Application to register private company rejected by ACRA on grounds that registration would be contrary to national interest

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) has rejected an application submitted by Singaporeans Mr  Thum Ping Tjin and Ms Kirsten Han to register a private company.

According to ACRA, on 8 February 2018, an application was made to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) to register a private company limited by shares under the name of “OSEA Pte Ltd”. Particulars of the office holders and purposes of the company were provided.

ACRA notified the applicant that the application was rejected on the grounds that the registration of OSEA Pte Ltd would be contrary to Singapore’s national interests.

The proposed activities of OSEA Pte Ltd include organising discussion fora, workshops, and other events in Singapore, such as “Democracy Classroom” sessions.

ACRA states that another of OSEA Pte Ltd’s objectives is to provide editorial services to a website named “New Naratif” (www.newnaratif.com), in which Thum and Han are also involved.

It pointed out that New Naratif has been publishing articles critical of politics in regional countries. For example, its articles have claimed that certain regional governments are using violence to maintain political control, had manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have “rigged” their electoral systems.

"The purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature,"ACRA stressed.

OSEA Pte Ltd was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd (OSEA UK), a UK-registered company. One of OSEA UK’s stated objects is to “promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information and expression”. Currently, OSEA UK owns and manages the New Naratif website.

ACRA noted that OSEA UK has received a grant of USD$75,000 (S$98,000) from Foundation Open Societies Institute (FOSI), Switzerland. It further notedthat FOSI is a Swiss charitable foundation closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF). OSF, founded and led by George Soros. ACRA alleges that the foundation was expressly established to pursue a political agenda the world over, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries.

Similarly, it noted that OSF has reportedly funded organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Last year, Human Rights Watch published a report advocating changes to laws and the political system in Singapore.

"What happens in other jurisdictions is not the concern of the Singapore Government," ACRA stressed, adding that OSF and FOSI, and other foreign philanthropies and groups, can fund whatever causes they like elsewhere. In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics.

"The registration of OSEA Pte Ltd would therefore be contrary to Singapore’s national interests. Singapore’s politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine. We should not allow foreigners to interfere in how we should govern our country. Nor should we allow any group of Singaporeans to lend themselves to being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore," ACRA stated.

OBSERVATORY SOUTHEAST ASIA (OSEA UK)

OSEA UK is registered in Britain and was incorporated on April 28 2017.

Historian Thum Ping Tjin and British researcher Philip Kreager, who are are trustees of Oxford University's Project Southeast Asia research project, are listed as its directors and shareholders on the British government's company registry.

Dr Thum appeared during the Select Committee hearings on deliberate online falsehoods and was questioned by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam for six hours over his account of Operation Coldstore in 1963, when more than 100 leftist unionists and politicians were arrested.

Dr Thum stated in his submission to the committee that the Government had been the main source of falsehoods in Singapore, adding that there was no evidence that the detainees were involved in any violent communist conspiracy to overthrow it. The research fellow at Oxford University is also one of the three founders of the New Naratif website, which was founded last year and publishes articles on South-east Asia.

The other two are freelance journalist Kirsten Han and cartoonist Sonny Liew.