POFMA Office directs Brad Bowyer to correct Facebook post in first use of 'fake news' law

POFMA Office directs Brad Bowyer to correct Facebook post in first use of 'fake news' law

factually corrections pofma
A screenshot of the Factually post citing the corrections and clarifications regarding falsehoods posted by Mr Brad Bowyer on Temasek and GIC on his Facebook account. (Image: www.gov.sg)

SINGAPORE: Opposition party member Brad Bowyer has been directed to correct a Facebook post he made earlier this month that among other things questioned the independence of Temasek and GIC, in the first use of the "fake news" law in Singapore.

"The Minister for Finance has instructed POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction to Mr Brad Bowyer with regard to his Facebook post on 13 November 2019, 7.46am," said the POFMA Office in a news release on Monday (Nov 25).

"The Correction Direction requires Mr Bowyer to carry in full, the correction notice at the top of his Facebook post," it said.

The office is part of the Infocomm Media Development Authority and oversees the administration of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

Aimed at combating the spread of deliberate online falsehoods, POFMA took effect at the beginning of October, five months after it was passed in Parliament in May.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) said in a separate release on Monday that Mr Bowyer's Facebook post implied that the Government was involved in individual investment decisions of GIC and Temasek.

"Mr Bowyer’s post contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government," said MOF.

"It is necessary to state this for the record: GIC and Temasek operate on a commercial basis, and the Government is not involved in their individual investment decisions," the ministry said.

A check by CNA on the edit history of Mr Bowyer's post showed that a correction notice was added at 11.55am on Monday.

He also made a statement on Facebook on Monday confirming he has issued a correction notice for his Nov 13 post.

"I am not against being asked to make clarifications or corrections especially if it is in the public interest," said Mr Bowyer, who said in a Facebook post in July he is part of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).

"In general, I caution all those who comment on our domestic politics and social issues to do so with due care and attention especially if you speak from any place of influence," he added.

An article titled Corrections and Clarifications Regarding Falsehoods Posted by Mr Brad Bowyer posted on the Government's fact-checking website, Factually, said Mr Bowyer's Facebook post contained false statements of fact and misleading statements.

Here are the corrections and clarifications listed in the Factually article:

FALSEHOODS

1. The Government’s involvement in investment decisions by Temasek and GIC

What Mr Bowyer wrote: Mr Bowyer's Nov 13 post, said the Factually article, implies that the Government controls Temasek’s and GIC’s commercial decisions.

Factually article: This is false, said the article.

"The Government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC," it said.

"Which companies they invest in, or divest from, is entirely the responsibility of their respective management teams. The Government likewise does not interfere in the commercial decisions of Temasek’s and GIC’s portfolio companies."

The Factually article also said that both Temasek and GIC are run on market principles independent of the Government.

Many of their portfolio companies are publicly listed, and the Government’s role is to ensure that Temasek and GIC have competent boards that hold them accountable for their respective overall performances.

2. Amaravati project

What Mr Bowyer wrote: "We also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project part of the S$4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all."

Factually article: Mr Bowyer's post made implicit factual assertions that a substantial part of S$4 billion invested in Andhra Pradesh was put into the Amaravati project; and that the investment had been poorly invested by Government-linked companies (GLCs) and related parties in Andhra Pradesh, said the Factually article.

"These are false," said the Factually article. "There are no billions of dollars involved."

The Singapore Consortium - comprising Ascendas Singbridge (now part of CapitaLand Group) and Sembcorp Development - in the Amaravati project has stated publicly that the costs incurred have been limited to design services prior to commencement of execution works on the ground, amounting to a few million dollars, said the Factually article.
 
It also said that not only GLCs and related parties have invested in Andhra Pradesh. Several other Singaporean companies have also done so, including Indus Coffee, a subsidiary of a listed company in Singapore, it said.

3. Salt Bae

What Mr Bowyer wrote: Mr Bowyer asserted that Temasek invested in the debt-ridden parent company which owns Salt Bae, said the Factually article.

Factually article: "This is false," said the article.

The Salt Bae chain of restaurants is owned by a company called D.ream International BV, which operates 60 restaurants throughout the world via four operating subsidiaries.

Temasek invested in D.ream International BV, and not in one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders called Doğuş Holding that is reportedly in difficulties.

CLARIFICATIONS

1. Temasek, GIC and public funds

The Factually article said that Mr Bowyer used false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC.

Mr Bowyer in his post had questioned: "Is any of this wise investment by the primaries (Temasek and GIC) or fiduciary responsibility of those overseeing them as it involves public funds directly managed or indirectly injected in to them?"

The Factually article pointed out that Temasek's total shareholder return has been 7 per cent (annualised, in SGD terms) over the past 20 years, and that its overall portfolio has grown from less than S$100 billion in 2002 to more than S$300 billion today.

"Temasek is subject to market scrutiny and discipline ... Additionally, Temasek has been rated Aaa by Moody’s Investors Service and AAA by S&P Global Ratings, ever since its inaugural ratings in 2004," it added.

"Temasek and GIC are managed prudently and competently. No other sovereign wealth funds have contributed so significantly to national budgets and the economy, without relying on natural resources or a large domestic economy."

2. Keppel

Mr Bowyer in his post had suggested that Keppel Corp or its subsidiary has suffered losses due to a S$500 million fine, said the Factually article.

This is misleading, it added, pointing out that Keppel has made profits every year for the last 33 years.

"In the last four years, Keppel has made profits of S$3.4 billion, including a S$196 million net profit in the year when the Brazilian fine was imposed. Keppel has been declaring dividends regularly as a listed company to all its shareholders, including Temasek."

3. Bharti Airtel

Mr Bowyer in his post had mentioned Indian Telco Bharti Airtel and questioned Singtel's investment in it.

The Factually article pointed out that Singtel’s shareholding in Bharti Airtel is currently valued at S$13 billion, more than double its investment to date of S$5.1 billion.

"Bharti Airtel faces a number of recent regulatory and Indian Supreme Court decisions. These are matters for Bharti Airtel and Singtel to address," it said.

4. Amaravati project

The Factually article said that a suggestion by Mr Bowyer that S$4 billion in investments by GLCs and related parties in Andhra Pradesh have all been doing poorly.

"Mr Bowyer makes this sweeping statement, but gives no basis for it."

Source: CNA/jt(aj)

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