Started in 2009, Pink Dot Sg started out as non-profit movement pushing for an open, inclusive society that accepts any individual regardless of sexual orientation. It has since grown from 2,500 supporters and no sponsors since it started out, to 28,000 supporters to 18 sponsors. They include large foreign multinational corporations such as Google, Barclays, Apple, Facebook and Twitter amongst many others.
However, just two weeks ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a reminder that foreign companies need a permit to sponsor, promote, or get their employees to attend Speakers’ Corner events. In June,, the MHA issued a statement on foreign sponsorships for Pink Dot, explaining that the Government’s “general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example” as such, foreign companies are not allowed to organise, speak, or participate in events under rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner.
The statement released by the MHA has drawn a lot of attention from the public. Political experts believed it to be the Government’s way of preventing foreign influence in domestic issues through financial methods such as sponsorships. Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the danger of foreign sponsorship of events such as Pink Dot could translate to them backing and bringing controversial issues into the light via money. Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said two weeks ago: "Politics in Singapore is for Singaporeans and controversial, social, political issues are to be discussed and dealt with by Singaporeans. Foreigners cannot play a role in that."
However, there are many grey areas in MHA’s vaguely-worded statement and its rules regarding foreign companies’ involvement in Pink Dot. In an article by Chua Mui Hoong, she posed the question, “when is a foreign entity foreign, and when is it resident?” The Government cannot – to its convenience – see the MNC’s locally incorporated subsidiaries as “Singaporean” when taxing them then foreign when they wish to participate at the Speakers’ Corner.
Chua also questions the word “interference” and what does it constitute. In the case of Pink Dot, the Government seems to imply that interference from foreign entities is in the form of sponsorships. But is the Government being hypocritical about this, especially when Singapore-organised summits such as The World Cities Summit and Singapore Energy Summit both sought sponsorship from foreign companies? Not only that, The World Cities Summit discussed a potentially socio-political issue in whether culture matters in a city.
The rules governing foreign entities at the Speakers’ Corner is simply too vague. Aware executive director Corinna Lim wrote in The Straits Times' Forum page, "We are troubled by these potential implications of MHA's statement, which is ambiguous, leaves too much open to possibly arbitrary interpretation, and seems to go much further than previous pronouncements”.
The rules set by the government only serve to localise social issues such as that of LGBT and that prevents us from learning from the experience of others in the world. Having a more inclusive and open attitude on such contentious issues will help us come to a consensus on a national level. The Government needs to clarify its rules and also why some foreign companies are allowed in some events and debates but not in others.