Whether a statement is true or false cannot be “based on the minister’s interpretation”

The Straits Times reported Deputy AG Hri Kumar who is representing Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in the POFMA issue saying:

“the minister who initiates a Pofma direction will look at the article or statement in question and determine what he believes to be its meaning. A correction direction can then be issued based on the minister’s interpretation.”

Mr Kumar also said that this interpretation can be accepted or rejected by the Judge hearing the matter.

Mr Kumar revealed this shocking government stand in the closed-door hearing in court on Thursday and Friday. 

The MOM had accused the SDP of making false statements of fact in three of its posts.

But false statements of facts must be clearly false, the SDP argued. Dr Chee Soon Juan gave the example of someone saying that the earth is flat. “You don’t need the ‘minister’s interpretation’ or what she ‘believes’ to show or in her ‘opinion’ that the earth is spherical, not flat.

He also cited a real example given by Law Minister K Shanmugam of a website saying that a building roof had collapsed in Punggol in 2016 when no such incident had taken place.

The report was a false statement of fact. It was indisputable that no roof had collapsed; everyone could agree that the report was false. It didn’t need the Minister’s opinion or interpretation of the statement.

In the present case, the MOM insisted that the SDP had said that there was an increase in local PMET retrenchment.

“There is no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise,” the MOM said. However, it showed only data from 2015-2018.

MOM’s own figures show that overall retrenchment as well as that among PMETs had actually risen from 2010-2018.

But Mr Kumar countered that a “reasonable reader would understand the SDP’s statement to mean that the increase in retrenched Singaporean PMETs is a current or recent situation.” 

Dr Chee asked in court “Who is the ‘reasonable’ reader and who decides what is ‘current’ or ‘recent’?” When you have to resort to using subjective terms like these, how does one categorically state that the SDP has made a false statement of fact?

Whether a statement is true or false can be determined objectively and without question. It cannot be “based on the minister’s interpretation”.

Parties will make written submissions by next Wednesday, 22 January and the judge will render his verdict thereafter.  

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