Speech for Income Tax (Amendment) Bill

Mr Speaker,

The Bill permits the Comptroller to disclose information with consent to public offices and private individuals engaged by the Government to assist public officers. These private individuals have to execute a declaration of secrecy and commit an offence if they were to disclose such information received. Can the Minister tell us what is the penalty involved for this offence? Would that be under section 94 of the Income Tax Act, which states that the penalty is a maximum $5,000 fine and in default, imprisonment not exceeding six months. Is this adequate for deterrence purposes?

Under the PDPA, the penalty for unauthorised disclosure of personal data is a maximum $5,000 fine or imprisonment, not exceeding two years or both. This is more severe than the penalty under the Income Tax Act and yet, income information is something that most consider highly confidential and sensitive, more so than other personal data, like addresses, phone numbers and so on.

Will the Minister review the penalty for unauthorised disclosure of income information?

Secondly, what measures are in place to prevent individuals with access to confidential income information on individuals and companies from utilising that confidential information to benefit themselves or their companies financially? What penalties are in place for unauthorised utilisation of information? The financial gains for such unauthorised utilisation may outweigh a $5,000 fine.

The Bill also permits the Comptroller to disclose information listed in the 11th Schedule without the person’s consent. I had earlier intended to ask for an explanation of under what circumstances this would be required. But I note from the Senior Minister of State’s speech earlier that he mentioned that this is for the purpose of certain Government departments being able to proactively approach companies that may qualify for certain Government financial assistance or other assistance programmes. I appreciate the good intention of this move but feel that it would be better if the Bill then specifies under what circumstances such disclosure without consent can take place, instead of leaving it open-ended, which then throws the gate open for disclosure without consent under any other circumstances.

The 11th Schedule currently lists only company information and not information on individuals. However, clause 41 of the Bill allows the Minister to amend the 11th Schedule. This seems to suggest that the Minister will be able to add personal information into the 11th Schedule subsequently. If so, this would raise privacy concerns and is quite a major departure from what the current Bill contains.

I have grave concerns about this power being vested in a single individual. Any such decision should be justified and debated in Parliament. I therefore suggest that instead of amending section 106(3), to insert instead section 106(4) to allow the Minister to amend the 11th Schedule subject to the barring of any individual information being included.