Overseas Business Risk – Singapore
Political and Economic
Singapore is a highly prosperous island state that serves as a business hub for South East Asia and as one of the world’s most important ports. It has an ethnically mixed population (citizens and permanent residents are around 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian and 3% other groups). The total population is 5.4 million, of which 3.3 million (61%) are citizens with the rest foreign workers and foreign permanent residents. Singapore is a Republic within the Commonwealth, gaining independence from the UK as part of Malaysia in 1963, before separating from Malaysia in 1965. English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil are Singapore’s official languages. English is the language of government and is spoken by the vast majority of Singaporeans as either their first or second language.
Singapore has been one of the region’s most politically stable countries. Singapore practises a modified version of the Westminster Parliamentary system. Each parliament sits for a maximum of five years.
The last General Election was held on 7 May 2011. The ruling People’s Action Party(PAP) has been dominant since 1959, before Singapore became independent and the PAP currently holds 80 of the 87 elected seats in Singapore’s single chamber Parliament. The Workers’ Partyis the largest opposition party in parliament. More details can be read at www.parliament.gov.sg.
The elections for Singapore’s President are held every 6 years with the last one held in August 2011. The President has a small and limited number of powers. Details on the Singapore President are at www.istana.gov.sg
There are no direct elections for local government. A system of regional Mayors and town councils exists.
A police permit is required for any outdoor public assembly or procession and permission is also needed for the wearing or displaying of any ‘cause related’ material. Approval from the Ministry of Manpower is required for a foreign national to give a talk on ‘racial, communal, religious, caused-related or political topics’. Foreign nationals may not join protests at Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner.
Some crimes in Singapore, including some non-violent crimes such as graffiti and immigration offences, carry punishments for men that may include canning (being beaten with a large stick). The death penalty exists for murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and firearms offences.
Male homosexual acts are illegal in Singapore, but in a statement to Parliament in 2007 Singapore’s Prime Minister stated that ‘The Government does not act as moral policemen’ and that ‘we do not proactively enforce’ the law on this issue. Openly gay and lesbian support groups and social venues exist. Obtaining dependants visas for same-sex couples may be very difficult.
Both public and private Jehovah’s Witness meetings are illegal in Singapore. It is also against the law to possess any Jehovah’s Witness publication, including a Jehovah’s Witness bible. Similar measures exist against the Unification Church.
It remains optional for employers to grant foreign domestic workers a day off and foreign domestic workers may agree to forgo days off and endure poor working conditions in order to pay off debts to placement agencies. UK companies and employers should follow local laws when employing migrant workers and also consider their own ethical or internal company obligations in maintaining good employment practices.
Singapore is an active player on the international stage. Singapore is a founder member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional grouping comprising Singapore and nine of its immediate neighbours. Singapore participates in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. Singapore is a leading member of the Global Governance Group (or ‘3G’) which is made up of nations outside of the G20, and has attended the G20 as a representative of this group. It is also a leading member of the Forum of Small States (FOSS).
Singapore enjoys good relations with its neighbours and is an advocate for ASEAN unity and greater ASEAN economic integration.
Singapore’s GDP was US$277 billion in 2012 – the 36th largest globally (surpassing Hong Kong) according to the IMF. Its GDP per capita of over US$51,000 is higher than many OECD countries, including the UK. Singapore’s 5.3 million population consists of a significant proportion of foreign workers and residents – all in an area not much larger than the Isle of Man. Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world.
The performance of the Singapore economy is often seen as a barometer for world trade. It is one of the world’s most open economies (trading over 3 times its GDP), making it particularly vulnerable to external shocks. The economy slowed down significantly in 2012, expanding by just 1.3%. But after a sluggish start to 2013, recent economic data have been more positive – aided by improvements in the US and Japanese economies. The IMF estimates that Singapore’s economy will grow by 2% in 2013 and by 5.1% in 2014. The Singapore government forecasts growth of 2.5-3.5% in 2013 (up from their 1-3% forecast range earlier in the year). Official medium term forecast is for GDP growth to average 3-4% up to 2020.
Economic activity is spread across diverse sectors. Manufacturing maintains a significant (21%) share of the economy, dominated by electronics, biomedical manufacturing, engineering and chemicals. Singapore serves as a major regional hub for shipping, air transport, logistics and financial services. It is the world’s 3rd largest oil refining centre, and produces 40% of the world’s hard disk media. Re-exports accounted for nearly half of Singapore’s total goods exports in 2012. Its main exports are electronic (20%) and chemical products (13%). The services sector contributes over two-thirds of GDP, with strong growth in financial and business services. It is ranked as the 4th global financial centre after London, New York and Hong Kong, and the 2nd largest wealth management centre after Switzerland.
