SDP calls on Josephine Teo to retract correction directions and apologise, cites MOM’s own statistics to prove she’s wrong

The SDP calls on Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo to retract the POFMA Correction Directions she issued to the party on 14 December 2019 and issue an immediate, unambiguous and public apology over the matter.

This is because the SDP’s statements in the three posts which the Minister cited are, in fact, true and correct.

The problem lies with the fact that MOM had accused the SDP of making statements that we did not make or cited different sets of data which it then used to accuse the SDP’s post as false. This is an abuse of POFMA.

No increase in local PMET unemployment?

An example is Ms Teo citing our post which had an infographic stating: “Local PMET unemployment has increased” (emphasis added). The Minister labelled this as false.

In its Correction Direction, MOM said that we had referred to the fact that “Local PMET retrenchment has been increasing” (emphasis added). Our FB post clearly said “unemployment” but MOM changed it to “retrenchment” – two different subjects – and then accused us of making a “false statement of fact”.

Contrary to Ms Teo’s allegation, our statement is absolutely true. Based on MOM’s own data, it is clear from Figure 1 below that the number of unemployed local PMETs between 2010 and 2018 has indeed been rising. Linear regressional analysis produced a best-fit line through the data points indicated by the red line. The rising trend is clear and unmistakable.

MOM substituted our word “unemployment” in our post to “retrenchment” and then accused us of posting a falsehood. This is clearly an abuse of the law.

Proportion of what?

Another problem that Ms Teo cited is the SDP’s post about the “rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched.” This is a factual statement which referred to local PMETs getting retrenched as a proportion of all local retrenched workers.

This result was widely published by the media citing MOM’s figures (see Straits Times and Yahoo! reports).

However, Ms Teo cited a different statistic in her Correction Direction: Local PMETs retrenched as a proportion of all local PMET employees. She then said that this data did not show a rising trend and labelled the SDP’s statement as false.

As one can see, the SDP’s post and MOM’s statement are based on two separate and distinct sets of information – both of which are true depending on which denominator is used.

How can the MOM choose a different statistic and then use it to say that the SDP’s post contains “false statements of fact”? Again, this is an abuse of POFMA.

No rising retrenchments?

The MOM went further to say: “There is no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise.” (see here) Is this statement true? Figure 2 below, using MOM’s own data from 2010, shows clearly that there is in fact a rising trend of PMET retrenchments in Singapore.

POFMA used to promote PAP’s interests

POFMA’s stated intention is to prevent deliberate online falsehoods, not disagreements over the use of statistics.

For example, Mr Barack Obama was accused of being born in Kenya, not the United States and, therefore, ineligible to be president. Such a statement is demonstrably true or false, either he was born in the US or not.

If after seeing the birth certificate – as Mr Obama subsequently produced showing that he was born in Hawaii – and his accusers continue to insist that he was born in Kenya, then it can be reasonably said that the offenders are deliberately spreading a falsehood.

In this present case, however, the three SDP’s posts which Ms Teo cited cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered falsehoods, let alone deliberate ones. First, MOM accused the SDP of saying things that we did not. Second, the Minister used different sets of data from the SDP. It does not follow that its statements are true and the SDP’s false. If the SDP’s posts are considered falsehoods, then MOM itself would be similarly guilty with reference to its statements.

MOM’s lack of intellectual rigor in presenting its case is regrettable. A student presenting such work would get an F grade.

For POFMA to have legitimacy, the Minister must apologise

As such, we categorically reject Ms Teo’s Correction Directions. Clearly, the MOM has used the law for political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP’s foreign PMET policy that has been and continues to be unfair to Singaporeans. That the general election is not far away makes our case even more salient. 

The growing problem of retrenchment and job uncertainty facing Singaporeans especially among Singaporean PMETs is a very real and pressing one. Denying that the problem exists only delays finding a solution.

If POFMA is to have legitimate authority going forward, then Ms Teo must apologise to the SDP. Accusing a party of making “false statements of fact” is a serious matter and should be done only with the highest of standards and irrefutable evidence.

Under such circumstances, we call on the Minister to not only retract the Correction Directions but also issue an immediate, unambiguous and public apology to the SDP and undertake not to make such similar acts in future, failing which we will be obliged to pursue the matter in a court of law.


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