New Naratif rejects accusations that it is used by foreigners to pursue politics in Singapore

The website New Naratif has issued a statement rejecting claims that it is a vehicle for foreigners to meddle in politics here.
The website New Naratif has issued a statement rejecting claims that it is a vehicle for foreigners to meddle in politics here. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM NEWNARATIF.COM

SINGAPORE - The website New Naratif has issued a statement dismissing claims that it is being used by foreigners to meddle in Singapore.

"Any notion that we are, as Acra (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) alleges, 'being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore' is unfounded," the website said on Thursday (April 12).

The statement comes a day after Acra said it had refused to register a company - OSEA Pte Ltd - set up to provide editorial services to New Naratif, which is run by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

Acra said allowing the registration would be contrary to Singapore's national interests, noting that the purposes of the company "are clearly political in nature" and that it has links to foreign funding.

OSEA was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of a British-registered company called Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK), which had received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from a Swiss charitable entity, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said Acra.

FOSI is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), which is founded and led by American billionaire investor George Soros. OSF also has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of a number of sovereign countries, it added.

On Thursday, New Naratif acknowledged that it was a recipient of a grant from FOSI, which it said was a "prestigious international funding body".

 

However, it added that FOSI and OSF "do not have any involvement or input in New Naratif's editorial decisions or the day-to-day running of our start-up".

"FOSI awarded the financing to New Naratif on the basis of our project concept and the grant does not impose any conditions beyond goals that we defined ourselves," the website added.

In the statement, New Naratif described itself as "a platform for Southeast Asian journalism, research, art and community-building", adding that it stands for openness, transparency and engagement.

When asked by Acra to provide more information about OSEA and OSEA UK, "we answered their questions in good faith" and volunteered information about the FOSI grant, the website said.

It added that it is substantially supported by revenue from members, who subscribe at levels between US$52 and US$552 per year. It has over 420 members from 17 countries, and has also received numerous donations from individuals, it added.

"As part of our emphasis on transparency, we are committed to regular financial reporting and will share how funds from members, donors, and grants have been spent."

"This includes payment made to editors, writers, illustrators, photographers, and other contributors, as well as the costs of website development, maintenance, venue rentals, and any other forms of expenditure."

It added: "We hold monthly open meetings, which members and non-members alike are free to attend, provide feedback and ask questions about New Naratif's operations."

In Acra's statement on Wednesday, the statutory board overseeing company registrations provided examples that gave it cause to be concerned about OSF.

In Ireland, OSF reportedly provided funding to organisations opposed to the Catholic Church's position in an upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, Acra noted.

OSF has also given funding to non-governmental organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. "Last year, Human Rights Watch published a report advocating changes to laws and the political system in Singapore," Acra said.

Acra added: "OSF and FOSI, and other foreign philanthropies and groups, can fund whatever causes they like elsewhere. In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics."

The application by OSEA to register as a company was rejected under Section 27(12A) of the Companies Act, said Acra.

This section states that an application can be rejected if the company is likely to be used for an unlawful purpose or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore, or if it would be contrary to the national security or interest for the company to be registered.

Rejected applicants have 30 days to file an appeal.