Edwin Tong: Overwhelming majority want Online Falsehoods laws, only small group crying wolf

Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong wrote an article for ST today (‘Small group crying wolf, but most citizens want strong laws‘, 6 May 2019).

In the article, he claimed that only a small group of people are “crying wolf” over the recently proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA), which the government is very keen to push through the Parliament before the coming GE.

In particular, he was attacking the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) lobby group representing technology companies. Tong refuted the many points brought up AIC’s managing director, Jeff Paine, who wrote a recent article about “How the online falsehoods Bill can be improved”.

“His piece misstates the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in material respects,” Tong said.

Tong also countered Mr Paine’s claims that the consensus in Singapore is that the new Bill will impact freedom of expression.

“It is unclear how he (Paine) concludes this,” Tong countered. “The Government is confident that there is broad and deep support among an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans for laws to tackle online falsehoods. The Government believes, with good reason, that the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans want strong laws to deal with online falsehoods.”

Likewise, it is also unclear how Tong came to this conclusion that majority of Singaporeans are for POFMA. He only said the government believes it is the case “with good reason”. He did not elaborate what these “reasons” are.

“If the Bill becomes law, Singaporeans’ rights of expression will not be affected,” Tong assured. “Only perpetrators of falsehoods will be affected. And of course technology companies, which benefit from such falsehoods, will see some of their profits go down.”

“The concerted attempts by a small group of persons to mislead have not got any traction among most Singaporeans. The small group of persons I have referred to, speak in a shrinking echo chamber, with increasing shrillness. Some take refuge in alarmist language (including comparisons with nuclear wars) in desperate attempts to get attention. That is the extent of the ‘overwhelming consensus’ that Mr Paine refers to,” Tong said.

“Crying wolf repeatedly gets no attention. In saying this, I am not referring to some academics who have expressed concerns – their concerns are based on a misunderstanding of the Bill, and that will be explained in Parliament.”

And being careful not to step on the toes of the middle-ground Singaporeans whose votes would likely decide who would win in the coming GE, Tong said, “Nor am I referring to some middle-ground Singaporeans who have genuine questions about the Bill. Those questions will continue to be answered (by the government).”

In other words, Tong seems to imply that questions from middle-ground Singaporeans on POFMA are deemed “genuine” but those from the opposition supporters are not and won’t be answered by the government.

Dr Lee Wei Ling publishes emails online to counter family lawyer’s assertion on mainstream media

Meanwhile, PM Lee’s sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, published an email correspondence on her Facebook page last week (30 Apr), accusing lawyer Kwa Kim Li from Lee & Lee of “lying” about the latter’s supposed non-involvement in her father’s last will in 2013.

The news was picked up by online sites as well as Yahoo News (‘Lee Wei Ling accuses lawyer Kwa Kim Li of lying about non-involvement in father’s 2013 will‘, 30 Apr 2019). However, mainstream media like ST and CNA have kept mum for unknown reasons. They have decided not to report anything about the latest twist to the late Mr Lee’s last will saga.

Dr Lee said, “Kwa Kim Li (KKL) of Lee & Lee has denied involvement in the events that led to this 2013 will… KKL has been lying. She has also breached her duties to her client, my father.”

“Lee & Lee have always been lawyers for my father’s personal matters including all his wills, powers of attorney, and Advance Medical Directives including his affirmation in August 2014 of his AMD,” Dr Lee added.

As evidence of Kwa’s alleged involvement, Dr Lee attached a photo of an e-mail supposedly sent by Ms Kwa to the late Mr Lee on 12 December 2013. In it, Ms Kwa appears to tell Mr Lee – whom she addresses as “Uncle Harry” – that she will be preparing a “codicil”, to reflect their discussed amendments to his will. She allegedly wrote, “I will prepare the codicil for you (Mr Lee) to sign this week, or when you are ready.” A codicil is actually an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one.

Dr Lee also said that she has “more” evidence of the correspondence between Ms Kwa and her late father. “From late November 2013 all the way till Friday 13 December 2013, my father had had discussions and exchanged e-mails with KKL of Lee & Lee on what he wanted in his will… The will my father signed on Tuesday 17 December 2013 reflected these prior discussions with his lawyer KKL,” she said.

Two years ago, Kwa, who is the managing partner of the Lee & Lee law firm told ST that she didn’t prepare the last will of the late Lee Kuan Yew. ST was quick to publish a news report informing the public about it (‘Lawyer Kwa Kim Li says she did not prepare Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will‘, 17 Jun 2017) along with CNA.

The mainstream media reports came after PM Lee said that his father’s final will was made in “very troubling circumstances”. PM Lee raised the question of whether there was a conflict of interest when Mrs Lee Suet Fern – Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s wife – helped prepare the final will since her husband stood to gain from the removal of his sister Lee Wei Ling’s extra share of the estate in the will.

But Hsien Yang countered that his wife’s firm did not draft any of their father’s wills at all. “The will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee,” he said, referring to the sequence of events surrounding the final will. He added that the will’s seventh paragraph, in which the late Mr Lee stated that he wanted his house to be demolished after his death, “was drafted at LKY’s (Lee Kuan Yew’s) direction”.

It was “put into language by Lee Suet Fern, his daughter-in-law, and when he was satisfied, he asked Kim Li to insert it into his will”, explained Hsien Yang. In other words, Hsien Yang was saying Kwa was indeed the lawyer responsible for the last will of her client, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

It’s not known why Dr Lee took 2 years to find the purported email evidence to counter Kwa now. In any case, it’s either Kwa or Dr Lee is right. It’s not known what Tong would think in this case, with regard to the proposed POFMA Bill.