SINGAPORE: The Government issued correction orders under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act POFMA to the East Asia Forum on Wednesday (Sept 13) in response to an article written by academic Ying-kit Chan.
Mr Chan is an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Chinese Studies and his piece, titled “A spate of scandals strikes Singapore”, was published on the East Asia Forum on Aug 18. The article received considerable interest online and was shared by both netizens and a number of online publications.
Historian Michael Barr, who has contributed extensively to research on Singapore’s political landscape, had even called the op-ed a “well-aimed article” on the Singapore scandals that unfolded in July this year.
He was referring to the controversy over two ministers’ rentals of two state-owned bungalows – which were later declared above board by the anti-graft agency – as well the extramarital affair involving two ruling party MPs and the ongoing corruption probe against the Transport Minister.
The Government, however, has taken issue with Mr Chan’s piece and has asserted that the article contains false statements of fact.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) noted that the article claimed that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had conflated marital infidelity and corruption. Asserting that this is untrue, the PMO said that PM Lee’s comments on both subjects were related only to the timing of their public disclosure, not their substance.
It added that PM Lee had also made clear distinctions between allegations of corruption and personal misconduct during a Ministerial Statement on Aug 2.
The PMO also said that the article alleged that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was not independent because it reported directly to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister had the power to refuse approval for investigations.
Refuting these claims, the ministry highlighted that the CPIB is not legally required to seek the Prime Minister’s consent before conducting investigations. Investigations can proceed unless the Prime Minister explicitly refuses consent, and the President’s concurrence can enable investigations to continue even if the Prime Minister objects.
The PMO also said that the article suggested a cover-up of wrongdoing in property transactions involving former Minister Richard Hu, Lee Kuan Yew, and Lee Hsien Loong.
Asserting that this matter had been openly debated in Parliament in 1996, with full disclosure of facts and a debate on the issue, the Government said that investigations conducted by various authorities did not reveal any wrongdoing or impropriety.
Finally, the PMO said that the article claimed that Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, rather than the CPIB, investigated the lease of the two state-owned properties at Ridout Road. The ministry clarified that the CPIB had indeed conducted a thorough investigation and found no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing.
It said that Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean’s subsequent review of the matter supported the CPIB’s findings, and both reports were publicly disclosed while Parliament also openly discussed these investigations in July 2023, with no dispute over the CPIB’s findings.
The Government reiterated its commitment to maintaining a clean and incorruptible system and emphasised its willingness to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, with findings reported to the public. The PMO said:
“Whilst the author is free to express his views on the above matters, his article makes false and misleading statements while omitting key facts on these matters of public interest.”
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Indranee Rajah, has instructed the POFMA Office to issue a correction direction to the East Asia Forum. This direction requires the recipient to insert a notice against the original post, providing a link to the Government’s clarification.
The East Asia Forum has yet to issue a response to the correction orders. Mr Chan’s article remains on the website, without the correction direction attached.