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Second Reading of National Symbols Bill (Opening Speech)

Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State, Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Trade and Industry, for the Second Reading of the National Symbols Bill on 13 Sep 2022

  1. Mr. Speaker, Sir, on behalf of the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”
  2. Sir, the National Symbols Bill seeks to repeal and replace the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act 1959. 
  3. It will declare the National Symbols and Presidential Symbols of Singapore and regulate the use of these Symbols. Related amendments are also made to other Acts. 
  4. Historical significance of the National Symbols


  5. More than 60 years ago, our three National Symbols were unveiled on the steps of City Hall at the inauguration of our first Malayan-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) Encik Yusof Ishak.
    1. They were the State Crest, the National Flag, and the National Anthem. It was a significant moment in Singapore’s history - the birth of a new national consciousness. 
    2. These three National Symbols gave the people of Singapore their first tangible representations of nationhood - that we are one people - united by a single anthem, identifying with the same state crest and joined by one national flag; we are fellow citizens forging a shared future together.
  6. Our founding fathers understood the role the National Symbols played in unifying the fledging nation.
    1. Mr S Rajaratnam, the then-Minister for Culture, laid out how the symbols expressed “the sentiments and aspirations, not of any particular group, Party or section, but of the people of Singapore as a whole”.
    2. He emphasised what each National Symbol stood for, like our distinctive Singapore values of ‘equality’ and ‘progress’, and how these symbols represented our “identity and personality”. 
    3. The National Symbols represented Singapore and the stirrings of a young nation-state. We had gained self-governance and were no longer subject to, in the words of Mr Rajaratnam, symbols of “dominance”. Instead, the symbols set us apart as a people with our own set of values, beliefs and ideals.
  7. Enactment of the SAFNA Act and subsequent developments


  8. Given their gravity and significance, our pioneering leaders ensured that the symbols were accorded the proper respect.
    1. The Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act 1959 – also known as the SAFNA Act – was enacted to govern the use of the State Crest, the National Flag, and the National Anthem.
  9. Since 1959, there have been several important developments in our nation’s journey. Between 1966 and 1986, we introduced three more National Symbols outside the SAFNA Act:
    1. The National Pledge, the National Flower, and the Lion Head Symbol.
  10. Review of SAFNA in keeping with the growth of patriotism


  11. As our nation developed, Singaporeans also grew in their pride and expression of love for our country. Increasingly, Singaporeans seek to use the Flag and its image to show our national pride and solidarity in ways that were not anticipated back in 1959.
  12. When it was enacted, the SAFNA Act and Rules deliberately restricted the use of the National Flag to preclude the possibility of misuse.
    1. For instance, the use of the Flag as a means of adornment, of advertisement or for any commercial purpose was prohibited.
    2. Unrestricted use of the Flag was limited to National Day and occasions of national rejoicing.
    3. The SAFNA Rules were amended over time to accommodate wider usage, but many restrictions were maintained.
  13. Update needed to keep up with the age


  14. Today, Singaporeans wish to express their love for Singapore in many creative ways.
    1. Many interest groups like cycling clubs want to have an image of the Flag on their cycling jerseys, for instance.
    2. During the National Day period, it is common to see the SG Flag mounted on the side windows of motor vehicles. 
    3. Temporary Singapore Flag tattoos are also popular with the public and among National Day Parade participants. 
  15. Technology has also created many uses for the image of the Flag. 
    1. Many people now have access to devices and apps that allow them to easily manipulate images and transmit them digitally.
    2. Likewise, the wide use of social media has increased the modes of reproduction and communication of different forms of media, like music and audio clips. 
  16. Hence, the Government undertook a review to relook at the national symbol rules. MCCY started engaging citizens on the legislative framework and guidelines governing the use of our National Symbols in September 2020, done over a two-year period.
  17. This involved the participation of citizens across several public consultation exercises over the last two years, including polls, focus group discussions and feedback sessions. The Citizens’ Workgroup for National Symbols was convened in 2021 to discuss and recommend ways to improve the regulation and promotion of our National Symbols.
  18. The public feedback and recommendations called for greater flexibility in the use of the National Symbols, as well as greater clarity on appropriate use and higher safeguards against misuse. This feedback has guided our plans for the revised legislation.
  19. The Bill seeks to address the changes and developments in our current context and landscape of rapidly proliferating technology and media. It will also provide comprehensive protection of the National Symbols from misuse.
  20. The Bill proposes three key changes:
    1. The inclusion of the symbols like the National Pledge, Flower and Lion Head symbol which were introduced after 1959, as well as the Presidential symbols and public seal;
    2. The provision for a prescribed person to permit or prohibit uses of the Symbols under the regulations, and
    3. An update on the maximum penalties for infringement of the Act.
  21. Statutory recognition and protection for other National Symbols and Presidential Symbols


