"ACRA will take a whole-of-government approach to make it easy and convenient for businesses to transact with us and find information to help them manage and grow their business."
Singapore is operating in an increasingly complex environment. All sectors in our economy are facing technological disruptions and having to mount a robust response. ACRA, like other public sector agencies and companies, too cannot continue in a business-as-usual mode. ACRA has to take a hard look at how it can carry out its role of facilitating enterprise in the most efficient and effective manner.
Embarking on ACRA's Transformation Journey
In 2017, ACRA began its journey of transformation. The ACRA Board, under the leadership of Ms Lim Soo Hoon, saw ACRA's role as that of Promoting a Vibrant and Trusted Business Environment in Singapore. The Board and Management set out corporate goals and strategies to deliver ease of doing business, strong public confidence in audit and financial reporting, and seamless customer service in a cost-efficient manner. These in turn contribute to a business-friendly Singapore, and help build a better future for Singaporeans.
ACRA has geared up to achieve these outcomes, as part of its transformation journey. This journey will take a few years, but will have clear targets and milestones. ACRA will take a whole-of-government approach to make it easy and convenient for businesses to transact with us and find information to help them manage and grow their business. The ACRA team will draw insights from their interactions with the business community to co-create policies and co-develop applications that meet businesses' needs. ACRA will take an outside-in approach to build a business registry operating model that is digital to the core, that not only reduces regulatory costs for businesses but also enhances corporate transparency.
Changing Legislations to Reduce Compliance Costs
As part of the changes to the Companies Act announced in March 2017, a foreign company can now transfer its registration from its original jurisdiction to Singapore without having to set up a subsidiary here, thus reducing operational disruption to the company. The re-domiciliation regime, which took effect from October 2017, will boost Singapore's position as a global exchange for international commercial business by allowing businesses to anchor themselves in Singapore and aggregate here.
Later this year, private companies will not be required to hold annual general meetings, subject to some rules. This is part of ACRA's efforts to simplify rules and keep compliance burden low for companies. ACRA is also reviewing the Accountants Act with the aim of strengthening audit quality in Singapore. Feedback from various stakeholder groups is being sought so as to shape a progressive audit regulatory regime that promotes market confidence and keeps compliance cost low for businesses.
It is important that Singapore maintains its reputation as a clean and trusted international financial hub. To this end, ACRA implemented the beneficial ownership regime which requires companies to maintain registers of beneficial owners and nominee directors. This is a major step in promoting greater transparency in the ownership and control of business entities in Singapore. As part of nation-wide efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, ACRA enhanced the set of guidelines for Registered Filing Agents by including guidance on risk assessment, requiring identification of beneficial owners and other customer due diligence measures, and also commenced compliance checks on public accountants in 2017.
Innovating and Integrating to Benefit Businesses
To support our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in adopting digital technologies, ACRA is collaborating with government agencies and other stakeholders to develop integrated digital solutions that empower businesses to run their business and meet their regulatory obligations more easily. One such collaboration is with the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Enterprise Singapore and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and to develop the SME Cloud Exchange Network accounting software. This software will enable SMEs to prepare their financial statements and tax submissions and submit them directly to ACRA and IRAS, thus fulfilling their statutory obligations seamlessly. We can look forward to more collaborations that streamline the multiple touchpoints and transactions with different government agencies for the convenience of businesses.
In line with the Smart Nation initiative to widen public access to data, ACRA now provides free data – more than 1.5 million business records – for public consumption at the government data portal Data.Gov.Sg. Widening public access to ACRA's data will also help to enhance corporate transparency. Later this year, ACRA will introduce Application Programming Interfaces as another means for businesses and members of the public to access ACRA's data, so that they can build applications and create new business solutions with the data. Such open access allows capabilities and innovations beyond the government to be tapped for the benefit of Singapore.
Upholding Standards of our Regulatory Regimes
To stay abreast of international best practices and contribute towards the development of financial reporting, audit and corporate regulatory standards, ACRA continued to participate actively in various international and regional fora. In 2017, we were re-elected to the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators Board for a four-year term. Earlier this year, we were also re-elected to the Executive Committee of the Corporate Registers Forum. These are recognitions that augur well for us as we continue to play our part in the international community by sharing best practices and uphold the standards of our regulatory regimes.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of our key stakeholders and partners.
On behalf of the Board, I would like to express our deepest appreciation to Ms Lim Soo Hoon who served as Chairman from April 2012 to March 2018. Under Soo Hoon's leadership, ACRA undertook the comprehensive review of the Companies Act in 2014, leading to the implementation of over 200 legislative amendments, the largest number since the Act was enacted in 1967. The amendments have helped to reduce regulatory burden on companies, provide greater business flexibility and improve the corporate governance landscape in Singapore.
My deep appreciation also goes to our Board members for their invaluable contributions to ACRA. I would like to express my gratitude to Mr Sajjad Akhtar, Ms Melissa Khoo, Mr Alan Nisbet and Mr Muthukrishnan Ramaswami, who have recently stepped down from the Board, for their insightful advice and dedicated service. I warmly welcome our new Board members Mr Muhammad Hidhir, Mr Paul Lee, Mr Bruce Liang and Mr Kevin Wong.
On behalf of the Board, I would also like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the staff of ACRA for their commitment and hard work as we seek to promote a vibrant and trusted business environment in Singapore for businesses to thrive and flourish.
MRS TAN CHING YEE