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Singapore uses anti-fake news law for the first time against opposition politician

In his post, Bowyer alleged that the government Government controlled Temasek and GIC’s commercial decisions.

Singapore has used its anti-fake news law, called The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), for the first time after ordering a politician from an opposition party to correct his Facebook post.

The politician Brad Bowyer, who is a member of Progress Singapore Party, was issued a correction notice by POFMA for putting out misleading and false statements about Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and sovereign wealth fund GIC.

In his post, Bowyer alleged that the government Government controlled Temasek and GIC’s commercial decisions. He then claimed this led to the recent canning of the Amaravati city project, part of the S$4bn already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs (government-linked companies) and related parties and concluded that India has not been an investment choice.

He also claimed Temasek invested in the debt-ridden parent company that owns restaurant chain Salt Bae.

In response, the correction notice, which was activated by finance minister Heng Swee Keat, said the government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC.

“Which companies they invest in, or divest from, is entirely the responsibility of their respective management teams. The government likewise does not interfere in the commercial decisions of Temasek’s and GIC’s portfolio companies,” the notice wrote.

“The two firms run on market principles independent of the government, and many of their portfolio companies are publicly listed. The government ensures that Temasek and GIC have competent boards and holds them accountable for their performance. This ensures that their mandates are met.”

“The Salt Bae chain is owned by D.ream International BV, which operates 60 restaurants worldwide via four subsidiaries. Temasek invested in D.ream International BV, not in Dogus Holding A.S, one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders that is reportedly in difficulties.”

The notice added that Temasek’s total shareholder returns have come in at 7%(annualised in Singapore-dollar terms), noting that Temasek’s portfolio has expanded from less than S$100bn in 2002 to more than S$300bn presently.

It pointed out that Temasek is subject to market scrutiny and discipline, highlighting that since 2004, the investment firm has published its financial information annually, for instance.

Bowyer also suggested that Keppel Corporation or its subsidiary had suffered losses owing to “half a billion in fines” in reference to the fines totalling about S$570m that Keppel’s offshore and marine unit had to fork out in 2017 over corrupt payments made by a former agent in Brazil.

The notice said this statement was misleading because, in the last 33 years, Keppel has made profits every year. In the last four years, Keppel's profits reached S$3.4bn. This includes an S$196m net profit in the year when the Brazilian fine was imposed.

Bowyer was also accused of another misleading statement in reference to telecommunications company Singtel’s investment in loss-making Indian telco Bharti Airtel.

“Singtel’s shareholding is valued at S$13bn today, more than double its investments of S$5.1bn so far. “Bharti Airtel faces a number of recent regulatory and Indian Supreme Court decisions. These are matters for Bharti Airtel and Singtel to address,” the notice said.

Bowyer has accepted the corrections and put out a statement on Facebook saying he has amended the post.

“I have no problem in following that request, as I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary. I do my best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinion based on the details I have access to,” he wrote.

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