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1. The Ministry of Home Affairs (“MHA”) is seeking feedback on proposed amendments to the Societies Act 1966 (“Societies Act”)
2. The Societies Act governs the registration of societies. It ensures that groups that may be used for unlawful purposes, pose a threat to safety and security in Singapore, or whose activities are contrary to our national interests, are not allowed to establish themselves in Singapore. MHA proposes to amend the Societies Act to strengthen these safeguards.
Proposal #1: Tighten the automatic registration route
1. Currently, applications to register as societies can be processed via two routes
a. Normal Registration Route. This route is for applications that fall within the categories in the Schedule of the Societies Act (“Specified Societies”). Specified Societies are such as those whose objects are related to religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. (See Annex A for the Schedule of the Societies Act.)
b. Automatic Registration Route. This route was introduced in 2004 for applications that do not fall within the categories in the Schedule of the Societies Act. There are two safeguards. First, under section 4A(5), the Registrar has the power to order an application to register via the normal route instead, if the application falls within the categories of the Schedule of the Societies Act. Second, under section 11A(2), the Registrar can order an amendment of rules of the society, if the proposed rules are contrary to national interest or prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore.
2. To strengthen the automatic registration route, MHA proposes:
a. First, to amend section 4A (automatic registration) to remove reference to “without making any further inquiry”. This will allow the Registrar to ask the applicant questions to assess whether the application can proceed to be registered as a society via the automatic registration route.
b. Second, to amend the Schedule of the Societies Act such that applications submitted under section 4A (automatic registration), but require further assessment, can be moved to the normal registration route, even if they do not fall within the categories in the Schedule of the Societies Act.
Proposal #2: To be able to include specific clauses into societies’ constitution before they are registered
3. Currently, MHA may request applicants to insert clauses into their constitution, for applications submitted via the normal registration route. Examples of such clauses are as follows:
a. Clauses to prohibit political activities, funds and/or premises to be used for political purposes, trade union activities, raising funds from public without prior approval, and using funds to pay the fines of members who have been convicted in a court of law.
b. Clauses to require that the majority of Committee Members are Singapore Citizens for certain societies such as those which are race-related and those promoting use or status of a language. [Note: The types of societies are listed in the Registry of Societies (ROS)’s website.]
c. Clauses for racial and faith-based groups that they shall not engage in any activities that may undermine racial or religious harmony in Singapore.
4. If an applicant agrees to the new clauses requested by the Registrar, the Registrar will proceed to approve the application. However, if the applicant does not accept these clauses, the Registrar will not process the application further. Under the common law, it is lawful for the Registrar to request the insertion of specific clauses into the applicants’ constitution before the application is approved. MHA proposes to amend the Societies Act to make it clearer that the Registrar is able to request the inclusion of specific clauses into societies’ constitution before they are registered.
Proposal #3: To include grounds that the Registrar can consider when assessing applications to amend rules, name, and place of business
5. Currently, under section 11(1) of the Societies Act, the Registrar’s approval is required for a registered society to amend its rules, as well as change its name or place of business. However, it does not state the parameters under which these amendments and changes could be rejected.
6. MHA proposes to amend section 11 to include the following grounds on which the Registrar can reject an application to amend a registered society’s rules, name and place of business:
a. The amended rules enable the registered society to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore;
b. It would be contrary to Singapore’s national security or interest for the amendments to the rules of the registered society to be approved; or
c. In the case of the name of the society:
i. if it is likely to mislead members of the public as to the true character or purpose of the society, or so nearly resembles the name of some other society such that it is likely to deceive the members of the public or members of either society;
ii. if it is identical to any other existing society;
iii. if it is undesirable or offensive;
iv. if it is likely to give the impression that the society is connected in some way with the Government or any public authority, or with any other body of persons or any individual, when it is not so connected.
The above ground are not exhaustive, and the Registrar can consider other grounds when assessing applications.
Proposal #4: Other administrative amendments
7. MHA will also be proposing to make amendments to the Societies Act to support administrative functions as follows:
a. To allow the Registrar to charge fees upon submission of the application, instead of the current arrangement where fees are charged only when the application is approved.
Currently, under sections 4 and 4A(1), fees have to be paid before applicants can be registered. Under Regulation 10 of the Societies Regulations, fees shall be payable upon approval of applications. The current arrangement of collecting fees only upon approval is not ideal, as MHA will incur costs to process the application, regardless of the outcome. To allow ROS to recover costs, MHA proposes to amend section 4(1) to allow ROS to collect the fees before an application is processed.
b. To allow societies which are also registered charities (“society-charities”) to file their annual submissions via the proposed implementation of a “one-stop” service.
Currently, society-charities have to file their annual submissions (e.g. financial statements) to two separate authorities – MHA and Charities Unit. To help society-charities reduce their compliance costs and administrative burden, a “one-stop” service will be established which allows society-charities to file their annual submissions only once. To effect this arrangement, amendments to the Societies Act would be needed.
c. To allow for electronic transmission for all service of documents.
The Societies Act requires the issuance of physical documents in some instances. For example, under section 6(1), the Registrar is required to send a copy of notification via registered post. This was not an issue when the Societies Act was enacted in 1966 when electronic communications were not common. However, there is a need to update this approach in today’s context. As such, MHA proposes to amend the Societies Act to allow for electronic transmission for all service of documents.
d. To allow the Registrar to compound fines for regulatory offences.
Currently, the Societies Act does not provide for the compounding of regulatory offences. Hence, in order to impose a penalty for a regulatory offence (e.g. non-submission of annual returns), MHA will have to prosecute the offender in Court. MHA is of the view that having a composition regime is useful as it gives an additional lever that MHA can use, short of prosecution in Court. MHA proposes to compound fines for the following regulatory offences under the Societies Act and Regulations:
i. Section 11– Change of name, place of business and rules without approval of the Registrar.
ii. Section 11A – Failure to comply with order of the Registrar to change the name or rules of an automatically registered society.
iii. Section 12 – For acting as an officer of a society despite having been convicted for an offence involving the unlawful expenditure of the funds of a society; or has been declared in writing by the Minister to be unfit to act as an officer of a society by reason of any conviction for a criminal offence.
iv. Section 13 – Use of flag, symbols or emblems without consent of the Registrar.
v. Regulation 3 – For organising or taking part in any activity of a society, before it is registered.
vi. Regulation 6 – Failure to submit fund-raising appeal records.
vii. Regulation 7 – Failure to submit annual returns.
Invitation to Provide Feedback
3. Members of the public are invited to submit their feedback and comments by 9 December 2022 via email at MHA_ROS_Feedback@mha.gov.sg or mailed to the address below.
Registry of Societies
10 Kallang Road
Re: Proposed Amendments to the Societies Act 1966
4. Your feedback is important to us. All comments received will be considered. However, we seek the public’s understanding that we will not be able to individually acknowledge or address every comment. To maintain confidentiality of feedback contributors, we will anonymise and aggregate the results of this public engagement.