Debate on proposed law to counter foreign interference goes ahead after petition to delay it fails

There was substantial overlap between points raised in the petition by NMP Leong Mun Wai (left) and those raised by the WP, said Deputy Leader of the House Zaqy Mohamad. PHOTOS: MCI

SINGAPORE - A petition to seek further consultation and scrutiny on a proposed law against foreign interference will not delay the debate on the law, after Parliament voted to discuss both the petition and the law at the same time.

This was decided after Deputy Leader of the House Zaqy Mohamad said that the petition by Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai will be rendered nugatory, or futile, since Parliament was already set to debate the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or Fica on Monday (Oct 4).

At the start of the sitting, Mr Zaqy's proposal for both matters to be debated together was voted through, with MPs from the opposition Workers' Party and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) recording their dissent.

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.

Some segments of the public including lawyers, academics and civil society activists have criticised what they described as the proposed law's broad language and lack of judicial oversight.

Mr Leong had presented the petition on behalf of eight signatories including activists Rocky Howe and Terry Xu, and in support of a separate Change.org petition with similar demands, which has been endorsed by over 30 civil society organisations in Singapore, and attracted over 7,000 signatures as at Monday morning.

The petition calls for the passage of Fica into law to be delayed "pending greater and more extensive public consultation on the implementation, effects, and implications of the Bill for the general public".

It also proposes referring the Bill to a select committee for further "deliberation on the appropriateness and the necessity of the measures contained with the Bill, with adequate representation from a variety of stakeholders".

Petitions submitted by MPs to Parliament are referred to the Public Petitions Committee, which then submits a report back to the House.

But "by the time it goes to a Public Petitions Committee for consideration, and the Committee makes its recommendations to Parliament, today's second reading would have been completed, and the issue of the Bill would no longer be before this house", said Mr Zaqy.

Instead, he said, it would make more sense for the petition to be considered by Parliament during the debate on the second reading of the Bill.

"The matters in the petition are going to be addressed in the debate of the second reading of the Bill in any event," Mr Zaqy added.

He said there was substantial overlap between points raised in the petition and those raised by the WP, which had tabled several proposed amendments to the Bill aiming to lower the likelihood of abuse of power and achieve greater transparency, among other objectives.

"This means that those substantive points are going to be raised and debated during today's proceedings," Mr Zaqy said.

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