Lawyer Lim Tean directed to correct Facebook posts under online falsehoods law

Lawyer Lim Tean directed to correct Facebook posts under online falsehoods law

Singaporean lawyer Lim Tean has been directed to correct two Facebook posts related to the Ministry of Education's (MOE) spending on local and foreign students, the authorities said on Monday (Dec 16). Ariel Lim reports.

SINGAPORE: Singaporean lawyer Lim Tean has been directed to correct two Facebook posts related to the Ministry of Education's (MOE) spending on local and foreign students, the authorities said on Monday (Dec 16).

MOE said it has instructed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office to issue a Correction Direction to Mr Lim Tean, on the false statements made in two of his Facebook posts.

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"The Correction Direction requires Mr Lim to carry, in full, a correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts," it said.

This is the fourth time correction directions have been issued since the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) came into force in October. On Saturday, directions were issued to Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Previously, directions were issued to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer and the States Times Review.

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"FALSE AND MISLEADING"

Two Facebook posts shared on Dec 12 by Lim Tean contain false and misleading statements, according to an article on the Government's fact-checking website, Factually.

In his Facebook posts, Mr Lim, the leader of political party Peoples Voice, stated that "the total pot available to Singaporean students [is] S$167 million compared to the S$238 million that is spent on foreign students". 

“PAP spends S$167 million on Grants & Bursaries for Singaporeans, but S$238 million on foreign students??” wrote Mr Lim, who is representing blogger Leong Sze Hian in a defamation case involving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

This implies that MOE spends less on Singaporean students than on foreign students, which is "false and misleading", states the Factually article.

The annual budget of MOE is S$13 billion, almost all of which is spent on Singapore citizens, and the S$167 million cited by Mr Lim refers only to bursaries for Singaporean tertiary students.

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According to the Factually article, this "grossly understates MOE’s total spending on Singaporean citizens for education", with the figures of S$167 million and S$238 million not being comparable.

The article also notes that a more appropriate comparison would be the S$13 billion spent on Singaporean students to provide subsidised education for all Singaporean students at all levels against the S$238M attributed to foreign students referred to by Mr Lim, which is less than 2 per cent of the total education budget.

MOE's budget also goes towards costs such as infrastructure, facilities, laboratories, faculty and the teaching force, which are either fixed or non-variable up to the medium term, to provide education for Singaporean students. 

NO SINGAPOREAN STUDENT DEPRIVED OF A PLACE BY A FOREIGN STUDENT

"A large part of the S$238 million attributed to foreign students comprises these fixed and non-variable costs that we have to incur anyway, whether or not we admit a small proportion of foreign students (currently 5 per cent) in the system," said the Factually article, citing Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's parliamentary reply on Aug 5.

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"Our admissions system ensures that no Singaporean student is deprived of a place by a foreign student. Having a small proportion of foreign students in our schools and institutions brings diversity into classrooms and helps our students develop cross-cultural competencies, a key skill in today’s world.

"Likewise, many Singaporean students receive scholarships from, and study in, other countries. We are all part of an inter-connected global ecosystem. Singapore has benefited greatly from establishing such linkages and forming people to people friendships with different countries and cultures. Having some foreign students in our education system enables many more Singaporean students to enjoy similar benefits."

CONSIDERING LEGAL OPTIONS: LIM TEAN

Responding to the POFMA office's directions, Mr Lim said: "Anyone who read my post and the series of posts I made on this subject last week would have been under no mistaken impression that I was discussing the amount of money spent on grants and scholarships and not the overall spending on all Singaporean students."

Writing on Facebook, Mr Lim added that he is considering his legal options. "It is so absurd it is laughable and to me POFMA is the 'Cry Baby' legislation that must be repealed on the very 1st day a non-PAP Government is elected into office," he said.

"It is clear to me that POFMA is being used by this government ahead of the upcoming GE to silence its opponents and chill public discussion of unpopular government policies."

Source: CNA/ic(hm)

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