Should Roy Ngerng seek a refund for defamation damages paid to PM Lee?

A lingering question that some may have with the ongoing Lee family saga on social media is whether Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister of Singapore, will sue his two siblings for making “unfortunate allegations” of him and the “absurd claim” that the PM has political ambitions for his son, Lee Hong Yi. Mr Lee Hsien Yang has even alleged that Ms Ho Ching, wife of PM Lee committed theft by taking documents of late Lee Kuan Yew when he was hospitalised.

Political leaders from the People’s Action Party are known for filing defamation suits against critics, especially political opponents who make allegations. PAP leaders have stated that it is a must for allegers to be sued so that their accusations can be disproven in court.

In 1999, when former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was asked about his response to those who claim that the judiciary was used to silence critics. He replied:

“That’s nonsense. What are these critics? There are many critics of the PAP in Singapore. They are not all hauled up before the judiciary. Political opponents, so long as they keep within the law, don’t need safeguards. They do not have to appear before the judiciary. But if they’ve defamed us, we have to sue them — because if we don’t, our own integrity will be suspect. We have an understanding that if a minister is defamed and he does not sue, he must leave cabinet. By defamation, I mean if somebody says the minister is on the take or is less than honest. If he does not rebut it, if he does not dare go before the court to be interrogated by the counsel for the other side, there must be some truth in it. If there is no evidence, well, why are you not suing?”

If the former prime minister’s words were to taken seriously, one would expect PM Lee file a defamation suit against his two siblings.

Just last year, blogger and activist, Roy Ngerng was ordered to pay Mr Lee $150,000 for defamation after Justice Lee Seiu Kin, in a 73-page decision, said that his conduct had been malicious and that it was likely he “cynically defamed” Mr Lee to increase viewership of his blog, The Heart Truths.

In recognition of the standing that political leaders have in Singapore society, the Judge found Ngerng to have acted out of malice and the mode of publication to be aggravating. Ruling a payout of $100,000 in general damages and $50,000 in aggravated damages to PM Lee.

In the seven hours of cross-examination by Ngerng on 2 July 2016, he raised this particular question about why PM Lee had to sue him instead  reaching out to him.

Ngerng: You did not reach out to me before you sued me?
Lee: No, you defamed me. I have to defend myself.
Ngerng: Yes, yes. The question is you didn’t reach out to me.
Lee: Yes, I wrote you a letter asking you to take it down and apologise.
Ngerng: Now, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) wrote to me on Twitter, I used a photo of theirs and they asked for a photo credit. If you had reached out to me, we could have resolved things.
Lee: You have chosen a different path for your own reasons, I accept that. Well, you have to take the consequences.
Ngerng: Mr Lee, CNA did not send me a demand letter … They request, and I did it voluntarily. Would you have chosen to not send me a demand letter?
Lee: You have been skirting closer and closer to defaming me for a long period of time. I have been watching this, I have not responded. Eventually, it was unambiguous and flagrant and I decided I had no choice but to act.
Ngerng: Mr Lee, you just made an accusation about me.
Lee: Because you have been making more and more outrageous allegations about the CPF, stopping short of accusing me of doing bad things personally, but coming closer and closer to saying that. And at some point last year, when you published this post on 15 May 2014, I consulted my lawyers and it was completely unambiguous and I could not not act.

According to PM Lee’s reply to Ngerng’s question on what spurred the Prime Minister of Singapore to sue him for defamation, he said that Ngerng had been making more and more “outrageous allegations about the CPF, stopping short of accusing me of doing bad things personally…” and when Ngerng made the post which linked him to the City Harvest Church leaders, it  “was completely unambiguous” that he could not not act on it.

But the recent spate of accusations made by PM Lee’s two siblings are in no way unambiguous, in fact, they are so clear cut that they are literally saying it as it is, that their brother, PM Lee lied and abused his power as the Prime Minister of Singapore. Instead of suing the two for defamation as former PM Goh has said as a must if a minister is being defamed, PM Lee is seeking to address the wild allegations by his siblings through a Parliamentary statement on this coming 3 July and to be questioned by fellow MPs in Parliament.

Given the unrepairable damage that PM Lee’s two siblings have caused to his reputation locally and internationally, Ngerng’s blog post pales in comparison. It would also seem to many by this point that PM Lee could have jolly well adopted, by making a simple statement to clarify the insinuation by Ngerng in his blog post instead of a defamation lawsuit.

Since PM Lee has adopted a double standard approach on how to deal with character assassination upon him as the Prime Minister, a public servant, would he offer a refund to Ngerng for the damages he claimed in the lawsuit?