious than having, let us say, more than $50, and you have to record. Or we do not need to keep record at all. Mr Wong Kan Seng: If people give him 50 cents and he finds it too tedious, ask them to give him $5 or $50, make it a big figure, so that he does not have to keep tedious records. But actually no record is required of any anonymous donations up to $5,000. Mr Low Thia Khiang: After $5,000? Mr Wong Kan Seng: After $5,000, he will keep a record.
Mr Low Thia Khiang: Yes, even 50 cents, I have to keep a record, right? Mr Wong Kan Seng: Ask them to give him more money. Question put, and agreed to. Bill accordingly read a Second time. Mr Speaker: Mr Jeyaretnam, do you want to move your motion now?
Mr Jeyaretnam: Thank you, Mr Speaker, Sir, for this opportunity to move this motion. Sir, I beg to move, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee for further consideration to enable persons interested to be heard on the Bill." Mr Speaker: The Member has moved a motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Under the Standing Order, the Question has to be put forth without any debate. Mr Jeyaretnam: Mr Speaker, Sir, may I, on a point of principle, ask the question. I thought that under Standing Order, I can make my speech on the motion. Your note says, "make his speech supporting his motion". Mr Speaker: Mr Jeyaretnam, I have pointed out to you that Standing Order does not permit any debate when there is a motion to refer a Bill to a Select Committee. Mr Jeyaretnam: But do I not have to spell out why it should be referred to a Select Committee? Mr Speaker: Mr Jeyaretnam, I have pointed out to you that Standing Order does not permit you to speak on such a motion. Question put, and negatived. Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the whole House. The House immediately resolved itself into a Committee on the Bill. - [Mr Wong Kan Seng]. Bill considered in Committee. [Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Clauses 1 to 37 34/40
The Chairman: Mr Jeyaretnam, do you wish to speak in Committee? Mr Jeyaretnam: Sir, I wish to speak on certain specific clauses in the Bill. These are clauses 2, 7, 22, 28 and 29. But before I speak directly on these clauses, may I say that I am concerned because this Bill is on a subject that concerns Singaporeans, not just political parties, not just political
associations, like NGOs, but Singaporeans generally. And that is why I wanted the Bill to be moved to a Select Committee so that Singaporeans may be heard as to what they think about the Bill, not just the NGOs or the political parties, but Singaporeans, what do they think about the Bill. But you have ruled that I cannot speak on the motion, so I have to go on and speak about the clauses on which I have objections. My objections stem from the fact that in Singapore, elections would appear to be completely a matter for the Government, whereas in other countries, elections are a matter for the people and there is an independent elections body which controls the conduct of elections and makes all the rules and regulations. But that is not so in Singapore. In Singapore, elections would appear to be the prerogative of the Prime Minister. The Chairman: Order, Mr Jeyaretnam. Mr Jeyaretnam: Yes. But I am coming to my section. The Chairman: Mr Jeyaretnam, can I point out to you that when we are in Committee, you are to speak on the clauses? Mr Jeyaretnam: All right. The Chairman: I see that you are debating the principles of the Bill which we have already discussed during the Second Reading stage. Can I ask you to confine your speech to the clauses which you have highlighted? Mr Jeyaretnam: I will try and explain why I am speaking on these clauses. Under clause 2, the definition of "political association", in subclause (b) of that, as at present drafted, is, in my opinion, far too vague and appears to catch everyone. The term "political association" which is to be applied to other than registered political parties should be spelt out with greater certainty. The Bill, as it now stands, reads:
" "political associations" means (b) an organisation . whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore and which is declared by the Minister, by order in the Gazette, to be a political association for the purposes of this Act;". The operative words are "whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics".
