POFMA court case: SDP argues for MOM to release data on local employment to prove the party's statements are false

POFMA court case: SDP argues for MOM to release data on local employment to prove the party's statements are false

SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and chairman Paul Tambyah speaking at a press conference
SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and chairman Paul Tambyah speaking at a press conference on Sep 2, 2015. (File photo: Sarah Yang)

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) argued in court on Thursday (Jan 16) for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to release data on local PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) employment, to prove that their statements are false and so settle the matter.

SDP was issued correction directions by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo over three online posts they made that referred to a purported rising trend of local PMET retrenchments.

MOM said SDP's article and two Facebook posts on Singapore's population policy contained a misleading graphic and false statement of facts. It said there was no rising trend of local PMET retrenchments, and that employment of local PMETs has instead risen steadily since 2015.

However, SDP stands by its posts and says they are accurate based on what data is made available, and took to the High Court in a chamber hearing to argue their case.

READ: Manpower Minister rejects SDP’s application to retract correction directions, cites insufficient grounds

READ: SDP correction directions - Party says it will pursue matter in court

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after SDP made some headway on their arguments on Thursday afternoon, SDP Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan demanded MOM release the data to prove the party's posts false.

"Our main point - the crux of the matter is that Singaporean PMET employment is coming down," he said. 

"We communicated in chambers that MOM has this data. Just release this data and settle the matter once and for all. Produce the data. Show us."

He said MOM had indicated that it was "not willing" to release the data.

READ: SDP correction directions: Opposition party files High Court appeal against Manpower Minister

Party chairman Paul Tambyah said the statements made in the posts were inferences based on data that was publicly available on MOM's website.

"It would be so much easier to have all the data released," he said, adding that the statements had been made based on "lived experiences".

READ: SDP calls on MOM to retract correction directions; MOM says party should follow due process

These were backed up by inferences drawn from different sets of data that are available. Dr Tambyah said specific data on local Singaporean PMET employment was not available, and that they had to infer from other sets of data.

The hearing ended at about 5pm and is set to continue on Friday morning with SDP resuming its arguments in chambers. Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair has not responded in court and will make his arguments only after the party concludes theirs. 

SDP FAILED TO CONVERT SUMMONS INTO WRIT

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Dr Tambyah said they had tried to convert the summons into a writ, which would allow them to call on MOM to clarify issues on Singapore PMET unemployment, which was the main contention.

However, the judge did not allow this for "several legal reasons", which Dr Tambyah did not elaborate on.

"We feel that POFMA has to be used for obvious falsehoods," said Dr Tambyah. "Like ... a roof in Punggol has collapsed. Here, we're arguing about interpretations."

He said there were arguments over details on the statistics, which can be interpreted differently based on different time periods and data points.

Dr Chee said "you can argue until the cows come home" and there would still be disputes as they were discussing interpretations, which vary, as opposed to facts.

"We've conceded ... that MOM's statement is not false if they use it in that time frame," he said. "At the same time, because of that time period, ours is not false. Ours is in fact true."

"MOM has taken its case, presented its data in a certain manner and says ours is false," said Dr Chee. 

While SDP members were in chambers, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing announced a new set of employment data, which Dr Tambyah said they would look at. 

The party said it has spent more than S$900 to file the court action alone. While donors contributed towards this, Dr Tambyah said they wished they could have used the money on the General Election instead.

When approached by CNA, Senior Counsel Nair declined comment, saying these matters are part of ongoing arguments in court.

The hearing was heard in chambers after SDP failed in its bid to have it heard in open court.

Source: CNA/ll(rw)

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