  22. The Bill will extend statutory recognition and protection to these familiar symbols which were not covered by SAFNA - they are the National Pledge, the National Flower, the Lion Head Symbol and the Public Seal. They will now be regarded as National Symbols under the Bill.
    1. The National Pledge, the National Flower and the Lion Head symbol are synonymous with Singapore and evoke immediate recognition and pride among Singaporeans.
    2. The Public Seal represents the Republic and is affixed to important documents of the State. It is befitting for it to be recognised as a National Symbol of Singapore under the Bill.
  23. The Bill will also grant statutory recognition and protection to the Presidential Standard, the Presidential Crest, and the Presidential Seal as Presidential Symbols.
    1. This is appropriate as the President is the Head of State and the symbol of national unity.
  24. The existing SAFNA Rules already regulate the use of the State Crest, the National Flag and the National Anthem. 
    1. The Bill will enable the President to make regulations to control the use of Presidential Symbols.
  25. The Bill will also enable the President to make regulations to regulate the use of the other National Symbols under the Act.
    1. We will extend statutory safeguards to the National Pledge and Public Seal. 
    2. We do not intend to make any new regulations for the Lion Head symbol or National Flower, as these are intended as less restricted symbols for people and organisations to use.
    3. Their inclusion in the Bill is meant to confer on them statutory recognition. The Citizens’ Workgroup for National Symbols, for instance, had suggested that such icons could be recognised as a “tribute to their place in Singapore’s history”.
    4. 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.   
    5. Individuals, organisations and companies are also free to use the image of the National Flower.
  26. Greater flexibility in the use of the National Symbols


  27. Sir, 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
    1. In April 2020, the Government responded to calls by Singaporeans to fly the Flag as a show of unity and support for each other. The SAFNA Rules were amended to allow the Flag to be displayed outside the typical National Day period, which is from July to September.
  28. Provision for a prescribed person to permit or prohibit uses of the Symbols


  29. To allow for greater flexibility in future, regulations under the Bill can enable a prescribed person such as the Minister to permit the use of a National Symbol in appropriate situations.
    1. This could entail, for example, permitting the display of the National Flag outside the National Day period if warranted by circumstances.
  30. We also intend to make regulations to enable a prescribed person to prohibit certain uses of the Symbols, subject to appeal.
    1. This is to prevent disrespectful uses of the Symbols.
  31. 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.
  32. To provide greater flexibility in the use of the National Symbols, we will also review the circumstances and manner in which the Symbols may be used.
    1. For instance, 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; and
    2. To permit the use of images of the National Flag on attire outside the National Day period without requiring approval, provided that such use is non-commercial and respectful.
  33. Ensuring proper safeguards against misuse of the Symbols


  34. Nonetheless, we must balance the introduction of greater flexibility with proper safeguards against the misuse of our National Symbols.
    1. As Mr Rajaratnam had pointed out, we need to respect the National Symbols for the values, sentiments, and ideals they represent.
    2. Rules are critical to ensure that the Symbols are not wilfully brought into contempt, ridicule or hatred because such disrespect for the Symbols will be an affront to the people of Singapore and the values they represent. 
  35. During the public consultation, many Singaporeans underlined the importance of ensuring that the dignity of the National Symbols is upheld even as more flexible use is allowed.
  36. Protecting against misuse with higher penalties


  37. Hence, the third major change we will be making in the Bill is to update the penalties for offences relating to the National Symbols and Presidential Symbols.
  38. The current penalty for offences under the SAFNA Act is a fine of up to $1,000.
    1. This sum would not be as effective to serve as a deterrent today, as the amount was set in 1959 and has not been updated since.
    2. Taking into account the maximum penalties set for similar offences, we will update the penalties for such offences to a maximum fine of $30,000 or a maximum imprisonment term of 6 months or both. 
  39. The penalties for individual offences will be calibrated in the new regulations. 
    1. More egregious offences would attract higher penalties. An example is the burning or desecration of the National Flag.  
  40. Sir, the National Symbols represent the nation and the Head of State. Respect for the Symbols is part of the civic and public morality of the nation.
    1. Any affront to our national sovereignty and pride as represented by the Symbols must be dealt with seriously. We should not allow the Symbols to be wilfully brought into contempt, ridicule or hatred. 
    2. Furthermore, their unauthorised use by private individuals or entities can create false or misleading impressions of links to, or endorsement by, the President or the State. Such uses could lead to public order issues. 
  41. There is therefore a need to regulate the use of the Symbols to uphold public morality and order.
  42. Finally, any prosecution under the Bill may only be instituted by or with the consent of the Public Prosecutor.
    1. This ensures that prosecutions under the Act are brought in the public interest.

  43. Related Amendments


  44. The Bill will also make the following amendments to related legislation:
    1. Section 59(1)(f) of the Evidence Act 1893 will be amended to require the courts to recognise the Public Seal and the Presidential Seal.
    2. The National Emblems (Control of Display) Act 1949 will be renamed the “Foreign National Emblems (Control of Display) Act 1949” to make clear that its role is in regulating foreign national emblems. 
  45. Conclusion


  46. Sir, this Bill reflects what our citizens have expressed in our engagements and public consultations over the past few years.
    1. Singaporeans feel a strong sense of ownership of the National Symbols and agree that these Symbols encapsulate the ideals of what it means to be a Singaporean and to be a member of the Singapore community.
  47. We pay special attention to these Symbols because they remind us of who we are, our journey as a nation, and the values and aspirations we espouse. 
  48. Sir, I beg to move.
Last updated on 13 September 2022