Singapore Regulatory Update: April 2024

Vadim Krasovskiy Business News, Corporate Compliance, Monthly Newsletter, Taxation

In April 2024, Singapore maintained its status as a vibrant hub for businesses, with 4,659 new companies incorporated during the month, highlighting sustained interest in the city-state’s dynamic business environment. As Singapore remains committed to fostering a robust and secure economy, it continues to refine its regulatory framework to accommodate evolving needs. In this monthly recap, we explore recent developments impacting Singapore businesses, including the launch of new platforms for financial institutions and GST-registered entities by MAS and IRAS, as well as simplified filing procedures for self-employed Individuals and other pertinent changes.

Singapore’s Economic Outlook: Strengthening Amid Long-Term Challenges

Singapore’s economy is poised for strengthening in 2024, driven by various factors despite facing long-term pressures both globally and domestically. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has projected growth, attributing it to the expanding global electronics sector, which is extending its influence beyond semiconductors and igniting growth in emerging markets across Asia.

In the first quarter of 2024, Singapore experienced a sequential easing in economic growth, following a surge in the latter part of 2023. This period saw a convergence of contrasting transitory forces. On one hand, the tourism sector received a boost from an unprecedented influx of events and concerts. Conversely, the manufacturing sector experienced a slowdown, particularly after a surge led by the electronics industry late last year.

Despite these temporary fluctuations, MAS remains optimistic about Singapore’s economic trajectory for the rest of the year. The global economic environment is anticipated to remain favorable, with a convergence of macroeconomic, technological, and interest rate cycles. This alignment is expected to enable Singapore to achieve a growth rate ranging from 1% to 3% in 2024, following a 1.1% expansion in 2023.

Key sectors such as trade-related industries and modern services are expected to witness improved growth compared to the previous year. The ongoing recovery in the global electronics industry, particularly in the memory chip segment, is anticipated to bolster manufacturing and trade activities in Singapore. Additionally, the peaking of global policy interest rates is likely to prompt a rebalancing of investment portfolios, further enhancing financial sector activities.

MAS Launches COSMIC Platform to Bolster Financial System Against Financial Crimes

On April 1, 2024, the Monetary Authority of Singapore introduced COSMIC, a groundbreaking centralized digital platform designed to enhance the exchange of customer information among Financial Institutions (FIs) globally. COSMIC, which stands for Centralised Online Shared MISsing Information for Compliance, is a pivotal tool in the fight against Money Laundering (ML), Terrorism Financing (TF), and Proliferation Financing (PF). This initiative is in alignment with the Financial Services and Markets (Amendment) Act 2023 and accompanying subsidiary legislation, which provide the legal framework and safeguards for the sharing of sensitive information among FIs.

Following a comprehensive public consultation in October 2021, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2022 (FSMA) underwent amendments in May 2023 to establish the legislative groundwork for COSMIC. Under this framework, participating FIs can share customer information exclusively when specific objectively-defined indicators of suspicion, or “red flags,” are detected in a customer’s profile or behavior. Importantly, participant FIs are mandated by the FSMA to implement robust policies and operational safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of shared information. This approach ensures that while potential criminal activities are identified and addressed, the legitimate interests of the vast majority of customers remain protected. Customers are encouraged to promptly respond to FI requests for additional information to facilitate informed risk assessments. This concerted effort underscores Singapore’s commitment to enhancing the integrity and security of its financial ecosystem, positioning the nation as a global leader in combating financial crimes.

Singapore Maintains Top “Maritime City” Status

In the latest DNV Leading Maritime Cities report, Singapore has once again asserted its dominance as a leading maritime hub, maintaining its top position amidst global competition. The report evaluates maritime cities across various dimensions including shipping centers, finance and law, technology, ports and logistics, and attractiveness and competitiveness. Singapore excelled in three crucial categories – attractiveness, ports, and shipping centers – and secured top-five rankings in technology and finance. Notably, Singapore also emerged as the leader in “green” technology, reflecting its commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship in the maritime sector.

Singapore’s success in retaining its top ranking is attributed to a combination of carefully formulated government policies, proactive measures to support the maritime industry, and continuous efforts by local businesses to enhance capacity and modernize infrastructure. The shifting dynamics of global shipping activities towards the East, particularly in Asia, have further bolstered Singapore’s position as a maritime powerhouse. As noted by industry experts, the gradual migration of international trade towards Asia is elevating maritime cities like Shanghai and Singapore, underscoring the region’s growing significance in the global maritime landscape.

InvoiceNow Implementation: Streamlining GST Processes and Support for New Businesses

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) are collaboratively implementing InvoiceNow to streamline GST processes and bolster support for newly incorporated businesses. InvoiceNow, based on the international Peppol standard, is a digital platform designed to facilitate the exchange of invoices in a structured digital format between suppliers and buyers. Commencing from November 2025, GST-registered businesses will be mandated to utilize InvoiceNow solutions for transmitting invoice data directly to IRAS, enhancing tax administration efficiency. This initiative, starting with newly incorporated businesses voluntarily registering for GST and extending to all new voluntary GST registrants by April 2026, aims to streamline compliance processes, fortify record-keeping, and expedite GST refunds, thereby fostering greater operational efficiency and accuracy in tax management.

