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Upholding good transparency and governance practices is key to building public trust in the charity sector

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards on 21 Nov 2023

Ms Theresa Goh, Chairperson, Charity Council
Ladies and Gentlemen


1.     A warm welcome this evening.  

2.     It is my pleasure to join you at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards.

3.    It is always heartening to see so many people in a room, who share the same passion and desire to uplift standards and celebrate those who have surpassed standards.

Acknowledging the commitment and achievement of charities

4.     This evening, we come together to celebrate the awards. But it is also a reminder for us that we live in an increasingly complex and different environment.

5.     It is crucial for all of us in Singapore to build a strong culture of care and cohesion in Singapore, work together to tackle social issues and most importantly, join hands to better support the vulnerable groups in the community.

(a)     For this purpose, charities play a fundamental role in this aspect.

(b)     They help to bridge gaps in society, unite people through their work, and improve the well-being of individuals and communities, bit by bit, block by block. Through volunteerism, we foster a strong sense of community spirit to strengthen our cohesion.

6.     Tonight, we celebrate and recognise the outstanding work of charities that set the standard for accountability, transparency, and good governance in the charity sector.

7.     This year, 80 charities will be awarded the Charity Transparency Award.

(a)     Five charities will receive the Special Commendation Award.

(b)     Two charities will receive the Charity Governance Award – the highest accolade for this evening.

8.     These two charities are Singapore Cancer Society and Touch Family Services Limited.

9.     Singapore Cancer Society’s mission is to minimise cancer and maximise lives through their programmes.

(a)     The charity was a Special Commendation Award winner last year.

(b)     But evidently, they did not rest on their laurels. They participated in the awards again and have won the Charity Governance Award this year.

10.     Singapore Cancer Society has performed well in various areas of governance. This includes:

(a)     First, having a diverse Board comprising members with different skillsets and expertise that meet the needs of the charity, and setting clearly defined roles between the Board and its Management;

(b)     Second, engaging in periodic strategic planning exercises to ensure that they stay relevant to the needs of their beneficiaries; and

(c)     Third, putting in place adequate procedures to nurture a pool of future leaders for succession planning.

11.     Our other award recipient, Touch Family Services Limited, aims to strengthen families by equipping and enriching individuals to stand up to the challenges and demands of today’s fast-paced society.

12.     Likewise, they have demonstrated good governance by:

(a)     First, having their work guided by clear strategic priorities which are reviewed periodically to ensure that their long-term strategy is line with its vision and mission;

(b)     Second, maintaining a Board with a diverse mix of competencies that are relevant for the charity to perform well; and

(c)     Third, ensuring that its Board conducts regular self-evaluation to assess its performance and effectiveness.

13.     Many of you here have also done good work to uphold transparency and governance to strengthen the public trust and confidence in the charity sector.

(a)     You have worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to ensure that your programmes and activities are carried out not just fit for purpose, so that people enjoy it, but also with utmost integrity.

(b)     To all the board members, staff and volunteers - I want to thank all of you for being very focused on this mission, for being driven and ensuring that you always preserve integrity, accountability and transparency in everything that you do. Thank you very much.

Upholding good transparency and governance practices is the essence of building public trust in the charity sector

14.     Ensuring good transparency and governance practices is not just about ticking off checkboxes on a list of requirements. It is a frame of mind, about building a culture and making it part and parcel of our ethos. It is the fundamental building block of what we want to achieve. In my Charity Governance Conference speech this morning, I said that we all transact in the currency of trust, for people to believe in the work that we do, and for them to believe that the dollar they put will go to its intended purposes. For us to do that, there is no other way but to ensure that we are completely above any scrutiny.

15.      Putting in place proper procedures and having the discipline to diligently execute these practices are what help our charities thrive.

16.   To strengthen transparency and governance standards in the charity sector and promote safer giving for public fund-raising appeals, the Commissioner of Charities’ Office has rolled out several initiatives this year.

17.      Let me share about these initiatives.

Public Fund-Raising Disclosure Regime

18.       The COC’s office implemented the Public Fund-Raising Disclosure Regime in October this year.

19.    Under the Disclosure Regime, fundraising collections for registered or exempt charities, and collections for foreign charitable purposes are exempted from applying for a licence to conduct house to house and street collections.

