Parliament: Governance standards for charities, co-ops to be strengthened

Members of the public gather at the event plaza for a warm up before the Community Chest Heartstrings Walk at the Marina Bay Sands on Sept 12, 2017.
Members of the public gather at the event plaza for a warm up before the Community Chest Heartstrings Walk at the Marina Bay Sands on Sept 12, 2017. PHOTO: MARINA BAY SANDS

SINGAPORE - The Government took the first step to strengthen governance standards for the charity sector and over 80 co-operative societies in Singapore with two new Bills presented in Parliament on Monday (Nov 6).

Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann presented the proposed changes to the Charities Act and the Co-operative Societies Act for the first reading. They will be debated at a future sitting.

Among the proposed amendments to the Charities Act is the move to increase the maximum period for the suspension of a charity's staff or board member to two years, up from one year.

This would give the Office of the Commissioner of Charities more time for inquiries and follow-ups that may take more than a year to complete, especially for complex cases.

Another amendment calls for fund-raising appeals to be suspended earlier instead of only after the investigation is completed, if there is reason to suspect that fund-raising activities were not properly conducted.

Members' funds will be better protected with changes to the Co-Operative Societies Act.

The Bill proposes to give the Registrar of Co-operative Societies powers to order special audits of co-ops and carry out enforcement action, including suspending co-op employees, if the Registrar deems it necessary to protect the interests of members.

The changes comes after a cheating case involving one of Singapore's oldest credit co-ops - the Singapore Statutory Boards Employees' Cooperative Thrift and Loan Society - which was reported in 2014.

A sum of $5.1 million went missing from the co-op and two employees were later charged with cheating and sentenced to jail.

The Registry had sought public feedback on the proposed amendments to the Co-operative Societies Act earlier this year. The Act was last changed in 2008.