Honour in Singapore – Strong government endorsement warranted?

Honour in Singapore” is a mini series by TOC following the recent formation of the Honour (Singapore) non-profit organisation, made up of distinguished individuals closely related to the government and a far-right Christian group. The series will explore some of their profiles, and bring to light what the group meant by “promoting a culture of honour and honouring” in Singapore.

By Ghui and Howard Lee

In previous articles, we have outlined the role that each member of the newly formed Honour (Singapore) non-profit organisation would likely play in the group’s aim to “promote a culture of honour and honouring across the nation”.

This interplay of relationships between all the key members who serve on the board of Honour (Singapore) shows the close connections between each of them, particularly their highly public religions connections. Given their religious backgrounds and their wide spheres of public and commercial influence, it is worth questioning how and why Honour Singapore received its IPC status and why the government has endorsed this organisation, bearing in mind that Singapore has always professed itself to be a secular state.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin
Tan Chuan-Jin

Indeed, it is worth noting that, besides its open support for Honour (Singapore), our Cabinet Ministers have also openly supported Focus on the Family. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin have separately supported Focus on the Family in their events.

The executive director of Honour (Singapore), Jason Wong, is also the chairman of Focus on the Family. With Honour (Singapore), are we likely to see more of such instances where government endorsement becomes the norm?

Honour and trust, as matters of alignment

There is every indication that this would be so. The official launch of Honour (Singapore) saw the Education Minister deliver a glowing endorsement of the NPO, with nary a word on specifically which aspect of Honour (Singapore) was deserving of his endorsement, apart from the link that the government and the new NPO shared the same broad goals of “honouring our pioneers”, “honouring our word” and “honouring one another.”

Nevertheless, as parents might wish to be aware, Heng has drawn distinct parallels between this concept of “honour” and a key component of MOE’s curriculum – the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) programme. Is MOE considering relinquishing the operational aspect of CCE to Honour (Singapore), as it did with various programmes to Focus on the Family?

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat
Heng Swee Keat

More to the point, what might the government be striving for in drawing these parallels? Again, a previous article has identified a convergence of narratives between Heng’s speech at Honour (Singapore)’s launch and the government’s push for a “national consensus”.

If the government’s intention is to endorse and use Honour (Singapore) to champion some of its own popular narratives, then it minimally needs to be aware that Honour (Singapore) has strong affiliations, through all of its board members, to the non-secular group Full Gospel Business Singapore, or the Gatekeepers.

Indirect support – enabling donation?

On a much broader level, we might also detect the government’s endorsement of Honour (Singapore), through the NPO’s funding mechanism. Honour (Singapore) is registered as an Institution of Public Character (IPC), which grants any donation to the organisation 250% in tax deductions. According to the Charities Portal:

“Under the Charities (Institutions of a Public Character) Regulations, the activities of an IPC must be beneficial to the community in Singapore as a whole, and not confined to sectional interests or group of persons based on race, creed, belief or religion, unless otherwise approved by the Minister. These activities must meet the IPC’s objectives under its governing instruments and the objectives of its Sector Administrator.” [emphasis added]

In the step-by-step guide for application of IPC status, some of the information that an organisation needs to submit includes its past and planned activities. Given that Honour (Singapore) have no past activities and its planned activities have not been made known publicly, did their approval of IPC status require Ministerial approval?

In the absence of clear action plans in the promotion of honour, why has the government granted it its support? With the show of support from the Singapore government, to what extent will Honour (Singapore) have “influence power” in government policy? Has the government thought through the social implications of supporting an organisation that is intricately connected to Christian-led groups through all the members of its governing board?

We also need to remember that these connections were conveniently left out, and now dismissed, when the formation of Honour (Singapore) was announced, to give the impression that it is one that represents Singapore as a whole. Was it necessary for Honour (Singapore) to do so?

Given that such endorsements have already been made fact, it might now be time to think about the appropriate conduct for board members of state-endorsed organisations. Should board members of such state endorsed organisations be serving in leadership roles in organisations that may go against the secularism of Singapore which may offend other religions with their evangelism? Or are we happy to take the risk that they can keep their relationships separate when they have thus far indicated no inclination to do so?

Top image – Honour (Singapore) website. In-text images – Singapore Cabinet website.

The “Honour in Singapore” series includes:

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