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Govt fans claims of fake news by refusing to engage with reliable and established alternative media sites

It is of course wrong to make grave accusations without requisite evidence and I am not surprised that Singapore would defend any allegations of being complicit with the 1MDB scandal vigorously. I would never be in a position to say whether or not Singapore was involved nor do I have any concrete evidence either way. All we have at this point is what the Singapore government says versus what various online news websites allege.

According to news reports, however, it would appear that the plot to defraud Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund was hatched over an exquisite meal of suckling pig and abalone in Singapore's Taste Paradise Restaurant. Given that the now infamous meal in Singapore is what brought the two former Goldman Sachs bankers Roger Ng and Tim Leissner, a young Malaysian financier named Low Taek Jho, the alleged linchpin of the scam and an official from 1MDB together.

It is not such a shock that Singapore would be one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States. Stating that Singapore is an investigation target does not mean that the authorities in Singapore were actively complicit but given that key elements of the plot did take place in Singapore, investigations would not be complete if Singapore is not looked at thoroughly. Investigation is not the same as guilt and I would urge people not to jump to conclusions.

It is also not in dispute that the now-deposed Najib was on excellent terms with Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong (Lee). Lee has admitted to this himself, stating publicly that he had a very good relationship with Najib. It is also noteworthy that Najib's reputation as a potentially corrupt politician has long been rumoured. Given Singapore's thoroughness and efficiency, I would assume that Lee would have known about Najib's reputation years ago although that did not stop him from cultivating close links with Najib. Even if the Singapore government did not know for a fact that Najib was corrupt, is it reasonable to expect that they ought to have known?

One might argue that the relationship was cultivated for political expediency and not because Singapore condoned the corruption. This is the political gamble in the ever changing game of shifting alliances in foreign affairs. However, in any given gamble, there is always the risk. If Lee took the gamble to cultivate close ties with Najib despite his less than salubrious reputation, it is par for the course that when the chips are down, someone has to pay. Najib has been charged and the streets are rife with gossip (perhaps wrongfully) on Singapore's participation. Even if Singapore is not guilty of being officially involved, the price of having cultivated that relationship in the first place is idle gossip (however misguidedly).

I do not condone irresponsible reporting being put out as genuine and I would remind everyone to take questionable information with a huge dose of salt. That said, the way the Singapore government has refused to engage with any alternative media outlets has caused understandable suspicion among some that it is trying to manage and control the flow of information. This in turn leads to conspiracy theories and an erosion of trust for whatever the government or mainstream media outlets say which creates audience for irresponsible alternative media sites who prey on the atmosphere of suspicion.

If the government genuinely wants to combat fake news, the best way forward would be to strenuously deny the fake or inaccurate reports by issuing its own statement with established and long running alternative media sites such as TOC. If people see that the government is attempting to engage with alternative media websites, they would be less susceptible to fake news.

There is no need to come out all guns blazing with new laws while brandishing words like "libellous" which is likely the precursor to a lawsuit. A strongly worded denial with reliable sites would be sufficient.