On 2 January (Thursday), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has released a statement calling for Manpower Minister Josephine Teo to retract the correction directions under Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Act which her Ministry issued on 14 December 2019.

The Party also wants the Minister to issue an “immediate, unambiguous and public apology over the matter”.

This is because SDP said that its statements in the three posts which MOM issued the correction directions, are indeed true and correct.

“The problem lies with the fact that MOM had accused the SDP of making statements that we did not make or cited different sets of data which is then used to accuse the SDP’s post as false. This is an abuse of POFMA,” SDP said.

Previous correction directions by MOM

Last month, MOM issued three Correction DIrections (CDs) to SDP for three online posting, alleging that the statements made regarding employment in Singapore were false.

The three posts are:

  1. A sponsored Facebook post on 2 December 2019
  2. A post on the SDP Facebook page on 30 November 2019
  3. An article on the SDP website on 8 June 2019

The CDs will require SDP to carry a correction notice stating that its sponsored Facebook post, the post on its Facebook page, as well as the article on its website, contain a misleading graphic and false statement of facts.

In SDP’s 2 Dec sponsored Facebook post, the Ministry claims that the graphical illustration depicting that plunging local PMET employment is wrong. MOM pointed to its Comprehensive Labour Force Survey which showed a steady rise of local PMETs employment since 2015.

Both SDP’s sponsored Facebook post on 2 Dec and another Facebook post on 30 Nov link to an article on SDP’s website published on 8 June titled, “SDP Population Policy: Hire S’poreans First, Retrench S’poreans last”.

In the press release, MOM said the article contains statement, “The SDP’s proposal comes amidst a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs getting retrenched”.

MOM claims that this statement is also wrong as there is no rising trend of local PMET retrenchments.

It noted that the number of local PMETs retrenched in 2018 was, in fact, the lowest since 2014. Local PMETs retrenched as a proportion of all local PMET employees, has also declined since 2015, said MOM.

It added that the Singapore economy is continuing to create jobs despite the economic headwinds. It emphasised that local PMET employment has increased consistently and there is no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise.

It went on to state that the alleged false and misleading statements by the SDP have a singular objective, which is to stoke fear and anxiety among local PMETs.

It is important to set the facts straight so that Singaporeans are not misled, said MOM.

SDP cites MOM’s own statistic to prove Ms Teo wrong

In SDP’s latest statement today, it cited statistics published by MOM itself to prove what Ms Teo deemed wrong in the correction directions were in fact true.

As an example, SDP said that Ms Teo labelled the Party’s post which had an infographic stating “Local PMET unemployment has increased” as false. In MOM’s correction direction, it referred to the fact that “Local PMET retrenchment has been increasing”.

“Our FB post clearly said ‘unemployment’ but MOM changed it to ‘retrenchment’ – two different subjects – and then accused us of making a ‘false statement of fact’,” SDP said.

It continued, “Contrary to Ms Teo’s allegation, our statement is absolutely true. Based on MOM’s own data, it is clear from Figure 1 below that the number of unemployed local PMETs between 2010 and 2018 has indeed been rising. Linear regressional analysis produced a best-fit line through the data points indicated by the red line. The rising trend is clear and unmistakable.”

“MOM substituted our word “unemployment” in our post to “retrenchment” and then accused us of posting a falsehood. This is clearly an abuse of the law.”

Separately, SDP also noted another problem that it found with the correction order where Ms Teo cited SDP’s post about the “rising proposition of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched”.

In response to this, SDP pointed out that this is a “factual statement which referred to local PMETs getting retrenched as a proportion of all local retrenched workers”. In fact, SDP stated that local media like Straits Times and Yahoo! have reported this results, and cited MOM’s figures.

“However, Ms Teo cited a different statistic in her Correction Direction: Local PMETs retrenched as a proportion of all local PMET employees. She then said that this data did not show a rising trend and labelled the SDP’s statement as false,” SDP highlighted.

It added, “As one can see, the SDP’s post and MOM’s statement are based on two separate and distinct sets of information – both of which are true depending on which denominator is used.”

“How can the MOM choose a different statistic and then use it to say that the SDP’s post contains “false statements of fact”? Again, this is an abuse of POFMA.”

If that’s not all, MOM also stated that there’s no rising trend of retrenchment, regardless whether among PMETs or others. But, based on the data published by MOM in 2010, it clearly shows a rising trend of retrenchment in Singapore, SDP said.

POFMA should be applied to prevent deliberate falsehoods

SDP highlighted in its statement that POFMA’s intention is to prevent deliberate online falsehoods, and not to disagree on the use of statistics.

In an attempt to explain its point, the Party cited an example of Barack Obama being accused of being Kenyan, hence making him ineligible to be President. If Mr Obama’s birth certificate proves that he was born in Hawaii, and his accusers continue to say he was born in Kenya, then one can say that the offenders are deliberately spreading a falsehood.

“In this present case, however, the three SDP’s posts which Ms Teo cited cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered falsehoods, let alone deliberate ones. First, MOM accused the SDP of saying things that we did not,” SDP stated.

It continued, “Second, the Minister used different sets of data from the SDP. It does not follow that its statements are true and the SDP’s false. If the SDP’s posts are considered falsehoods, then MOM itself would be similarly guilty with reference to its statements”.

Manpower Minister must apologise

Based on the points raised by SDP, it “categorically reject Ms Teo’s Correction Directions”. It went on to say that MOM has used the law “for political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP’s foreign PMET policy that has been and continues to be unfair to Singaporeans.”

SDP said that job uncertainty and retrenchment faced by Singaporeans and Singaporean PMETs is real.

“If POFMA is to have legitimate authority going forward, then Ms Teo must apologise to the SDP. Accusing a party of making “false statements of fact” is a serious matter and should be done only with the highest of standards and irrefutable evidence.”

“Under such circumstances, we call on the Minister to not only retract the Correction Directions but also issue an immediate, unambiguous and public apology to the SDP and undertake not to make such similar acts in future, failing which we will be obliged to pursue the matter in a court of law.”

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