Simultaneously, IMDA launched the InvoiceNow Accelerate program, offering one year of free InvoiceNow services to newly incorporated businesses starting April 2024. By partnering with service providers, IMDA seeks to accelerate the digitalization journey of these businesses, equipping them with essential tools and resources to thrive in an increasingly digital environment. Furthermore, IMDA continues to enhance the InvoiceNow network, introducing new business document types like electronic Purchase Order and Invoice Response, and implementing Peppol International (PINT) specifications to facilitate seamless cross-border transactions, further solidifying Singapore’s status as a global business hub.

Tax Season 2024: Simplified Filing for Self-Employed Individuals

This year, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore has introduced measures to further simplify tax filing for Self-Employed Persons (SEPs), specifically commission agents and delivery workers. Over 100,000 commission agents will benefit from pre-filled income information in their tax returns, thanks to data obtained from some 650 commission-paying organizations. Additionally, IRAS has extended the Fixed Expense Deduction Ratio (FEDR) to include delivery workers for the first time. This initiative allows eligible SEPs to claim business expenses based on a prescribed percentage of their gross income, streamlining the tax filing process and reducing administrative burdens.

The Fixed Expense Deduction Ratio (FEDR) now extends to qualifying self-employed delivery workers, enabling them to claim tax deductions on business expenses based on a fixed proportion of their annual gross income from delivery services. Depending on the prescribed delivery mode used, delivery workers can claim FEDR ranging from 20% to 60% of their annual gross income. Moreover, taxpayers eligible for the No-Filing Service (NFS) will benefit from the Direct Notice of Assessment (D-NOA) initiative, receiving their tax bills directly with income information and tax reliefs automatically included. Taxpayers who receive a filing notification must file their tax returns by 18 April 2024, while those eligible for NFS need not file an Income Tax Return but must verify the accuracy of their auto-included income information.

Importance of Compliance: Director Penalized for Identity Misuse in Director Appointments

In a recent case, Li Baozhu, the sole director of Corp Nergy Pte Ltd, was fined a total sum of S$6,500 by the State Court for failing to exercise reasonable diligence in the discharge of her duties under the Companies Act. This penalty stemmed from Li’s involvement in the misuse of identities for the appointment of directors within her company. Li’s registration as a Registered Qualified Individual (RQI) and Corp Nergy’s registration as a Registered Filing Agent (RFA) were canceled by ACRA on 11 October 2023 due to these infractions, effectively barring her from operating as a corporate service provider.

Li’s misconduct involved the incorporation of three local companies, wherein she falsely declared to ACRA that a certain local resident individual had consented to be a director. However, investigations revealed that the individual in question had not provided consent for these appointments. Despite relying on a third party to obtain consent, Li failed to verify the authenticity of the consent or take steps to confirm the individual’s willingness to serve as a director. ACRA emphasizes the seriousness of such identity misuse, highlighting that corporate service providers who breach their obligations may face regulatory sanctions, including registration cancellations. Furthermore, directors of corporate service providers may be prosecuted for failing to exercise reasonable diligence, with potential penalties including fines and imprisonment. This case underscores the importance of strict compliance with regulations governing director appointments to maintain the integrity and trustworthiness of Singapore’s corporate sector.

New Flexible Work Arrangement Regulations to Boost Workforce Retention

The Singapore government has introduced new regulations aimed at bolstering workforce flexibility and retention by compelling employers to consider employee requests for Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs). Championed by a diverse panel representing industry bodies, the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests seek to harness the full potential of the local workforce while ensuring adherence to Singapore’s strong work ethic.

Ang Yuit, President of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, highlighted the potential of the guidelines to widen the talent pool for SMEs and improve manpower deployment. Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang stressed the importance of in-person interaction for fostering teamwork, crucial for maintaining jobs in Singapore.

The guidelines mandate employers to respond to all flexible work arrangement requests within two months. To address potential challenges, Sim Gim Guan, Executive Director of the SNEF, recommended establishing clear policies outlining job expectations.

While the guidelines delineate three categories of flexible work arrangements — flexi-place, flexi-time, and flexi-load arrangements — the panel emphasized flexibility in approach. They encouraged tailored arrangements that suit specific needs and business requirements. However, caution was advised against arrangements, such as a four-day workweek with unchanged pay, which could potentially impact business operations and costs. Minister Gan stressed the need for employees to consider overall productivity and business expenses before seeking such arrangements.

Balancing Worker Protection with Business Flexibility: Singapore’s Employment Regulations

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower recently issued a press reply addressing concerns raised in letters from citizens regarding the strengthening of employment laws to protect retrenched staff and making retrenchment benefits mandatory. The reply underscores Singapore’s commitment to balancing worker protection with business flexibility in managing retrenchment scenarios.

MOM highlights that the nation’s approach prioritizes safeguarding workers while affording employers the flexibility needed to navigate market dynamics effectively. This equilibrium fosters the creation of quality jobs, bolstering the chances of retrenched workers securing new employment opportunities swiftly.

Extensive deliberations among tripartite partners, consisting of representatives from the government, employers, and trade unions, have concluded that legislating a baseline retrenchment benefit may not necessarily yield better outcomes for workers. Such a mandate could strain financially distressed employers, potentially putting other employees at risk. Instead, Singapore emphasizes a comprehensive approach encompassing both upstream measures like upskilling and reskilling initiatives, as well as downstream support such as employment facilitation programs. These efforts aim to provide holistic support to workers while acknowledging the complexities of the modern job market.

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