Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Questions raised over POFMA Directive to ‘Political Sophistry’: Hazel Poa and Ravi Philemon weigh in

SINGAPORE – Non-constituency Member of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Ms. Hazel Poa, has shared her views on the recent correction direction issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to the political blog “Political Sophistry”.

The blog had published an article titled “Upfront and transparent? A timeline of the CPIB investigation into Transport Minister Iswaran,” suggesting that Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong had “deliberately withheld information” to “conceal the truth.”

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) refuted these claims, describing them as false in their press release, and issued a correction direction to “Political Sophistry”.

In a Facebook post on Friday (21 Jul), Ms Poa noted that she didn’t see allegations of concealment in the blog post but rather questions about why there wasn’t full disclosure from the beginning.

She drew parallels with the situation of Hotel Properties Limited, which had released information about the arrest of its Managing Director, Ong Beng Seng, as part of its regulatory disclosure.

Ms Poa argued that if this disclosure didn’t compromise the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’s (CPIB) investigations, then a similar disclosure about Minister Iswaran should have been possible.

Furthermore, she raised concerns about the role of the CPIB’s operational judgment in matters of public interest, especially when it involves a Minister.

According to her, while the CPIB should independently decide on their course of action, political leaders should also exercise their judgment on what and when to disclose information about their members.

Ravi Philemon, Secretary-General of Red Dot United, also voiced his opinion regarding the recent POFMA correction direction issued to “Political Sophistry”.

The correction order was issued following a post that questioned the initial lack of full disclosure from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Lawrence Wong regarding the arrest of Transport Minister S Iswaran. The PMO refuted these allegations and issued a correction directive under POFMA.

Philemon questioned the necessity of issuing a POFMA directive for the blog’s post. “I did not read the post until the POFMA was issued yesterday, but it appears to me that there were no direct allegations against the PM or DPM for concealing the truth,” said Philemon. “The post simply posed queries about the lack of full disclosure at the initial stages. Is it fair to consider such queries as a violation under POFMA?”

He drew attention to Hotel Properties Limited’s approach of disclosing the arrest of Ong Beng Seng without compromising the CPIB’s investigations. Philemon questioned why the same approach was not taken for Minister Iswaran. “Wouldn’t public interest have been better served by transparency in this case, especially since it involved a Minister?” he asked.

Furthermore, Philemon expressed concerns about the explanation given by the Factually website, stating that the decision to publicly announce an arrest is a matter of the CPIB’s operational judgment. He argued that when a Minister is involved and there is significant public interest, the decision should extend beyond operational judgment and involve the discretion of political leaders as well.

The POFMA statement from the PMO clarified that PM Lee’s statement and DPM Wong’s media interview conducted on 12 July were consistent with the CPIB’s initial announcement, debunking allegations that they tried to conceal Mr. Iswaran’s arrest.

As a result of the correction direction, “Political Sophistry”, which began publishing in February 2023, has been directed to issue a correction at the top of the contentious article and on its homepage, ensuring readers can access the correct information.

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