'Singapore entity' rule (dubbed Pink Dot amendment) imposed on use of Speakers' Corner

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Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today imposed additional rules for the use of Speakers’ Corner. A key amendment to existing rules is the one which applies to non-Singapore entities.

In a press release, MHA said that the existing exemptions for Singapore citizens will now be extended to Singapore entities subject to the conditions in the Public Order Act. Singapore entities, such as local companies and non-governmental organisations, can organise or assist in the organising of an event, e.g. by sponsoring, publicly promoting the event or organising its members or employees to participate in the event, without the need for a permit.

Non-Singapore entities will need a permit if they want to engage in such activities relating to a Speakers’ Corner event. The Ministry specified a Singapore entity as such:

“A “Singapore entity” includes entities which are incorporated or registered in Singapore and controlled by a majority of Singapore citizens. For example, in the case of a company, it must be incorporated under the Companies Act in Singapore, the majority of its directors must be Singapore citizens and the majority of its ownership must be held by Singapore citizens or one or more Singapore entities.”

The conditions applicable to public speaking at the Speakers’ Corner will be extended to include speaking through remote means, e.g. via tele-conferencing or pre-recorded messages. Events with Singapore citizens engaging in public speaking through such means will continue to be exempted from the need to apply for permits. The revisions will come into effect on 1 November 2016.

The review was prompted after the Pink Dot 2016 event organised at the Speakers’ Corner. Pink Dot is an annual event which is held in support of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore. Pink Dot celebrates inclusiveness, diversity and the freedom to love. In the past years, several multi-national companies have supported Pink Dot – the equivalence of a gay-pride parade here in Singapore.

The 2016 Pink Dot was sponsored by MNCs like Google, Barclay, J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, Microsoft, NBCUniversal, and Visa. The news agency Bloomberg also released a video fronted by its founder Michael Bloomberg supporting the event.

An online petition was started in early June calling for the Government to intervene in such foreign interference in local politics. The petition seem to be fronted by the Facebook group ‘Say No to Foreign Intervention in Singapore Politics’.

In one of their posts in their Facebook, the group had referred to an opinion piece, ‘Getting to the future with Honour’, written by Lim Siong Guan and Joanne H. Lim. In the article, the writers had suggested that the Age of Decadence is marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state and weakening of religion.”

Mr Lim is the current Group President of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), and is also the Chairman of Honour (Singapore) (HS). HS has in the past drawn flak online for its Christian Board members.

Despite the fact that all the members of HS’s board are also senior members of the Full Gospel Business Singapore (a group that believes in bringing the Christian teachings to the “marketplace” and all levels of society), Mr Lim had in the past denied that his organisation had Christian inclinations. He also downplayed the fact that HS and Full Gospel Business Singapore shared the same office.  In April 2016, blogger Alex Au also pointed out that $50,000 in ‘Administrative support fees’ was paid to FGB Gatekeepers Singapore by HS.

It is however uncertain and unclear if HS or FGB Gatekeepers Singapore have anything to do with the online petition against foreign interference in local politics.

In response to media queries if foreign companies can provide sponsorships for Pink Dot, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a press release in June 2016 that the “Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example.”

MHA explained that “this is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like the Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organise or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”

MHA said that it will “take steps to make it clear that foreign entities should not fund, support or influence such events held at the Speakers’ Corner.”

“In the context of LGBT issues, this will apply both to events that advocate the LGBT cause such as the Pink Dot, as well as events whose purpose is to oppose the LGBT cause,” it added.