‘Puzzled’ that foreign interference bill was pondered for months without public consultation: Pritam Singh – Mothership.SG
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Opposition Leader Pritam Singh spoke a few choice words during the debate on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (FICA) on Monday, October 4.
During his speech in parliament, the Workers Party (WP) member said it was “totally incongruous” that the government did not seek public comment on the controversial bill, while acknowledging that the Singaporean public today wants more checks and balances.
He also said he was “puzzled” how the government chose not to undertake a public consultation before the bill’s first reading, given that it had many months to think about it.
He also presented a list of proposed amendments tabled by WP members to the bill, aimed at improving the accountability, fairness, transparency and efficiency of the bill.
No public consultation on the bill
Singh said the government should have solicited public comments on the bill, noting that there has been “considerable concern” over the speed at which the bill has been introduced to parliament.
He said that in March 2021, Vice President Christopher De Souza asked what the Home Office (MHA) would do to deter foreign interference in Singapore’s internal affairs.
In response to this, then-Second Home Minister Joséphine Teo said legislative levers might be needed and stressed the need to consider additional measures to guard against foreign subversion of politically important individuals and entities.
According to Singh, Teo also said that the public had an important role to play in shaping the proposals, and Singh stressed that this had not materialized because the government had not held any public consultation on the draft. law in the six months between Teo’s statement. and the first reading in Parliament on September 13.
“This omission contradicts the official position of the Second Home Secretary, who was to rely on the public to shape the bill, which must surely include its guarantees,” Singh said.
He went on to say that while most Singaporeans would have easily supported the Foreign Influence Bill if they were consulted, most would also be in favor of Singapore courts acting as a check to ensure that executive power is exercised legally, appropriately and fairly.
WP wants a different appeal mechanism for FICA
Singh said the PM’s starting position is that the threat of foreign interference is “neither a figment of the imagination, nor can it be ruled out,” and that the government can demand “potentially intrusive” powers to intervene in the appropriate case. .
However, he also said that with exceptional executive power comes a need for strict oversight, and that powers this broad and broadly defined require the legislation of equally robust oversight mechanisms to prevent potential abuse of power. .
In particular, Singh challenged the appeal options of the FICA Bill, which allows FICA guidelines to be appealed to a review tribunal, whose decisions are final and cannot be challenged in court.
Singh said the PM rejects such an appeal mechanism and proposes an amendment that will allow an appeal to the Home Secretary and then to the High Court with full judicial review, which Singh said would introduce more transparency .
He also suggested that in cases where national security is threatened, there could be a provision for a private hearing.
Lack of non-legislative measures to counter foreign interference
According to Singh, there is also a lack of non-legislative measures to deal with foreign interference, such as educating the public to resist malicious information efforts.
He referred to a political report released by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in April 2021, which stated that raising awareness of information manipulation in government and the public is crucial in combating foreign interference.
For example, foreign campaigns to influence public opinion during the 2017 presidential campaign in France failed, as the French government had raised public awareness of information manipulation and blunted disinformation efforts by focusing the public attention to the perpetrators.
Singh said the government was “arguably unclear” on how Singaporeans should deal with foreign interference without resorting to legislation. He added that the government should work with the public in a much more participatory manner, to strengthen the resolve of the people of Singapore against foreign interference.
“The apparent lack of integration of legislative and non-legislative measures to combat foreign interference is in my opinion a critical omission in our public discourse on this subject,” Singh said.
If the PAP was not in power, will the deputies want the amendments in place?
Singh concluded his speech by stressing the importance of public comment on the bill and warned the government not to “close the door” to a select committee, which can gather public comment and examine oversight mechanisms. , among others.
He said he was “puzzled” that the government had been thinking about introducing the bill for many months, but had not undertaken any public consultation before it was tabled for its first reading in parliament. .
Singh called on his fellow MPs to consider the PM’s proposed amendments and posed an interesting final question to everyone in Parliament.
“I call on the members of this Assembly to seriously consider the proposed amendments and ask you if you would like these amendments to be put in place if the PAP (Popular Action Party) was not in power. The amendments are in the best interests of Singaporeans and Singaporeans, regardless of who is in charge, now or in the future. “
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Top image via MCI / YouTube.