Parliament: Commissioner of Charities gets more powers over online fund-raisers, charities

Fund-raisers will be subject to basic regulatory requirements, such as the duty to provide clear and accurate information to donors as well as to manage and use donation funds responsibly.
Fund-raisers will be subject to basic regulatory requirements, such as the duty to provide clear and accurate information to donors as well as to manage and use donation funds responsibly.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Amid the growing reach of online fund-raisers and a growing charity sector, governance standards for the charity sector will be strengthened under a new law passed by Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 9).

Fuelling the move are online appeals like the recent case of parents of a baby, born with only part of a oesophagus, raising $1.2 million to help her get specialist surgery in the United States.

Citing the case, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: "It is heartening to see Singaporeans responding generously to these appeals.

"However, the reach and scale of these online appeals highlight the need for a regulatory regime that promotes transparency and accountability so as to maintain a high level of trust and integrity, including in the online giving environment."

With the new Charities Act, the definition of "fund-raising appeal" is changed to reflect the current policy that all fund-raising appeals for charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purposes, whether big or small, online or offline, are subject to regulation.

Fund-raisers will be subject to basic regulatory requirements, such as the duty to provide clear and accurate information to donors as well as to manage and use donation funds responsibly, said Ms Fu during the Second Reading of the Bill for debate.

Charities must also file annual reports and financial statements via the Charity Portal, for people to access them online, under subsidiary legislation that will be introduced.

The regulatory powers of the Commissioner of Charities will also be enhanced.

For example, the commissioner will be empowered to suspend any fund-raising appeal if he has reason to suspect it is not properly done, for a maximum period of two years. 

The commissioner will also have more powers to ask for new information or documents, like monthly bank statements, which can come into the possession or under the control of the person in future.

This saves the commissioner time and effort in having to make separate requests for information each time new documents or information become available when investigating a charity.

There will also be new grounds of disqualification for leadership positions in charities.

Currently, those convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or deception are barred.

But the changes will also bar those convicted of an offence involving terrorism, terrorism financing or money laundering.

The Commissioner of Charities can also remove a disqualified person who refuses to resign from his position in a charity, and make a removal order if the person has resigned so that he will not be able to return to a key position in the charity.

The ministry had sought public feedback last year on the proposed changes to the Charities Act, which was last amended in 2010.