The permanent secretaries for all 16 ministries will be given the authority to issue orders under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) during the election period.
Such is one of the powers vested in the permanent secretaries as “alternate authorities” in place of ministers during the election period, which begins the day the Writ is issued and ends when Polling Day closes.
The alternate authorities are senior civil servants assigned by each minister to carry out the necessary scope of actions provided for in the relevant sections of POFMA.
A notice published in the the Government Gazette on Monday (8 June) listed the alternate authorities chosen by all 19 Cabinet ministers.
The Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, for example, will be given the authority to invoke POFMA powers regarding matters that concern several of the Prime Minister’s portfolios, which make up the majority of the portfolios listed in yesterday’s notice.
POFMA aims to curb or counteract “the electronic communication of” what the Government views as “false statements of fact in Singapore” and “to enable measures to be taken to counteract the effects of such communication”.
“False statements of fact” may range from statements that are deemed “prejudicial” to Singapore’s security and multi-racial and/or multi-religious harmony to those with the capacity to “influence the outcome of an election” of a member of public office and “diminish public confidence” in the Government and public service.
Under POFMA, Ministers and alternate authorities — the latter only during election period — can instruct individuals other parties deemed to have published a false statement of fact online to issue corrections on the material or to remove such material altogether.
Individuals found guilty of making “false statements of fact” and failing to abide by correction directions and other POFMA orders issued by the relevant authorities may be subject to a fine not exceeding S$100,000, or to a jail term not exceeding 10 years, or both. Companies may be subject to a fine of S$1mil.
The notice did not indicate or specify any date for the next General Election period.
While the next GE must be held by 14 April next year, recent comments by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing have hinted at a possible election during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite objections from opposition parties and segments of the public based on health and safety concerns.