TL;DR – Bowyer suggests we do our best to comment factually and responsibly. Now, walk the talk.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) came into effect last month, and we’re seeing the first use of this fake news law on opposition member Brad Bowyer’s Facebook post dated 13 November 2019.
The POFMA is to tackle the spread of online falsehoods in a targeted and speedy manner. When the Bill was debated in Parliament, Minister for Law Shanmugam had stressed that this new law is designed to give the Government the tools to deal with falsehoods on the Internet that can go viral in a matter of minutes and cause untold harm.
While practically all Members of Parliament agreed with the need to implement some means of tackling fake news, the Workers’ Party MPs were concerned about the new law giving ministers too much power. The opposition party wanted the courts, instead of the ministers to be the arbiters of falsehoods, and accused the Government of creating a self-serving law that can be abused to quash critics.
Minister Shanmugam had then said there was no way to guarantee that the courts would be able to respond within hours every single time a falsehood needed to be dealt with. He also stressed that the Bill narrows the scope of the Government’s powers, instead of broadening it.
You can read more about POFMA here.
The skinny on the first use of POFMA
13 November 2019
Brad Bowyer, member of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) uploaded a Facebook post that questioned various investment decisions made by Temask and GIC and he also called upon his followers to review the performance and record of the People’s Action Party (PAP) since 2015.
25 November 2019
The Government invokes the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) for the first time by issuing Brad Bowyer with a Correction Direction. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) also issued a press statement to say that Bowyer’s post contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government.MOF Media Statement 25Nov2019
The Government also published “corrections and clarification” on its fact-checking site, Factually.
Corrections and clarifications regarding falsehoods posted by Mr Brad Bowyer
1. The Facebook post by Mr Brad Bowyer contains false statements of fact and misleading statements.
I. Singapore Government’s involvement in investment decisions by Temasek and GIC
2. Mr Bowyer implies that the Singapore Government controls Temasek’s and GIC’s commercial decisions. This is false.
3. The Government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC. Which companies they invest in, or divest from, is entirely the responsibility of their respective management teams. The Government likewise does not interfere in the commercial decisions of Temasek’s and GIC’s portfolio companies.
4. Temasek and GIC are run on market principles, independent of the Government. Many of their portfolio companies are publicly listed. The Government’s role is to ensure that Temasek and GIC have competent boards, which ensure that their respective mandates are met. The Government also holds the boards of Temasek and GIC accountable for their respective overall performances.
II. Amaravati Project
5. Mr Bowyer says “…we also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project part of the S$4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all…”. There are implicit factual assertions that (1) a substantial part of S$4 billion invested in Andhra Pradesh was put into the Amaravati project; and (2) S$4 billion has been poorly invested (“dumped”) by Government-linked companies (“GLCs”) and related parties in Andhra Pradesh. These are false.
6. First, the Singapore Consortium (comprising Ascendas Singbridge Pte Ltd (now part of CapitaLand Group) and Sembcorp Development Ltd) in the Amaravati project has stated publicly that the costs incurred have been limited to design services prior to commencement of execution works on the ground, amounting to a few million dollars. There are no billions of dollars involved.
7. Second, not only GLCs and related parties have invested in Andhra Pradesh. Several other Singaporean companies have also done so. An example of a non-GLC investment in Andhra Pradesh is Indus Coffee Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of a listed company in Singapore.
III. Salt Bae
8. Mr Bowyer asserts that Temasek invested in the debt-ridden parent company which owns Salt Bae. This is false.
9. The Salt Bae chain of restaurants is owned by a company called D.ream International BV, which operates 60 restaurants throughout the world via four operating subsidiaries. Temasek invested in D.ream International BV, and not in one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders called Doğuş Holding A.Ş. The company that is reportedly in difficulties according to the article cited by Mr Bowyer, is Doğuş Holding A.Ş., and not D.ream International BV.
10. Additional clarifications on the points Mr Bowyer has raised are set out below.
Temasek, GIC and public funds
11. Mr Bowyer uses false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC:
a. Over the past 20 years, Temasek’s total shareholder return has been 7% (annualised, in SGD terms). Temasek’s overall portfolio has grown from less than S$100 billion in 2002 to over S$300 billion today.
b. Temasek is subject to market scrutiny and discipline. Since 2004, Temasek has published its financial information annually. Temasek also issues Bonds and Eurocommercial Paper to retail, institutional, accredited and other specified investors as part of its financial discipline. Additionally, Temasek has been rated Aaa by Moody’s Investors Service and AAA by S&P Global Ratings, ever since its inaugural ratings in 2004.
c. Under the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework, the expected returns of Temasek, GIC and MAS together, contribute around 20% of Government revenue currently. The Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) is the single largest contributor to Government revenue, exceeding GST.
d. This contrasts starkly with most other countries. In the United States, 1 out of every 10 dollars of US federal government revenue goes towards servicing interest payments on the federal debt. In Singapore, 1 out of every 5 dollars of revenue spent comes from the returns on our reserves. In other words, instead of having to tax citizens to service interest on government debt, Singapore has managed to increase social and other spending through NIRC from Temasek, GIC and MAS, while keeping taxes low.
e. Temasek and GIC are managed prudently and competently. No other sovereign wealth funds have contributed so significantly to national budgets and the economy, without relying on natural resources or a large domestic economy.
12. Mr Bowyer suggests Keppel Corporation or its subsidiary has suffered losses due to the $0.5 billion fine imposed. This is misleading.
13. In the last 33 years, Keppel has made profits every year. In the last 4 years, Keppel has made profits of S$3.4 billion, including a S$196 million net profit in the year when the Brazilian fine was imposed. Keppel has been declaring dividends regularly as a listed company to all its shareholders, including Temasek.
14. Mr Bowyer refers to Singtel’s investment in Bharti Airtel. Singtel’s shareholding today is valued at S$13 billion, which is more than double its investment to date of S$5.1 billion. Bharti Airtel faces a number of recent regulatory and Indian Supreme Court decisions. These are matters for Bharti Airtel and Singtel to address.
15. Mr Bowyer suggests that S$4 billion in investments by GLCs and related parties in Andhra Pradesh have all been doing poorly. Mr Bowyer makes this sweeping statement, but gives no basis for it.
25 November 2019 @ 11:55AM
Brad Bowyer edited his Facebook post of 13 Nov 2019 to comply with the correction order and he also included a link to the Factually article. The edits were slight and are at the start and also towards the end of the post. You can check the “edit history” of his post or check out the following.
25 November 2019 @12:20 PM
25 November 2019 @ 2:26PM
Well, it seems to me that the first use of the PFMA is a sorta a non-event.