20.     Instead, they are required to:

(a)     Disclose details of their fund-raising appeals on the charity Portal at least seven working days before the appeal starts; and

(b)     Ensure that their collectors and fund-raisers carry clear identification.

21.      This revised regime reduces the administrative burden on the charities when conducting public fund-raising appeals.

22.     We want to make sure that we are accountable, and keep to good governance, but at the same time balance against not over-burdening charities, especially the smaller charities so that we can carry on with the work without too many administrative burdens. We think that this strikes the right balance.

Safer Giving Campaign

23.     To further cultivate a culture of safer giving, the COC’s Office ran a public Safer Giving Campaign on what the public should ‘Ask’ and ‘Check’ before they ‘Give’ to charities.

24.    This is especially important as scams grow increasingly prevalent, especially in the online space. Sadly, people continue to prey on the generous spirit in our community. So, we must be watchful and guard against this.

25.     Donors are strongly encouraged to exercise their own due diligence to ensure that their donations are used for genuine charitable purposes.

26.     Correspondingly, charities should also be prepared for the public to ask for more information before they make donations.

Ensuring charities file their mandatory submissions promptly

27.     To ensure that charities remain transparent and accountable to the public as well as their donors and beneficiaries, the COC’s office has also ramped up efforts to ensure that charities file their mandatory submissions promptly and in time.

28.     For charities that have not been filing their mandatory financial statement, annual report, governance evaluation checklist (GEC) submissions, the COC’s office and the Charity Council have been engaging them to understand their challenges.

(a)     Partners such as Shared Services for Charities Ltd and the Chartered Secretaries Institute of Singapore also have ready services to support these charities in their submissions.

Supporting charities with Succession Planning

29.    Another area which the COC’s Office is working on is to strengthen the charities’ awareness of the importance of succession planning. All good organisations need a pipeline of talent. For us to build a pipeline of talent, the charity sector must have a clear career progression path. When this is done, we will have a pipeline of future leaders who will be able to succeed the current generation.

30.     Charities have a strong mission, and the work they do is important for the communities they serve.

(a)     However, charities often overlook the need for a succession plan to ensure that their mission continues even though transitions might take place.

31.     For all Institutions of a Public Character (IPC) and large non-IPC charities, the revised Code of Governance for Charities and IPCs imposes a maximum term limit of 10 consecutive years for all board members.

(a)     The intent of this guideline is to encourage charities to practice and think about succession planning at the board level.

(b)     The COC’s office will continue to work closely with the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership and the Singapore Institute of Directors to support charities’ board renewal.

Launch of the Charity Compliance Indicator: A glance of the charity’s compliance standards.

32.     In 2024, we will continue to serve and support our charity sector.

33.     To promote greater transparency and accountability in the sector, the COC’s office will be rolling out the Charities Compliance Indicator in January 2024. This new indicator will provide information upfront on charities’ profile pages on the Charity Portal.

34.     This will include the charities’ fund-raising efficiency ratio, the scores of their GEC, and the status of their annual report, financial statement, and GEC submission. This is not meant to be a sword against you, but a friendly reminder to reflect your progress that go towards accountability and transparency.

(a)   This would allow donors, stakeholders, and the public to better understand the charities’ regulatory compliance at a glance.

35.     For a start, the indicator will only be applicable to the IPCs.


36.     In my speech last year, I mentioned that trust is fragile. It takes a long time to build, but it can be destroyed quickly.

37.     Building a well-governed and thriving charity sector requires sustained investments in resources, care, and attention.

38.    The various initiatives I mentioned this evening are continuous efforts by the COC’s Office and its partners to strengthen the transparency and governance standards of the charity sector. We need to do it in a way that is sustainable, and we cannot overload charities. We need to strike the right balance between what we want to achieve with the public and the charities and will continue to build on this.

39.     With each succeeding year of the awards, I hope we continue to raise standards. Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all the winners today, and have a pleasant evening.



Last updated on 01 December 2023