Parliament passes foreign interference bill after 10 hours of debate

Following calls by Mr. Leong of the PSP to refer the bill to a select committee under rule 68, Parliament Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin clarified after the second reading of the debate that the article in the Regulation did not apply in this case.

Under Rule 68 of the Rules of Procedure, the Speaker of Parliament may refer a bill to a select committee if he is of the opinion that it is a hybrid bill or that infringes rights. and individual interests.

“The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill currently before the House applies to the general public and does not specifically apply to an individual, so it is not a hybrid bill, and Rule 68 does not apply, I do not have this power as you would like to grant me, ”said Mr. Tan.

Twenty-one Members spoke during the debate. WP MPs also proposed several amendments to the bill, as well as suggestions and clarifications by PAP MPs.

WP’s suggestion to include members of the central executive committee or the equivalent of any registered political party among politically significant persons as defined in the bill was accepted, as was its proposal to make certain information public, such as that who is designated as a politically important person and stepped up the countermeasures taken under the bill.

“We will make all designations public, step up countermeasures against politically important people, transparency guidelines and hostile information guidelines,” Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

However, the technical assistance needs will not be made public so as not to “warn” hostile actors of ongoing investigations, he added.

The names of citizens involved in foreign political and legislative organizations will also not be disclosed at this time as they are not politically important people, Shanmugam said. An amendment on this could take place in the future, he said.


In his closing speech, Shanmugam refuted key concerns, including the timing of the bill and continuing public consultation to review the new law.

During the debate, several deputies wondered about the timing of the bill, tabled less than a month ago.

Mr Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) said there were concerns about the interval between first and second reading of the bill, with some believing the interval to be too short.

PSP‘s Mr Leong said: “It is difficult to understand why the government is trying to rush this bill through and why debate on this bill cannot be postponed for three to six months to allow for a appropriate review and consultation, involving a wide range of stakeholders. “

In response, Shanmugam said the issue had been discussed “extensively” for more than three years. He also added that a select committee had also heard extensive testimony on the matter in 2018.


Addressing the WP’s proposed amendments to the bill in his closing speech, Mr. Shanmugam reiterated why the WP’s suggestion to have High Court proceedings or an open court process would not work.

“The judicial process will not be appropriate in cases where we rely heavily on sensitive intelligence collaboration with foreign counterparts, many things cannot be disclosed publicly,” Shanmugam said.

“The courts themselves have recognized their limitations in such cases,” he added, referring to the case of Chng Suan Tze where the Court of Appeal recognized that when a decision was based on concerns of national security, judicial review of this decision will be excluded.

“The Court recognized that what national security demands should be left to national security officials,” he said, adding that in such situations other ways have been found to provide for brakes. and checks and balances to maintain accountability.

Mr Shanmugam agreed with PM leader and opposition leader Pritam Singh on the importance of education on foreign interference and its dangers.

“I agree and explained that FICA is part of an overall strategy to deal with foreign interference. Powers under FICA are only part of the picture and I said that this is a piece of legislation calibrated to allow us to act surgically against threats, “he said.

In addition to legislation, Shanmugam said the government will continue to strengthen other means of defense, detection and response, as well as the ability of Singaporeans to discern between legitimate and artificial online speech, in order to counter the threat of foreign interference.


Responding to Mr Shanmugam’s remarks, Mr Singh quoted a speech made by then-Second Home Minister Joséphine Teo during the supply committee debates earlier this year.

In her speech, she said Singapore should consider further measures to guard against foreign subversion, and “the public must play an important role there in formulating proposals and giving guarantees for stronger support,” said Mr. Singh.

“There does not appear to be an answer as to why the bill could not be submitted for public consultation, as other bills are,” he added.

“This is an omission for which I don’t think we’ve heard an answer yet.”

The PM “also does not understand at the grassroots level” why judicial review should be limited in this case, Singh said.

The opposition leader noted the points made by Mr Shanmugam about national security, pointing out that WP MPs have proposed cameraless hearings and that the files be sealed after that.

“I don’t want to just give a facetious counter-answer, but there could also be leaks in review tribunals,” he added.

“I think if you were to ask me the bottom line, should a court at least … review the minister’s decision? Should the judicial review be allowed to be seized in its entirety by a court? I think the answer is ‘Yes’ .”

Responding to Singh’s clarification, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Home Affairs reiterated that the government has engaged in extensive public consultations on the issue over the past three years.

The public, mainly experts, have also been involved in the “thinking” of the bill, Shanmugam said.

“In fact, we have taken into account the perspectives given to us by a wide variety of actors. But if we are talking about the whole of society, this is not the end. It is the beginning. “, he added.

“We will be facing a major attack at some point, we have to bring all of society together, we have to do a lot more to bring in and shape public thinking, so there is a long way ahead and the public has to be involved there – inside.”

Addressing Mr Singh’s second clarification, Mr Shanmugam said that many post-colonial countries have inherited their systems from the British – a civil service, a judiciary, an education system and the Singapore government has implemented place the judicial system.

“If we do not commit to the rule of law, do you think our justice system will be classified as it is today internationally?

Singapore’s institutions were built with the foundations of “building order first”, and ensuring that the law and commitment to the rule of law “exist”, but with exceptions. if necessary, said Shanmugam.

“Let’s get out of this colonization of our minds. Let’s look at what works, what is fundamental. The checks and balances are important. But what’s wrong with the checks and balances we’ve built here?

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