Former GIC economist, TOC issued POFMA correction direction over false statements about HDB’s deficits
SINGAPORE: A correction direction has been issued to alternative news website The Online Citizen (TOC) and Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, a former chief economist of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, after they posted false and misleading statements about HDB’s deficits and Singapore’s past reserves.
Mr Yeoh published two Facebook posts on Oct 4, referring to the parliamentary reply from the National Development Minister to Mr Leong Mun Wai's question on HDB incurring an estimated development loss of about S$270 million from the Central Weave @ Ang Mo Kio Build-to-Order (BTO) project.
In a media release on Friday (Oct 14), the Ministry of National Development (MND) said Mr Yeoh's posts falsely convey that HDB will not incur a loss of about S$270 million from the project, and that the Government is free to sell state land at nominal or much lower cost than its fair market value.
"The Online Citizen (TOC) subsequently carried an article on the same day echoing the points raised in Yeoh’s Facebook posts," said MND.
On Oct 5, TOC published a second article headlined “Singapore’s reserves substantially profits from S$500m land sales in AMK BTO”.
The article claimed that Minister for National Development Desmond Lee’s parliamentary reply alluded to "profits being made from the land sale by the government" and that "such profits would go to the reserves", said the ministry.
"The headline falsely conveys that the Government’s sale of land to HDB for the AMK BTO project will lead to an increase in Singapore’s reserves."
Recipients of a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) are required to insert a notice against the original post or article, with a link to the Government’s clarification.
Mr Yeoh and TOC have added correction notices to the post and articles in question.
MND said that the losses incurred by HDB are "accurate and real", adding that the agency's deficits are covered using funding from the annual Budget, which is raised from taxes and other revenue streams.
"Real money is involved, and this is certainly not an 'accounting sleight of hand'," said MND.
It stressed that state land is part of Singapore's past reserves, and is not part of the assets that the Government can use as it wishes.
"When HDB requires land to develop flats, the land has to be taken out of the past reserves. HDB has to purchase the land by paying fair market value for the land, and the money goes into the past reserves. The estimated land cost for Central Weave @ AMK is about S$500 million," MND said.
"The Government cannot sell state land at nominal or much lower cost than its fair market value without the President’s approval, as doing so would constitute a draw on past reserves."
Singapore's past reserves are protected by the Constitution for the benefit of current and future generations, noted MND.
"The Government cannot sell state land at nominal or much lower cost than its fair market value without the President’s approval, as doing so would constitute a draw on past reserves," it said, adding that there is an established process to determine the fair market value of land.
"Neither the Government nor the past reserves profit from land sales," MND said.
"For the Central Weave @ AMK BTO project, HDB will pay the Government fair market value for the land, estimated to be about S$500 million. This money will be paid into the past reserves, but does not result in a net increase in the past reserves."