Second Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo (Mrs Teo) has courted controversy in Parliament by saying that the Government needed more power to investigate “hostile information campaigns” from foreign sources.
Her rather cryptic fears for the “foreign” threat without any concrete examples have led to criticism that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led Government may be using the foreign bogeyman as an excuse for tighter control over information flows in Singapore.
It has also led to questions as to the utility of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). After all, POFMA was mooted as a means to counteract foreign interference – so, why then do we need anything else?
Mrs Teo is certainly not one that shies away from controversy. Back in 2016, Mrs Teo who was Senior Minister of State at the time made a comment in a Straits Times interview where she spoke about how Singaporeans could have children before getting a flat. Specifically, she said: “You need a very small space to have sex”.
At that time, Mrs Teo was criticised for being tone-deaf and woefully unaware of the bread and butter issues faced by Singaporeans. Instead of understanding that Singaporeans felt financially stretched, she dismissed their genuine concerns by totally missing the point.
While Mrs Teo has said that she has learnt her lesson from that incident, it would appear that she may not have because she has continued in her “missing the point” ways. When the coronavirus ravaged through the migrant worker dormitories under her watch as Minister for Manpower, Mrs Teo infamously said that she did not need to apologise to migrant workers because she had “not come across one single migrant worker himself that has demanded an apology.”
And now, Mrs Teo has apparently done it again in Parliament! Even as revelations of the abuse and eventual death of a foreign domestic worker (FDW), Ms Piang Ngaih Don (Ms Piang) continue to shock Singaporeans to the core, Mrs Teo appears to be more concerned about perceived foreign threats than a concrete death of an FDW that comes under the purview of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)!
While the MOM has said that it is currently reviewing its policies in relation to how FDWs can be safeguarded against abuse, the question still remains as to why it took so long for the MOM to review its policies? Ms Piang was abused to death in 2016. We are now in 2021.
Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Han also skirted the issue of Ms Piang in Parliament on Wed (3 March) calling Ms Piang’s death as “tragic” and her abuse as an “act of extreme evil”, stating “unequivocally” to the house that “our society has no place for cruelty to anyone”.
However, if this is indeed the case, we go back to the question of why the MOM took almost 4 and a half years to investigate Ms Piang’s death?
Isn’t it a case of too little too late?
Why is Mrs Teo focusing on seemingly phantom foreign threats when there is an actual death within her purview that she should be strenuously investigating?
Not to mention that while she admits that there had not been any signs of interference during the recent General Election, a police report was filed on suspicion of foreign intervention against Polish blogger, Critical Spectator went unanswered.
How can Mrs Teo say that there was no foreign intervention in GE2020? Or does she think what the blogger wrote during the GE was not considered foreign intervention? This stance taken by the Government in light of Critical Spectator’s acts, would probably indicate that the powers that it is seeking, is meant to target at dissenting views instead of foreign intervention.
It also bears remembering that it was under Mrs Teo’s watch that the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the migrant worker dormitories seemingly unchecked. So much so that photographs of our migrant workers’ squalid conditions were plastered across the international media.
In any other country, Mrs Teo should have gotten the sack for losing her grip on the situation. However, not only did she not lose her job, she got reappointed to the same post after the General Election.
Let’s also not forget that the MOM had failed to take further action in relation to Parti Liyani’s complaints about being deployed to work for two separate households by her former employer Liew Mun Leong.
And now, instead of facing up to her failures as Minister for Manpower over the migrant worker COVID-19 situation, or answering questions as to why Ms Piang’s death was not investigated by the MOM earlier, she is rabbiting on about airy-fairy external threats to Singapore without providing any concrete examples whatsoever.
Why is Mrs Teo chasing after potentially non-existent threats instead of focusing on the concrete issues of the day?