Heng Attempts To Have His Cake and Eat It Too
Today the Minister of Finance, Heng Swee Keat, rejected The Online Citizen (TOC)’s appeal against the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (POFMA) issued over its coverage of Taiwan News’s report that Ho Ching was paid $100 million a year as head of Temasek.
Two days ago I put up a blog entitled “Singapore Fact Checking Website Refutes Ho Ching Salary Claim Without Giving Facts” yet I have not received a POFMA. I know this is because if the Government issues me with a POFMA they know that I will appeal to the High Court.
I am glad that TOC has said that it will appeal to the High Court to get the POFMA listed. According to the Act the only grounds for the High Court to set aside a Correction Notice are:
|(a)||the person did not communicate in Singapore the subject statement;|
|(b)||the subject statement is not a statement of fact, or is a true statement of fact;|
|(c)||it is not technically possible to comply with the Direction.|
If the Government wants to argue that saying Ho Ching earns $100 million a year is not a true statement of fact they have to provide evidence to show that it is false rather than merely asserting the case. Irrelevant and ambiguous statements such as saying that she is not the highest earner or even in the top five earners in terms of annual salary do not constitute facts. Justice Ang, in dismissing the SDP appeal over a POFMA notice, said the onus should be on the Government to prove that the statement was false rather than on the statement-maker to prove that it was true:
“There is a clear information asymmetry between the Minister on one hand, and the maker of a statement being challenged under Pofma on the other.”
“Unlike the Minister, who is able to rely on the machinery of state to procure the relevant evidence of falsity, the maker of a statement often has to contend with far more limited resources. For a statement-maker, who may be an individual, to bear the burden of proof would put him in an invidious position.”
Also the Government is hopelessly contradicted in arguing on the one hand that it will not disclose Ho Ching’s remuneration because Temasek is a private company, as Lawrence Wong argued in Parliament (read my blog here), while at the same time using POFMA against anyone who, in the absence of facts, is forced to make an estimate as to what the PM”s wife is paid. The only grounds for issuing a POFMA are that it is in the public interest to do so. Public interest is defined in the Act as :
|(a)||in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part of Singapore;|
|(b)||to protect public health or public finances, or to secure public safety or public tranquillity;|
|(c)||in the interest of friendly relations of Singapore with other countries;|
|(d)||to prevent any influence of the outcome of an election to the office of President, a general election of Members of Parliament, a by‑election of a Member of Parliament, or a referendum;|
|(e)||to prevent incitement of feelings of enmity, hatred or ill‑will between different groups of persons; or|
|(f)||to prevent a diminution of public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of, or in the exercise of any power by, the Government, an Organ of State, a statutory board, or a part of the Government, an Organ of State or a statutory board.|
The only conceivable ground for issuing a POFMA in this case must be (f). Yet if Temasek is a private company with an independent Board that sets Ho Ching’s remuneration without direction from the Government then how is it covered by (f)? However If Ho Ching is a civil servant and speculation that her salary is $100 million or more would cause a loss of public confidence in the Government, then how can they argue that her remuneration is a private matter for Temasek and there is no duty to disclose like there is with every Minister and civil servant paid from the public purse?
Heng Swee Keat is attempting to have his cake and eat it. HIs use of the repressive and unnecessary POFMA legislation for a perverse purpose tells us all we need to know. He cannot maintain the legal fiction that Temasek is a private company independent of the Government and at the same time use the repressive and unnecessary POFMA legislation on the grounds that finding out Ho Ching’s salary will diminish public confidence in the Government. Of course Ho Ching is a public servant and we have a right to know why the PM appointed her and what she is paid out of public funds. Do not allow the Government to fob you off with illogical and self-serving evasions! If the PM still refuses to tell you what his wife is paid you need a new PM and a new Government.