Singapore to allow national flag to be displayed more often; raises penalty for misuse
Four more national symbols have been recognised under a new Bill.
SINGAPORE: The Singapore flag can be displayed more often, including potentially outside the National Day period, after a Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 13).
It comes after feedback from the public to allow greater flexibility in the use of the national symbols during various consultation exercises conducted over the last two years.
The National Symbols Bill replaces the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem (SAFNA) Act, which was enacted in 1959 to govern the use of Singapore's state crest, national flag and national anthem.
Speaking in Parliament, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling said Singaporeans have increasingly sought to use the flag and other national symbols to show their national pride and solidarity in ways not anticipated by the 1959 rules.
“Over the past two years since COVID-19, we have seen how Singaporeans used national symbols like the flag as an expression of our solidarity in challenging times,” she said, noting that the Government had amended SAFNA Act rules to allow the flag to be displayed outside the typical National Day period, which is from July to September.
Under the new Bill, the President can make regulations on the use of national and presidential symbols while a prescribed person such as the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth can permit or prohibit the use of national symbols in appropriate situations.
This will allow for greater flexibility, said Ms Low.
"With these new regulations, we can respond more nimbly to legitimate requests to use the national symbols under pre-specified conditions, while also protecting the national symbols from indiscriminate or inappropriate use,” she said.
"We envisage that the new regulations could take a more permissive stance to allow greater artistic and creative use of an image of the Singapore flag," she added.
MORE NATIONAL SYMBOLS
The national pledge, the national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim, the lion head symbol and the public seal - which is affixed to important documents of state - will also now be recognised as national symbols.
In addition, three presidential symbols - the presidential standard, presidential crest and presidential seal - will be given statutory recognition and protection.
Among the four newly recognised national symbols, the national pledge and public seal will come under statutory safeguards. No new regulations are intended for the national flower or lion head symbol, said Ms Low.
"We will continue our practice today of allowing any individual, organisation or company to use the lion head symbol for purposes of identifying with the nation, following prevailing guidelines.
"Individuals, organisations and companies are also free to use the image of the national flower," said Ms Low.
The new Bill also raises maximum penalties for misusing the national symbols to half a year in prison, a S$30,000 fine or both, up from the current maximum S$1,000 fine.
Ms Low said the new penalty amount takes into account the maximum penalties set for similar offences, noting that it had not been updated since 1959.
She added that more egregious offences such as the burning or desecration of the national flag would attract higher penalties.
In August, a 39-year-old man was arrested for burning National Day decorations. Last year, a 24-year-old man was charged with cutting and damaging multiple National Day Parade banners.
Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) suggested enhancing penalties for those who misuse the National Symbols to mislead others.
He cited the example of investment scammers who had used Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC's logo to trick Singaporeans into transferring money to them.
"Our national symbols are not only a source of identity. They also carry the Singapore brand, signifying the trust and reliability we are known for," he said.
"Almost every day we are seeing new attempts to scam Singaporeans or spread false information, with a large variety of creative tactics," he added.
Meanwhile, MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) said that instead of using "heavy-handed legal means" to seek respect for the country’s national symbols, the Government should inspire citizens with what Singapore is and what it can be.
He added that he hopes the authorities will take a light touch in enforcing the provisions of this law, by showing compassion and taking into account the individual circumstances associated with each offence.
MP Joan Pereira (PAP-Tanjong Pagar) said what constitutes misuse of national symbols should be clearly communicated, and urged enforcement officers to be understanding of "genuine mistakes".
Responding to MPs, Ms Low said the ministry intended to provide for stop orders under the Bill that could be issued against the disrespectful use of national symbols, with failure to comply constituting an offence.
She added that in practice, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and National Heritage Board would not impose penalties as a first course of action, and that their approach would be to educate and inform the public.
"We aim to strike a good balance between giving Singaporeans the latitude to use the national symbols creatively, and ensuring due respect for them," said Ms Low.