SINGAPORE: The High Court will decide if a Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) order should be upheld, in a case relating to Temasek Holdings' CEO Ho Ching's salary.
Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) was one of four parties to be issued correction directions on Apr 19 under the falsehoods act in relation to statements about Mdm Ho's salary.
"On Apr 29, 2020, The Online Citizen filed an application to the High Court seeking judicial review of the decision to issue the correction direction," Second Minister of Finance Indranee Rajah told Parliament on Tuesday (May 5).
"One of the issues that TOC has raised before the court relates to the public interest grounds under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act."
She was responding to a question from Workers' Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera on how the statements on Mdm Ho's salary harms the public interest.
A HardwareZone user, The Temasek Review's Facebook page, TOC's Facebook page and website, and Mr Lim Tean were issued correction directions under POFMA on Apr 19 after they published or shared claims that Mdm Ho's salary was "about S$100 million".
"Several online posts carried a false statement regarding the remuneration of Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd's Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, Ms Ho Ching,” the POFMA office had said.
“The authors made various claims that the annual salary of Temasek CEO Ms Ho Ching is ‘NT$ 2.1 billion’, ‘about 100 million SGD’ or ‘S$99 million a year’,” the Government added on its Factually article. It said all these claims are false.
Temasek had said earlier that day that the claims were false, adding that Mdm Ho's annual compensation is "neither the highest within Temasek, nor is she amongst the top five highest paid executives". Mdm Ho is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
POFMA orders can be issued if a statement is false and that it is in the public interest for a minister to act.
TOC said in a Facebook post on Apr 19 that it would apply to the High Court to contest the correction direction.
On Tuesday, Ms Indranee said it was not appropriate to answer Mr Perera's question as the matter is now before the court.
Mr Perera responded by asking if the POMFA order in this case meets the objective of "reinforcing public trust in those institutions, or does that actually potentially erode public trust because it will breed more speculation to no constructive end".
This is especially if "POFMA directives are going to be issued every time a false figure is given for compensation of the top management of sovereign wealth funds ... but the real figure is not given", he added.
Ms Indranee said the court is an "independent tribunal" that will decide on the issue of public interest.
"So at the end of the day, in so far as the specific question of public trust is involved, the court will decide on that," she said.
"With respect to the other matters, those don't really pertain to this particular question. The public trust will be upheld because the public will know that when the court decides on this issue, whether or not the test under POFMA was met.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday night, Ms Indranee said there was an application for a judicial review of the decision to issue a correction direction.
"It was not appropriate for me, in the circumstances of this case, to respond to the question," she added.
Editor's note: The headline to this story has been edited for clarity.