Sir, politics is something that concerns the general populace. That is politics. So if there is an organisation that wishes to speak on something which concerns the general populace or even a section of the community, it can be described as being a political association. We take the case of the women's organisation, AWARE, which is concerned with the rights of women and violence to women. Does it become a political association? Of course, their concern can be called political because it affects a large section of the community, the women in Singapore. For that reason, is it to be considered a political association? What about NGOs? We do not have many NGOs in Singapore. But we have one or two now, concerned not with promoting any particular political issue or political object, but have, as its aims and object, the promotion of greater democracy, greater transparency and greater accountability for the society. Is that political? Of course, it is, if you want. But is it an organisation that is attempting to influence any particular policy or object for Singapore when it is simply concerned with giving people a greater share in decision making? Take the Open Singapore Centre (OSC) of which I am the Chairman. We have said that our aim is simply to promote transparency and accountability through openness in Singapore. Is that politics? Of course, one can say yes, it is political. But that is something that concerns the entire populace in Singapore. So why should that be declared a political association? It is not concerned with promoting a particular issue or calling for a particular piece of legislation in this country. All it seeks to do is to promote openness, awareness and accountability among the public. The other objection is that the power is given to the Minister to declare which organisation is a
political association for the purposes of this Act. I have no doubt that the Open Singapore Centre will be declared political, if not the other organisations. My recommendation to the Government is that that decision as to whether an organisation is a political association or not should not be left to the Minister. We do not have any Elections Commissioner. We do not have any Election Commission. It therefore should be left to somebody completely outside the Government, someone independent, and who is appointed for this purpose in consultation with the other political parties in Singapore so that he may, after listening to the organisation itself or other political parties as to what they think, then decide whether the organisation is a political association for the purposes of this Bill. That is important if we are going to encourage the setting up of NGOs in Singapore for the good of the people. NGOs exist in almost every other country. But they are a rare commodity in Singapore. And from what I can see of the UK Bill, which is before Parliament, it does not prohibit NGOs from receiving funds from overseas. It is common knowledge that a number of the NGOs in the United Kingdom have links with other NGOs overseas and they get funds. So what is the objection to allowing organisations which have got nothing to do with promoting any particular policy in Singapore from functioning in Singapore for the good of the people and receiving money, if necessary, from like-minded organisations outside Singapore? For example, if we have a human rights organisation, I would love to see one here, what is wrong with the human rights organisation in other countries saying, "Well, we got to help you to carry out your work. We will give you some money." What is wrong with that? The other clause on the same theme is the appointment of the Registrar. This is provided in clause 7 which reads, "The Minister may, by notification in the Gazette, appoint a public officer to be the Registrar of Political Donations for the
purposes of this Act, and such number of Assistant Registrars of Political Donations as he considers necessary." By clause 29 of this Bill, the Registrar is given sweeping powers. By clause 29, the Registrar may call upon any person to produce, for his inspection, any books, documents or other records relating to the income and expenditure of the political association as the Registrar may reasonably require. He may also call upon them to furnish him or any person authorised by him with all information, explanation relating to the income and expenditure of any political association. And by sub-clause (3) of this clause, he is empowered to enter any premises occupied by the political association at any reasonable time, even if he is not required to give notice, and to inspect any books, documents or other records relating to the income and expenditure of the political association. The Chairman: Order. Your time is up. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, may I make a few points on a particular clause? The Chairman: Yes. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, I am referring to clause 21 of the Bill. This clause requires multiple small donations to political associations to be reported to the Registrar. It seems to me that even if these people are permissible donors and if they donate more than $10,000 a year, in aggregate, the donor has to report to the Registrar and give all the necessary details. May I know what is the rationale of this clause in the Bill? And does this clause violate the rights of Singaporeans in making donations? Is it not a discrimination against making donations to political parties? You can donate whatever amount you want to the National Kidney Foundation, or anywhere. But why is it that when you are making multiple small donations to political associations, you are required under the Bill to report to the Registrar and the punishment for failing to report is quite hefty? Why is it so? What is the rationale?
Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, Mr Jeyaretnam was not listening when I was explaining the meaning of "political associations", and what would be covered and under what circumstances would the Minister make a declaration or gazette that they would be political associations. I have explained in great detail the circumstances, and I gave an example. On his question about AWARE, I gave an example in fact and said that if AWARE depends on the money to help the battered wives or children in the Family Service Centre, for example, so be it, if it is not campaigning for a particular cause to change the law or the Government, and therefore they can accept such foreign donations. If any other organisation, say, an NGO, wants to receive money from like-minded people or organisation overseas, and that purpose is to influence the political issues in Singapore, then it says that these are impermissible sources if such organisations, or NGOs, are gazetted as a political association. Right now, I have no intention to gazette any organisation. But if he says his OSC is going to get money from like-minded organisations overseas to support his political cause, then I will have to take a look at it. Mr Jeyaretnam: May I ask by way of clarification? The Chairman: Mr Wong, are you giving way? Mr Wong Kan Seng: Go ahead.
