Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD) to de-register from Registrar of Society (ROS)

SFD Media Release

13 June 2012

SFD to de-register as ROS society

Members of Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD) approved a motion to dissolve the organization as a society registered with Registrar of Society during its Annual General Meeting on 28 April 2012.

SFD is currently completing the required documentation and will submit these shortly to ROS to finalize the dissolution. This will then effectively release SFD from its obligations as a political association.

SFD’s membership chose to dissolve the society to draw attention to two sets of rules that hinder its work as a political advocacy group in Singapore. One set of laws pertain to the registration and the day-to-day operation of SFD. These laws are found in the Societies Act, Political Donations Act and Broadcasting Act. The other set of laws pertain to the operation of SFD’s program of activities. The laws under which we have been denied permits or investigated include the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, Films Act, Penal Code, Public Order Act

The broad rationale for the dissolution is spelled out in the 2012 AGM report below.

To provide further details behind the dissolution, SFD has also commissioned a report to that will document its activities in the last two years and to explain how the various laws have hindered its advocacy work. The report entitled “Democracy and Civil Society in Singapore: The Politics of Control” is planned for release in August 2012.

In dissolving the society, SFD members as civil society activists will continue to contribute towards political advocacy by joining and strengthening other ongoing initiatives in Singapore but without the constrain of irrelevant laws.

Dr. James Gomez

 

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Singaporeans For Democracy

AGM Report 2012

Singaporeans For Democracy has been in legal existence under the Registrar of Societies for two years. In that time we have undertaken a range of activities which is a matter of public record. Details of the various activities can be found on our website http://sfd/sg. For some of the activities we wanted to organise we have been denied permits by licensing authorities and for others our members have been investigated by the Singapore Police Force for infringing certain laws when advocating for greater civil liberties.

This AGM report is to outline in broad strokes the reasons for SFD’s dissolution. Fundamental to SFD’s dissolution is legislations that encumber the day-to-day operations of the organisation in certain areas and restrict us from executing our programme of activities in a natural manner.

Firstly, we found that registering with Registrar of Societies did not increase civil liberty options for SFD or its members in anyway. Instead ROS registration actually placed specific obstacles via compulsory clauses we could not delete from our constitution which restricted what we can do. For instance ROS stipulated constitution disallowed SFD to participate as an entity in elections additionally it also prevented us from endorsing candidates and political parties in an election. Since we were already were gazetted as a political association and subject to the Political Donations Act, (the same as political parties) we don’t see the reason why we should be curtailed in this way.

Apart from these restrictions placed on us by ROS, from SFD’s experience in its two years of existence as an ROS registered society, the Singapore Police Force rules mandated that our members apply for licensing permits for certain public activities as individuals and not as an organisation. SFD members in the individual capacity were required to apply licences or investigated for alleged breach of licensing rules when organising public activities such as marches, screening films, selling merchandise, conducting closed door activities. Being registered with the ROS was not relevant, useful or even advantages when it came to licensing applications. We are of the opinion if licensing have to be applied in an individual’s name why the need to register an organisation in order to organise activities that require licences?

Further with the PMO gazetting SFD as a political association immediately after registration, SFD had to fulfil additional obligations under the Political Donations Act. Primarily to observe restrictions on both local and foreign funding as well to as file a donation declaration form and detail financial and tax returns. We were limited to raising funds largely via membership fees and donations from members or via appeals to participants during SFD events to defray costs. Even though our operating budget per year never exceeded $2000, we still had to lodge a series of audited financial documents with IRAS every year. We could not innovate as a social enterprise to because of constrains of the Political Donations Act.

Additionally, being gazetted as a political association also meant other legal obligations under the Broadcasting Act. Even though the SFD website only carried details of the organisations, announcements and news about our activities, we had to fill numerous forms about the details of the SFD website, its content and list of editors and submit these records in multiple forms to the Media Development Authority.

Again, we do not see the need to have another tier of administration to maintain a website. But by being gazetted as a political association, we were automatically subjected to further administrative obligations and control.

There are other additional legal and financial obligations that come with ROS registration, such as having 10 people to apply for registration approval (business can be registered by one individual), when approved, there is the cost of registration ($400) as well as other costs and time associated with holding AGMs, filing tax returns and maintaining an official mailing address.

Without registration, single individuals or a collection of people can still maintain and contribute to a website and organize public and private activities related to politics. Under current legislations if government authorities deemed a website as “political”, there is only gazetting and a legal obligation to record the website’s details and owners and to file a yearly Political Donation return.

As a result, there are also no real operational benefits of registering with ROS for Singaporeans wanting to advocate for political reform. Registration provides an organisation the ability to open a Society bank account and enter into legal contracts as an entity. These we found to be of no special value as a political association as such options can still be exercised via a business registration or as individuals. But more importantly as a small volunteer-based network of Singaporeans this offered no real advantage.

It because of the above reasons that the Board of Directors moved to include the motion on 28 April 2012 to dissolve Singaporeans For Democracy. By dissolving SFD, we primarily want to draw attention to the laws that hinder civil society development in Singapore. We will be recording our experience with these laws in detail via a commissioned a report. In dissolving SFD, we as civil society activists will continue to contribute to the advocacy of civil liberties by joining and strengthening other on-going initiatives in Singapore.

James Gomez

Executive Director

Singaporeans For Democracy

28 April 2012