Parliament to debate proposed law to counter foreign interference

Proceedings will kick off with a petition seeking greater scrutiny of the draft law. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A proposed law to counter foreign interference will be debated when Parliament sits on Monday (Oct 4).

According to the agenda issued by the Clerk of Parliament, proceedings will kick off with a petition seeking greater scrutiny of the draft law, submitted on behalf of civil society organisations by the Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

The petition seeks to delay passage of the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, and calls for a select committee to be set up to further study it.

Fica targets foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and local proxies.

It grants the Minister for Home Affairs powers to issue directions compelling Internet platforms to block accounts, and to require politically significant people to declare foreign affiliations, among others.

Since it was tabled on Sept 13, the draft law has sparked debate and raised several concerns, some of which were outlined by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal in a Sept 28 piece in The Straits Times.

Mr Singh had written that "the extremely broad language of the Bill risks capturing perfectly legitimate collaborative activity undertaken by Singapore citizens and local non-governmental organisations to influence and improve our laws and public policies".

In response, Mr Sam Tee, senior director of the joint operations group at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), wrote to the ST Forum page, saying Mr Singh's assertions were "quite inaccurate", and his concerns arise from "a basic misunderstanding" of the Bill.

"The Bill does not apply to Singaporeans discussing issues, or advocating on any matter, regardless of what the Government or anyone else thinks about that,"he said in the letter published on Saturday (Oct 2).

"The Bill will also not cover the vast array of collaborations between Singaporeans and foreigners, on many matters. However, if a Singaporean acts on behalf of a foreign principal, and if such actions are contrary to public interest, then directions can be issued to such a person."

Mr Tee said the philosophy underpinning the Bill was a longstanding one - to prevent foreign subversion of Singapore and its society.

On Mr Singh's concerns that the Bill restricts the role of the courts to review some actions, Mr Tee said: "Such provisions are not new, and exist in several pieces of legislation. The matters to be considered in the issuance of directions, including information obtained through intelligence, may often have to be kept highly confidential."

The opposition Workers' Party on Wednesday also stated its disagreement with the form of the Bill and tabled several proposed amendments, citing aims of lowering the likelihood of abuse of power and achieving greater transparency, among others.

MHA said these proposals would be discussed during the debate.

MPs also filed questions on Singapore's handling of the Covid-19 situation.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) asked if current measures and systems could support Singapore moving towards endemicity, while Dr Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC) and Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked for data on the home recovery scheme and quarantine orders.

Questions around hospital resources in the wake of climbing infections were also filed by Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC).

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked about the impact of home-based learning, and Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah wanted to know about the education ministry's plans in view of the importance of students' mental wellness and development.

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