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Singapore Party (PSP) Chairman Tan Cheng Bock expressed concern today (September 25) at the urgency with which the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Bill is passed by Parliament.
Speaking to Singaporeans in a five-and-a-half-minute YouTube video, Tan said the bill’s second reading, which is scheduled for October 4, “should not take place until a full review of the bill is completed. law will not have been carried out “.
Tan also questioned the discourse of the legislation:
“What is the rush for such a long bill to be presented to Parliament and passed as law in 3 weeks?”
The bill was first introduced by the Home Office (MHA) on September 13.
If passed, it would give the Home Secretary the power to investigate and counter hostile information campaigns, issuing guidelines to various entities such as social media services or people who own or manage websites, blogs or social media pages.
The legislation also aims to create greater transparency in political donations.
PSP: “We fully support non-interference”
Despite Tan’s apprehension of the bill, he stressed that PSP fully supports non-interference in Singapore’s internal affairs.
He added: “[Non-interference] is the basis of international peace and cooperation between countries. […] And protecting ourselves from undue foreign interference is prudent. “
However, Tan said that although the title of the bill makes the law “reasonable,” the bill “has more than its title suggests.”
Bill has “much more power and leeway to prosecute” than POFMA
Tan pointed out that the bill is broad in that it covers many definitions of “politically significant persons or entities”, as well as various rules governing political donations, requirements for operating online sites and guidelines. that affect various stakeholders.
He finds the bill “important” because it gives wide powers to ministers in their execution of the bill.
If passed, the legislation would only give the Home Secretary the power to remove content deemed to be part of a hostile information campaign
Tan expressed concern about potential abuse of power:
“Such power can lead to abuse, especially when many areas are loosely defined and decisions are left to the discretion of ministers who might simply act on the basis of suspicion.”
He added that the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Bill will give the government “much more power and leeway to prosecute than the POFMA Bill.”
The Protection Against Falsehood and Online Manipulation Act (POFMA) was passed by parliament in 2019 and gives ministers the power to issue a remedial directive on false statements of fact contrary to the public interest.
Not enough time to study the impact and implications of the bill
Tan said the urgency with which the bill is passed is “troubling,” given that there are “much more pressing issues” like the current pandemic the country should focus on instead. .
Noting that the second and third readings of bills often take place on the same day, Tan pointed out that the bill has only been considered in parliament for three weeks since it was first introduced on September 13.
A bill is generally voted on the same day as the second and third readings in Parliament.
He added: “There is simply not enough time for all MPs (Members of Parliament) to thoroughly study and understand the impact and implications of the bill to meaningfully participate in solid deliberations “.
Asked if the bill had other purposes
Tan stressed that such a bill, which will impact “all political parties and citizens” who share their views in the public domain, should require public consultation and further consideration by a select committee before. that the bill is presented to parliament.
He compared the government’s treatment of the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Bill to that of the POFMA, which is “a much shorter piece of legislation,” but which has been the subject of a review process. public consultation and review by a select committee.
“This bill can certainly not be less ambitious than POFMA”, he added.
Tan then asked if the intentions of the bill were genuine:
“Is it really to prevent foreign interference? Or is it a way to stifle free speech, alternative opinions and political discourse in the name of foreign interference.”
Tan said it would be “irresponsible” for the government to pass the bill within weeks without “a full public hearing.”
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Best photos via PSP website and K Shanmugam / Facebook