Mr Jeyaretnam: Why does the Minister consider the promotion of greater democracy, accountability and transparency to be something undesirable for Singapore when it has got nothing to do with promoting any particular legislation or policy for this country? Mr Wong Kan Seng: Nowhere have I said in my speech just now that the promotion of democracy or political protest in Singapore by Singaporean is undesirable. Nowhere have I said that. But if a particular organisation is going to stretch its hands out and ask for a donation from a so-called "like-minded organisation" overseas to support his cause, I would think we should, and every
Singaporean should, examine the motive as to why that organisation wants to give the money. The political process in Singapore is for Singaporeans to decide. It is not for foreigners to come here and help us champion our cause. If he has reasons to receive foreign money, then he should also have the motive questioned. Right now, there is no question that I am going to gazette any organisation. But if there is cause to do so, then we would do it. Mr Jeyaretnam talks about the powers of the Registrar. The powers are there just in case the Registrar is obstructed from doing his work in examining the books, he would have to go into the premises to examine the books. If such books or accounts are not made available, then he must find ways to get access to such records and there is no reason for anybody to fear. If that organisation has not done anything wrong, then that organisation should have no fear. There is a Chinese saying that says, "if he has not done anything harmful, then even a knock on the door in the middle of the night should not frighten him". But in Singapore, it is such a small place. If we do not want people to do it, do not do it because one day, he will be found out. There is also another Chinese saying, "ruo yao ren bu zhi, chu fei ji mo wei" which means if we do not want people to know, do not do it. If he thinks he has done something wrong, then he will have to account for it. Mr Jeyaretnam: Can I seek a clarification? Mr Wong Kan Seng: I think he has enough of the time. Let me finish answering Mr Low Thia Khiang. Mr Low asked why we want to have reports on donors who make multiple donations that amount to $10,000. I thought I have explained that in my statement. If an individual donates less than $10,000, there is no need for the donor to write to the Registrar to declare. If that donor donates $10,000, there is also no need for him to declare because the political association or party would have declared. But if he donates multiple sums
aggregating $10,000, then we want him to declare because that is a counter evasion measure that the Registrar would want to know to keep track of non-reporting by political associations. So, it is just a purpose of counter checking. Mr Jeyaretnam: May I have your permission to clarify my objection to clause 29 in the Bill? The Chairman: Yes, what do you wish to clarify? Mr Jeyaretnam: It is simply this. Should not that power also be given to an independent person and not
to a public official? Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, on a point of order. I would like to point out that Mr Jeyaretnam was given more than adequate time to speak up on the clauses. He has made full use of his time and, in fact, Mr Chairman, you have just ruled that he had exceeded his time and he was told to sit down, but he is using this device to seek clarification. Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, may I have further clarification from the Minister on clause 21? The Minister says that it might be a disguise because you might make multiple donations. But what is wrong with a permissible donor making donations amounting to more than $10,000 to individual organisations? Why should you put the onus on the permissible donor to report to the Registrar? What is the rationale for doing that? Mr Wong Kan Seng: There is nothing wrong for that individual to make multiple donations amounting to $10,000. But if he gives it to one organisation and that organisation would not be able in any way to report it, the donor should report it too as a counter evasion measure. But if he makes small multiple donations that amount to $10,000 to different organisations, then it does not amount to more than $10,000 for each of the organisations and, therefore, he does not need to make a declaration to the Registrar.
Clauses 1 to 37 inclusive ordered to stand part of the Bill. The Schedule The Chairman: The Minister has given notice of two amendments to the Schedule. The notice of amendments is notified in the Order Paper Supplement circulated today. As inadequate notice has been given of these amendments, it is subject to the assent of the majority of Members present. Is it the pleasure of hon. Members that the amendments be moved? Hon. Members indicated assent. Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, I beg to move, In page 33, line 19, to delete the word "case" and to insert "cash". This is a correction of a typographical error. Amendment agreed to. Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sir, I beg to move, In page 34, line 3, to delete the word "section 21(1)" and to insert "section 20(1)". This is also a correction of a typographical error. Amendment agreed to.
The Schedule, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill. Bill reported with amendments, read a Third time and passed.