On Tuesday (11 February), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) stated in a Facebook post that it received a notice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) that it will not be claiming costs from SDP for the application that the party had filed to strike down the three correction-directions that the Minister of Manpower ordered upon it.
The party then went on to say that it would apply for costs to be waived if — at all — it decides to pursue an appeal for the case.
“Just received notification from AGC that it will not be claiming costs from SDP in the POFMA case,” the party wrote.
It added, “We will apply for costs to be waived if we go ahead in appealing High Court Judge Ang Cheng Hock’s decision.”
SDP also attached a copy of the letter sent via email from Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, Deputy Senior State Counsel Fu Qijing and State Counsel Amanda Sum to the Supreme Court, which the party had been CC’d.
In the letter, it states: “We refer to OS 15, and the Judgement delivered by the Honorable Ang Cheng Hock on 5 February 2020. His Honor had directed at paragraph 130 of the Judgement that if there is any claim for costs, the Respondent is to write to the Court within one week to justify its basis for seeking costs.”
It continued, “We write to inform that the Respondent is not making any claim for costs in these proceedings. Thank you.”
What had happened previously
On 14 December 2019, The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued correction directions to the SDP for three of the party’s online postings related to employment trends in Singapore.
SDP was directed under POFMA to carry a correction notice that includes a link to the government’s Factually site on each of the three posts, which “debunks” SDP’s statements with MOM’s own data.
While SDP complied with the directions, the party also refuted MOM’s claims that its statements are false and misleading, noting that the information they used in its statements was based on data published by MOM itself.
The party then submitted an application to Ms Josephine Teo to have the Manpower Minister cancel the correction directions. However, the application was rejected.
Ms Teo said that the party did not provide sufficient grounds for its appeal. However, no further explanation was given on how the SDP’s application was lacking.
SDP responded that MOM’s rejection and the answer given “is not a rational answer”, and called MOM’s response a “cop-out”. The party contended that it had submitted a “detailed account – including analysing MOM’s own statistics – of the reasons for the statements in our posts.”
SDP also criticised Ms Teo for not offering an adequate explanation for rejecting the appeal despite having the time to do so.
The party wrote, “Minister Josephine Teo, despite having the entire Ministry and its officials at her disposal with two full working days and an entire weekend to refute our specific arguments, has refused or been unable to do so. This is telling.”
SDP then revealed that it was “left with no choice” but to pursue the matter in Court, adding that it has filed an originating summons against MOM in the High Court.
Commenting on the reason behind initiating legal action against MOM, SDP said that “Ms Teo’s order is an abuse of the law”, and that if the correction directions issued by the minister are upheld, then “the last holdout where important national issues are openly and robustly debated on the Internet in Singapore would be irreparably closed”.
Justice Ang Cheng Hock, in his judgment, said that the party has not refuted the accuracy of the statistical evidence, and had opted to instead critique the evidence on other grounds.
He added that there was no reason why the Party “should have carte blanche to assert any timeframe of its choosing as being the applicable one”.
Following the decision, SDP said that it is “very disappointed with the verdict”, adding that it is considering to make an appeal against the High Court decision.
Netizens urge SDP to not proceed with an appeal
Commenting on SDP’s latest post, many online users urged the party to not appeal further as they believe the chance of the party winning the case is very low. They added that it will be such a waste of time and money to proceed with an appeal. As such, a large group of netizens urged the party to concentrate on winning more Parliamentary seats in the next General Election instead.
Others pointed out that SDP should “fight hard but fight big”, and the main focus now is winning big in the upcoming General Election. They explained that Singaporeans know what the party has been doing so far and winning this POFMA case does not mean as much as winning in the elections.