Charities (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 9 January 2018)

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to declare my interest as a board member of a charity, the WP Community Fund.

Mr Deputy Speaker I support the proposed amendments relating to disqualifications and removal of persons involved in charities. I have some concerns regarding the changes to the definition and coverage of “key officer” and “fund raising appeal”.

Section 2 – Interpretation

Mr Deputy Speaker, regarding the proposed expansion in the definition of “key officer”, I would like to ask the Minister whether all members of the governing board of a charity will be considered as key officers? I am concerned that the onerous liability imposed with the amendments will discourage people from wanting to serve in charities, especially smaller charities where management resources may be limited and that in turn puts pressure on people wanting to serve. How will the ministry allay such fears and still encourage more volunteers to step up and serve in charities big or small?

Section 39 – Fund Raising Appeal

Mr Deputy Speaker, I next move on to the change in the definition and limits of fund raising appeal in Section 39. Under the Amendment Bill, the existing definition of fund raising appeal to members of the public will be deleted and replaced by a new set of definition. It seems to me that the existing scope of fund raising appeal to members of the public will now be expanded quite considerably.

In the explanation note to the Bill, the ministry cited a new example of an appeal by an unincorporated association to its members. The existing law applies to an appeal to members of the public and does not cover private appeal or donations. However, the explanation note in the Bill stops there without any further elaboration.
It does not elaborate adequately on its expanded coverage.

Scope of fund raising appeal

Mr Deputy Speaker, I have some concerns with the change of definition and coverage of “fund raising appeal” and especially the extent of the scope of its coverage. It appears that the coverage may now extend to unsolicited donations, private donations or fund raising including in schools, associations and religious organizations,

(1) Unsolicited donations

In the ministry’s comments to public feedback during the public consultation process, the ministry also stated that this can now include unsolicited donations and appeals to grant-making philanthropic organisations. The explanation note to the Bill does not however confirm this or say anything about it.

Unsolicited donations, as its name suggest, are donations made purely voluntarily and without any initiative or action on the part of the charity. It is therefore extremely odd to include such donations as part of “fund raising appeals”. I would like to ask the Minister why is there a need now to include such a new category into the definition of fund raising appeals such that its coverage actually exceeds its literal meaning.

Is there any particular recent incident which prompted the ministry to think that the expanded coverage is absolutely necessary?

If so, will the Minister share with the House some details of the incident and how it led the ministry to propose these changes?

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would also like to know from the Minister what are the changes the ministry will be making to the fund raising regulations which will apply specifically to unsolicited donations.

(2) Grant-making philanthropic organizations

As regards grant-making philanthropic organizations, may I clarify with the Minister how does the amendment affect them? Are we talking about such organizations making appeals for donations to fund the grants or assistance they render to members of the public?

(3) Private fund raising within schools, associations and religious organizations

The ministry stated in their comments to public consultation feedback that they have intended for “fund raising appeal” to include private fund raising activities within schools, associations and religious organizations. So, it seems that, besides grant-making philanthropic organizations, the coverage will be extended to other non-charity fund-raisers. The ministry said that it is important for the Commissioner to be able to stop improper fund raising. Mr Speaker, I do not doubt that such new regulations may well be able to enable the Commissioner to be in a better position to stop improper fund raising. However, I am concerned that this may also discourage many sincere and well-meaning Singaporeans in these different organisations from raising funds for very good reasons, not to mention the resulting bureaucratic hoops that will be imposed on non-charity fund raisers.

Will the Minister also clarify whether this new definition of “fund raising appeal” and the fund raising appeal regulations to be amended will apply to all types of fundraising by schools, associations and religious organizations or would it cover only certain limited modes of fundraising? For example, will it apply to religious organizations raising funds by auctioning items, for example, as we often see during temple or Seventh Month Dinners?

(4) Small fund raising efforts

The ministry stated in their comments to public feedback during public consultation that the ministry will be reviewing fund raising regulations to make clear which requirements will not apply to small fund-raising efforts. I am not sure I heard the minister correctly in her speech just now. May I ask the minister to elaborate a little, for purposes of this Amendment Bill on the limits of “small fund raising efforts” and how “small fund raising efforts” apply to fund raising in schools as well as associations and religious organisations whether they be mosques, churches or temple organizations.

I would also take the opportunity to ask the minister whether the new “fund raising appeal” definition will apply to private fundraising informally among friends and acquaintances? Or does it depend on the quantum?

I would like to know what is the outcome of the review the ministry has mentioned in their response to public consultation feedback, and what will apply or not apply to private or “small fund raising efforts”.

(5) Crowdfunding regime

Given the new expanded definition of ‘fund raising appeal’, I would also like to ask the Minister whether this will also apply to online crowd funding. There are amazing Singaporeans who raise funds and gather volunteers online to carry out acts of charity and kindness such as providing meal vouchers, food, daily necessities or supermarket vouchers to elderly folks or households who may be struggling financially. I have read from a press report that a code of practice for crowdfunding platforms will be launched this month by the Commissioner of Charities but it seems that it will not be mandatory. I do hope that, however well-meaning this code may be, the code or any intended regulation will not stifle or discourage Singaporeans from continuing their acts of charity through crowdfunding.

(6) Conclusions on “Fund raising appeal”

It appears to me that significant amendments will be need to be made to the current subsidiary legislations on fund raising regulations to cover the expanded scope of “fund raising appeal”.

I think we should know at this point, and not later, sufficient details about what are the impending regulatory changes. I would have preferred that this Bill would have shed more light on these details. The House should in fact assess this Bill with the changes the Ministry intend to make in the subsidiary legislations to know what is the ultimate package the public can expect.

Overall, without the benefit of looking at the fineprint changes in the fund raising regulations, I am concerned whether the change to the definition and coverage of “fund raising appeal” may make it too onerous for charities, especially smaller charities with limited resources, volunteers in these charities, as well as non-charity fund raisers.

80:20 ratio for persons wishing to conduct a fund raising appeals for foreign charitable purposes

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to ask the Minister for her view on the continuing relevance of the rationale of the 80:20 ratio for persons wishing to conduct a fund raising appeals for foreign charitable purposes where 80% of the funds raised must go towards charitable purposes in Singapore. How does the Government see that such a ratio will continue to benefit charities or any organization raising funds for a foreign charitable cause? How does the Government weigh that against the benefit of our locally based charity helping to raise funds for a worthy foreign charitable cause? I am aware that there are exceptions to this rule but as for those who are not excluded from the rule’s application, is it time to review this requirement or adjust the current ratio?


Mr Deputy Speaker, in conclusion, I agree that it is good to encourage good governance among our charities. At the same time, I believe we should also be mindful that requirements are not too impractical or onerous that they create additional and unnecessary burdens on our charities and their staff and volunteers especially the smaller charities as well as well on non-charities and well-meaning Singaporeans.