Press Releases

First Reading of the Societies (Amendment) Bill

Published: 18 September 2023

1. The Societies (Amendment) Bill (“the Bill”) was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. The Bill proposes amendments to the Societies Act to:

(a) Strengthen the regulation of societies to safeguard national interests and security; and

(b) Provide more clarity to the public on the requirements for registration of societies.


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, or whose activities are contrary to our national interests, are not allowed to establish themselves in Singapore.

Key Amendments

Tighten the Automatic Registration Route

3. Currently, applications to register societies can be processed via two routes.

(a) Normal Route for applications that fall within the Schedule of the Societies Act (“specified societies”), such as political associations, or societies whose objects, purposes or activities are to promote or discuss issues related to religion, any ethnic group, language, nationality and civil and political rights. For these applications, the application will go through a vetting and assessment process which may involve several rounds of clarifications with the applicant.

(b) Automatic Route for applications by societies that do not fall within the Schedule of the Societies Act (“non-specified societies”). The automatic route was introduced in 2004 to facilitate the registration of societies that generally do not pose risks to national interests or security. For these applications, the Societies Act states that the Registrar shall, without making any further inquiry, register these societies on the date the Registrar receives the application, so long as the formal requirements for registration are met (e.g. payment of the prescribed fee).

4. The Bill will amend the Societies Act to improve two aspects of the automatic route.

(a) First, there are instances where the Registrar may require further information to ascertain whether the society does indeed qualify for registration via the automatic route. The current law does not allow the Registrar to request further information if the application comes through the automatic route. To address this, the Bill will allow the Registrar to make inquiries on applications submitted via the automatic route.

(b) Second, there could be non-specified societies that pose a threat, and should not be registered. The Bill will allow the Registrar to reject an application submitted via the automatic route if the Registrar is satisfied that the society, if registered:

(i) Is likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore; or

(ii) Would be contrary to Singapore’s national interests or security.

5. The Bill also adds a new section to allow appeals to the Minister for Home Affairs (“Minister”) for rejected applications via the automatic route, similar to the existing appeal mechanism for applications through the normal route.

To Be Able to Include Clauses Into Societies’ Constitution Before They Are Registered

6. Currently, the Registrar may request a specified society to insert clauses into their constitution (referred to as rules in the Societies Act), prior to allowing the registration of the society. For example, for societies whose objects and activities are to promote or discuss issues related to race and religion, the Registrar will request the society to insert a rule stating that the society “shall not engage in any activities that may undermine racial or religious harmony in Singapore”, as a condition for registration. This practice is in accordance with section 29(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act 1965, where a power to grant a licence, permit, approval, or exemption also includes the power to impose reasonable conditions.

7. The Bill amends the Societies Act to make it explicit that the Registrar can require the rules of specified societies to be amended as a condition for registration. The Registrar can refuse to register the society if the society does not amend its rules accordingly.

To Include Grounds That the Registrar Can Consider When Assessing Applications to Amend Names and Rules
8. Currently, under section 11 of the Societies Act, registered societies must seek the Registrar’s approval to change their name, or the rules in their constitution. However, the Societies Act does not specify the grounds on which the Registrar can refuse to approve applications to change names and rules.

9. To provide clarity, the Bill amends the Societies Act to include the following grounds on which the Registrar can reject an application (for avoidance of doubt, the Registrar is not limited to these grounds):

Applications to Change Names Can Be Rejected if the Amended Name:

(a) is likely to mislead members of the public as to the true character or purpose of the registered society;

(b) so nearly resembles the name of some other society as is likely to deceive the members of the public or members of either society;

(c) is undesirable or offensive;

(d) is identical to that of any other existing society;

(e) is likely to give the impression that the registered society is connected in some way with the Government or a public authority, or with any other body of persons or any individual, when it is not so connected.

Applications to Change Rules Can Be Rejected if Amendment of the Rules:

(a) would be contrary to Singapore’s national interests or security;

(b) would be prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore; or,

(c) would be contrary to the Societies Act.

Debarring/Disqualification of Persons As Officers of a Society

10. Currently, under section 12(1)(b) of the Societies Act, the Minister can declare a person to be unfit to be an officer of a society by reason of any conviction for a criminal offence.

11. For ease of administration, the Bill amends the Societies Act to allow the Registrar, instead of the Minister, to declare a person as unfit to be an officer of a society. The Minister will now be designated as an appellate authority – a person who is declared to be unfit by the Registrar may apply to the Minister for permission to act as an officer of a society.

“Place of Business”

12. Place of business (“POB”) is defined in the Societies Act as “the place where the records and books of account of a society is kept”. The POB concept is too narrowly defined for today’s context where use of virtual offices and cloud computing is common.

13. Hence, where appropriate, the Bill amends the Societies Act to remove POB and refer to “registered address” instead, i.e., the address of the society that is kept and maintained with the Registrar.
Review of Penalties

14. The last review of the penalties in the Societies Act was done in 2004. MHA has reviewed the penalties to ensure that the fines and imprisonment terms provided continue to have a deterrent effect, and for parity with other newer and comparable Acts.

Other Amendments

15. Other amendments to facilitate the administration and regulation of societies include:

(a) To allow for electronic transmission for all service of documents.

(b) 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.

(c) To allow societies which are also charities to submit their annual submission via the one-stop portal that will be introduced by the Charities Unit at a later date, so that they need only submit one submission annually for both the purposes of the Societies Act and Charities Act, instead of two separate submissions currently.

(d) To allow the Registrar to compound offences under the Societies Act.

(e) To update the drafting language in sections 10 and 29 of the Societies Act pertaining to the powers of the Registrar to obtain information, and the offences of failing to provide information or providing false information. The powers remain unchanged.