Singapore has topped the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings for the past 7 years, with particular strengths in trading across borders and investor protection.
Unemployment is very low, at around 2%. But going forward, Singapore’s key long-term economic challenges are to reduce its heavy reliance on foreign labour, while raising labour productivity (a political imperative given concerns about overcrowding).
Note:Please access up to date statistics and information at the following websites –
Singapore Statistics – www.singstat.gov.sg
Ministry of Trade and Industry – www.mti.gov.sg
Monetary Authority of Singapore – www.mas.gov.sg
More information on political risk, including political demonstrations is available in FCO Travel Advice
Bribery and Corruption
Bribery is illegal. It is an offence for UK nationals and bodies incorporated under UK law, to bribe anywhere in the world.
In Singapore there is zero tolerance for bribery. Any attempt to bribe or otherwise prevent an official from carrying out their duties can result in arrest.
In Singapore the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) is the government agency which investigates and prosecutes corruption in the public and private sectors. It was established in 1952 by the then British authorities. The CPIB’s primary function is to investigate corruption. It is also empowered to investigate other criminal cases in which corruption may be involved.
Incorporated within the Prime Minister’s Office, the Bureau is headed by a director who reports directly to the Prime Minister. The CPIB is independent of the Singapore Police Force and other government agencies so as to prevent any undue interference in its investigations. The CPIB is empowered to detain suspects of corrupt practices without trial.
Singapore was ranked 5th (of 183) in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2012.
Read the information provided on our Bribery and corruption page.
Terrorism Threat and Protective Security
There is an underlying threat from terrorism in Singapore. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. The Singapore Government has put in place extensive measures to combat terrorism and has arrested a number of terrorist suspects. These measures are on several levels including military, internal security, border, infrastructure security and civil defence. To bolster its preparedness, Singapore participates actively in international counterterrorism efforts.
Violent crime is rare in Singapore, but visitors are advised to be alert at all times, particularly of suspicious characters and behaviour; these may be reported to the premises’ managers or directly to the Singapore Police Force on phone number 999.
The Singapore Police Force has established the Police MRT Unit on the Mass Rapid Transit network (Singapore’s metro) to protect the public transportation system. Personnel from the Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent are also deployed to complement other police officers on patrol. The Police Coast Guard is active inspecting ferries and other vessels in Singapore’s territorial waters.
All anti-terrorism activities in Singapore are overseen by the ministerial-level National Security Coordination Secretariat.
You may also refer to the following websites for more details:
Read the information provided on our OSIB Terrorism threat page
Read the information provided on our OSIB – Protective Security Advice page
Read the latest Travel Advice for Singapore from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure also provides protective security advice to businesses
Read the information provided on our Protective security advice page.
Intellectual Property (IP) rights are territorial, that is they only give protection in the countries where they are granted or registered. If you are thinking about trading internationally, then you should consider registering your IP rights in your export markets.
In Singapore, IP is protected by patents, trademarks, registered designs, copyright, and layout-designs of integrated circuits, geographical indications, trade secrets and confidential information, as well as plant variety. The legal framework is very comprehensive and generally considered to be one of the most sound in the South East Asia region. Singapore operates under a “first-to-file” system, meaning that the first person to file an IP right in the Singapore jurisdiction will own that right once the application is granted.
Singapore’s IP regime has been consistently recognised as one of the best in the world by international surveys. Singapore is ranked second in the world and top in Asia for having the best protection of IP in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012/2013. The Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Report 2011 and the International Property Rights Index 2012 similarly ranked Singapore top in Asia for their IP protection efforts. According to the Global Innovation Index 2012 compiled by the INSEAD Business School in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Singapore is also Asia’s most innovative country.
The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Law. It was created as the lead government agency that advises on and administers IP laws, promotes IP awareness and provides the infrastructure to facilitate the development of IP in Singapore. As Singapore’s IP regulator and policy advisor, IPOS maintains a robust and pro-business IP regime for the protection and commercial exploitation of IP.
Singapore’s IP rights legislative and administrative regime is fully compliant with Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is also a signatory to several international conventions on IP protection on patents, copyrights and industrial design among others.
Please visit the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore website for more details.
Read the information provided on our Intellectual Property page.
As with terrorism, the Singapore Government takes a serious view of organised crime and has in place several severe measures to counter it. These measures include the use of the death penalty against drug and firearms traffickers; jail and fines for those caught for human and goods trafficking; strict rules and expensive entry charges to discourage Singaporeans from patronising the casinos at its two integrated resorts; and close monitoring of designated red-light districts.
Visitors from the UK are advised not to become involved with drugs of any kind: possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment or the death penalty.
Read the information provided on our Organised crime page.
For advice on serious organised crime visit the National Crime Agency website.