Despite a Singaporean blogger Phillip Ang flagged several falsehoods made by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, it seems that the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office will not be taking any action on the matter.
In an email response to Ang, the POFMA office claimed that the relevant ministry or ministries are “in the best position” to assess whether a statement is false and determine if it is in the public interest to take action.
During the May Day Rally 2023 on Monday (1 May), DPM Wong expressed his full commitment, along with his 4G team, to take care of workers.
At the rally, Mr Wong also addressed concerns about public housing. He urged Singaporeans not to focus solely on the headline price of a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat from the Housing Development Board (HDB), but also to consider how prices relate to income and the proportion of income needed to service the housing loan.
The Prime Minister-in-waiting gave an example of a 4-room BTO flat in a new town that cost about $40,000 in 1980.
“In 1980, the price of a 4R BTO flat in a new town at that time indeed was around $40,000. But back then, the median household income was around $900. The typical household would use about a quarter of their income to service the loan.”
Median household income then was around $900, and a typical household would use about a quarter of its income to service the loan, he said.
Mr Wong added that today, the price of a 4-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate like Bukit Batok is approximately $350,000.
He also claimed that while the price of the flat has increased nearly tenfold, so has the median household income, rising from $900 to $9,000.
Blogger flagged several falsehoods in DPM Wong’s speech
Following this, Ang sent an email to Aileen Chia, Deputy Executive Director of the Protection from POFMA office, on 7 May, alerting her about several falsehoods in DPM Wong’s speech.
He also sought clarification from the POFMA office on whether a POFMA correction notice will be issued to DPM Wong.
Regarding DPM Wong’s claim that the price of a four-room BTO flat in 1980 was around $40,000, Ang pointed out that, in fact, the BTO scheme did not exist in 1980.
It was launched 21 years later in 2001, fully implemented in 2002, citing a source from National Library Board.
As for the price of four-room flat in 1980, Ang cited TOC’s article, which noted that the price of 4-room HDB flats in a new town sold at $27,000 and not $40,000 in 1980.
The TOC article referenced an archived New Nation article in Jun 1979, which provided a guide on buying new HDB/HUDC flats at that time.
As can be seen, in those times, a new 4-room HDB flat was sold at $27,100 in a new town ($23,500 before the increase). The household income ceiling to buy a 4-room flat was also raised to $1,500.
“the median household income in 2022 was $10,099, not “$9000 today”
The blogger further recalled a speech by then-DPM Tharman in a 2015 speech, where he said he median household income was just $990 in 1980, compared to $7,320 in 2014.
“DPM Wong should have known that $990 is not ‘around $900’.”
According to a recent CNA article, the median household income in 2022 was $10,099, not “$9000 today”.
Therefore, Ang opined that it appears DPM Wong did not conduct sufficient fact-checking on public housing prior to his speech, inadvertently spreading a number of falsehoods.
He further mentioned that these falsehoods have also been published by CNA and TODAY, and possibly other online media outlets.
POFMA office’s response
On 8 May, Mardhiah Suardi, an executive from the POFMA office’s contact centre, replied to Phillip Ang’s email.
In her response, she explained that the government adopts a multi-pronged approach to address online falsehoods, which includes public education, fact-checking, and legislative measures.
“Members of the public who wish to report online falsehoods can also inform the relevant Ministry/Ministries in charge of the relevant subject area(s). ”
“Ministries would be best placed to assess if a statement is a falsehood and whether it is in the public interest to act.”
“In this case, we have shared your feedback with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), ” Ms Mardhiah told Mr Ang.
As of 31 December 2022, POFMA office issued 77 correction directions orders to a total of 42 cases.
The POFMA legislation grants all government ministers the authority to issue various orders, such as instructing online news sites to publish corrections to falsehoods.
Considering how ministers manage their diverse portfolios in exercising POFMA powers, it would seem that only the ministers themselves can issue a POFMA correction direction, as was the case with Mr Wong – also referred to as “ownself check ownself”.