Necessary to invoke POFMA on Bowyer, public funds managed 'carefully and prudently': Indranee

Necessary to invoke POFMA on Bowyer, public funds managed 'carefully and prudently': Indranee

It was necessary to issue a correction order to opposition party member Brad Bowyer as he had been spreading misconceptions that public funds were being mismanaged, Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah said on Monday (Dec 2). Melissa Goh reports.

SINGAPORE:  It was necessary to issue a correction order to opposition party member Brad Bowyer as he had been spreading misconceptions that public funds were being mismanaged, Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah said on Monday (Dec 2).

“Misperceptions and misconceptions exist when they are actively proliferated,” she said, noting this is one of the reasons why the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) is necessary.

Passed in May, the Act gives ministers the power to decide whether something posted online is a falsehood and order that corrections to be run next to it, or that it be taken down entirely.  

Last month, Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer was directed by the POFMA Office – under the instruction of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also the Finance Minister - to correct a Facebook post, the first such use of Singapore’s “fake news” law.

READ: Proposed law on falsehoods has ‘clear oversight mechanism’ to prevent abuse by Government, says Shanmugam

READ: Law to tackle online falsehoods not an attempt to suppress different opinions: Heng Swee Keat

Speaking on CNA938’s morning show Asia First, Ms Indranee said there were three false statements in Mr Bowyer’s post, with the first being the implication that the Government controls the investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC.

This is untrue because these decisions are made by the investment teams, who are professionals with expertise in the area, she stated.

“What the Government's role is, is to appoint the relevant boards, and to make sure that GIC and Temasek act within their mandate.”

Indranee Rajah 938 interview (2)
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah speaking on CNA938 on Dec 2, 2019. (Photo: Jeremy Long) 

The second falsehood had to do with the now-cancelled Amaravati project, a joint project between Singapore and Andhra Pradesh to develop a new capital city for the southern Indian state.

Mr Bowyer’s two assertions - that a “substantial part” of the S$4 billion invested in Andhra Pradesh went into the Amaravati project and that the funds had been poorly invested by Government-linked companies (GLCs) and related parties – were both untrue, said Ms Indranee.

She noted the Singapore consortium involved in the Amaravati project had publicly stated the only costs incurred were those relating to design services – an amount in the low millions, not billions.

Furthermore it was not just GLCs and related parties that had invested, but other Singapore companies as well, she added.

The last false statement by Mr Bowyer was that Temasek had invested in the debt-ridden parent company of a steakhouse chain run by Turkish restaurateur Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae.

Ms Indranee noted this is incorrect as the restaurants are owned by a company called D.ream International BV -  which Temasek has invested in – while the company that is reportedly in financial difficulty is Dogus Holding, one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders.

READ: Tech companies committed to working with Singapore to combat deliberate online falsehoods

READ: Facebook issues correction notice on States Times Review's post

It was necessary for these three statements to be corrected as, taken together, they give the “overall impression” that public funds are being mismanaged by Temasek and GIC, under the direction of the Government, she said.

“That's actually not true, because basically Temasek and GIC, together with MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore), actually contribute about 20 per cent of our revenues to our national budget,” she said, noting Temasek’s portfolio has tripled from S$100 billion in 2002 to more than S$300 billion today.

“Contrary to the impression created, public funds are being managed carefully and prudently for the public good. And that's why it was necessary to issue the correction direction,” she said.

A second correction direction under POFMA was also issued last week to Mr Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, who runs the States Times Review website and Facebook page.

Source: CNA/az(hm)

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