The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) has rejected the application of OSEA to register itself as a company in Singapore. If successful, OSEA would have been wholly owned company by Observatory Southeast Asia, a company registered in the UK which publishes news website New Naratif.
In a statement confirming the move, ACRA said the company was rejected on the grounds that:
Registration would be contrary to Singaporeâ€™s national interests.
It added that New Naratif had been publishing articles critical of politics in regional countries, citing articles which claimed certain regional governments which are using violence to maintain political control, manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have â€śriggedâ€ť their electoral systems.
â€śThe purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature,â€ť ACRAâ€™s statement read. Other proposed activities of OSEA had included organising discussion fora, workshops, and other events in Singapore, such as â€śDemocracy Classroomâ€ť sessions.
It added that the application had also designated Singaporean historian Thum Ping Tjin and Kirsten Han as director and editor-in-chief respectively, both who are also involved in New Naratif. The former recently made media headlines after undergoing a six-hour grilling and exchange with Law Minister K Shanmugam during a Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods hearing.
The application was also rejected due to OSEAâ€™s links as a UK-registered company, which manages the New Naratif website. It added that OSEA UK had received a grant of US$75,000 from Foundation Open Societies Institute (FOSI), Switzerland, which is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), founded and led by George Soros. The statement added that Soros has been expressly established to pursue a political agenda the world over, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries.
â€śWhat happens in other jurisdictions is not the concern of the Singapore Government. 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,â€ť the ACRA statement explained.
ACRA added that Singaporeâ€™s politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine.
It added that it should not allow foreign interference in the governance of the country, nor allow any group of Singaporeans to lend themselves to â€śbeing used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singaporeâ€ť.
New Naratif responds to ACRA claims
In response, news site New Naratif has called ACRAâ€™s claims of â€śbeing used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singaporeâ€ť as â€śunfoundedâ€ť. In a statement on its site, the publication explained that it is â€śsubstantially supportedâ€ť by revenue from its members, who subscribe at levels between US$52 and US$552 per year. It added that it has over 420 members in 17 different countries and received numerous donations from individuals.
Addressing the links to FOSI and OSF, while acknowledging that it is a recipient of a grant from FOSI, both entities did not have â€śany involvement or input in New Naratifâ€™s editorial decisions or the day-to-day running of our start-upâ€ť.
It added that it is committed to regular financial reporting and will share how funds from members, donors, and grants have been spent. This includes payment made to editors, writers, illustrators, photographers, and other contributors, as well as the costs of website development, maintenance, venue rentals, and any other forms of expenditure.
â€śWe believe the work we do, the stories we publish, and the art that we showcase, speak for themselves. We invite anyone who wants to know more about New Naratif to visit our website and experience our content for themselves before coming to any conclusions,â€ť the statement added.