Clarity needed on 'interference by foreign entities'

The Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) recent statement on foreign sponsorship for Pink Dot is troubling, not least because of the lack of clarity in the line between "local" and "foreign" ("'Foreign entities should not fund Speakers' Corner events'"; last Wednesday).

It has long been clear that foreigners cannot organise or participate in Speakers' Corner demonstrations.

The new addition that "foreign entities" should not "fund, support or influence" events there presumably refers to the global corporate names on Pink Dot's sponsor list, such as Google, Barclays and Bloomberg.

Yet, Pink Dot's organisers point out that its sponsors are all registered and incorporated in Singapore.

What exactly counts as a "foreign entity" in a state that prides itself on being a global city? Singapore has, for decades, courted multinational corporations (MNCs), which, in 2014, committed $11.8 billion in fixed asset investments here, and account for a very significant proportion of employment opportunities.

Their local branches are not seeking to interfere in domestic issues. Rather, they sponsor Pink Dot because, as employers and corporations, they are committed to diversity and inclusiveness - values that the event celebrates.

This reflects global trends in how MNCs operate, which Singapore, a global city overwhelmingly dependent on international commerce, cannot and should not avoid or ignore.

The ministry also made a broader, more disturbing comment that "foreign entities" should not interfere in "political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones".

If it refers to party political matters such as elections, "political issues" is clear enough.

But what makes a social issue "controversial with political overtones" and what constitutes "interfering"?

Previously, Singapore had no explicit policy against workplace harassment. The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) advocated hard to change this.

We invited companies, especially MNCs, to showcase their policies, which we incorporated into our advocacy. Would this constitute interference in domestic issues?

Aware is also working on support and inclusion for single parents, a cause the Government has recently acknowledged by offering them equal maternity leave entitlements.

If a group objects to this and floods the Government with letters of complaint, would it become a "controversial" social issue? Would any support we might have from foreign entities thus be deemed "interference"?

We are troubled by these potential implications of MHA's statement, which is ambiguous, leaves too much open to possibly arbitrary interpretation, and seems to go much further than previous pronouncements.

Corinna Lim (Ms)

Executive Director

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Clarity needed on 'interference by foreign entities''. Print Edition | Subscribe