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Govt invokes fake-news laws for the first time, opposition member directed to carry corrections on Facebook post

SINGAPORE — The Government has directed opposition member Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post which it said peddled misleading and false statements about state investor Temasek Holdings and sovereign wealth fund GIC.

The Facebook post by Mr Brad Bowyer was found to contain misleading statements.

The Facebook post by Mr Brad Bowyer was found to contain misleading statements.

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SINGAPORE — The Government has directed opposition member Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post which it said peddled misleading and false statements about state investor Temasek Holdings and sovereign wealth fund GIC.

In a statement on Monday (Nov 25), the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had instructed the office to issue a correction directive to Mr Bowyer in relation to a Facebook post on Nov 13. 

The directive requires Mr Bowyer, a member of the Progress Singapore Party, to carry in full the correction notice at the top of his Facebook post. The notice links to a statement on the Government’s Factually website, which details all the things in Mr Bowyer’s post that are untrue or misleading, and the Government’s corrections and clarifications.

Mr Bowyer is the first person who has been served a notice under Pofma, Singapore’s anti-fake-news law that allows the Government to quickly correct or remove falsehoods.

Here are the falsehoods and clarifications laid out in the notice:

FALSEHOODS

Falsehood #1: The Government’s involvement in investment decisions by Temasek and GIC.

Mr Bowyer’s claim: His post, the notice said, implied that the Government controlled Temasek and GIC’s commercial decisions.

Correction: This, it said, was false.

“The Government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC,” said the notice.

“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 two firms run on market principles independent of the Government, and many of their portfolio companies are publicly listed, said the notice.

The Government ensures that Temasek and GIC have competent boards and holds them accountable for their performance. This ensures that their mandates are met.

Falsehood #2: Amaravati project

Mr Bowyer’s claim: Mr Bowyer wrote that Singapore “also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project, part of the S$4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs (government-linked companies) and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all”.

The project, slated to cost S$5.1 billion, was to create a Singapore-like capital city for the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, after it lost its previous capital Hyderabad to Telangana, a new Indian state.

But earlier this month, the plan brokered by the two governments was derailed after a regime change in Andhra Pradesh earlier this year. The state government killed the Amaravati Capital City Start-Up Area — which Singapore was helping to build — via a government order on Nov 11.

Correction: The Government said that Mr Bowyer’s post made “implicit factual assertions” that a substantial part of S$4 billion invested in Andhra Pradesh was put into the Amaravati project, and that the sum had been poorly invested by GLCs and related parties in Andhra Pradesh. These, it said, were false.

The Singapore consortium in the Amaravati project — comprising Ascendas Singbridge, now part of CapitaLand Group, and Sembcorp Development — has said publicly that the costs incurred had been limited to design services before work began on the ground, amounting to several million dollars. “There are no billions of dollars involved,” the Government said.

It is not only GLCs and related parties that have invested in Andhra Pradesh, it added. Several other Singaporean companies have also done so, including Indus Coffee, a subsidiary of listed company Food Empire Holdings in Singapore.  

Falsehood #3: Salt Bae

Mr Bowyer’s claim: Mr Bowyer said that Temasek invested in the debt-ridden parent company that owns restaurant chain Salt Bae.

Correction: This is false, the Government said.

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.

CLARIFICATIONS

Clarification #1: Temasek, GIC and public funds 

Mr Bowyer’s claim: Mr Bowyer, the Government said, used false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC.

He had said: “Is any of this wise investment by the primaries (Temasek and GIC) or fiduciary responsibility of those overseeing them, as it involves public funds directly managed or indirectly injected into them?”

Clarification: Over the past two decades, Temasek’s total shareholder returns have come in at 7 per cent (annualised in Singapore-dollar terms).

Temasek’s portfolio has expanded from less than S$100 billion in 2002 to more than S$300 billion presently.

The Government said that Temasek is subject to market scrutiny and discipline. Since 2004, the investment firm has published its financial information annually, for instance.

Under the Net Investment Returns framework, the expected returns of Temasek, GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singapore’s central bank, form about 20 per cent of government revenue. The Net Investment Returns Contribution — investment returns from the country’s reserves — is the single largest contributor to Government revenue, surpassing the Goods and Services Tax.

“Temasek and GIC are managed prudently and competently. No other sovereign wealth funds have contributed so significantly to national budgets and the economy, without relying on natural resources or a large domestic economy,” the Government said.

Clarification #2: Keppel

Mr Bowyer’s claims: Mr Bowyer suggested that Keppel Corporation or its subsidiary had suffered losses owing to “half a billion in fines”. He was referring to fines totalling about S$570 million that Keppel’s offshore and marine unit had to fork out in 2017 over corrupt payments made by a former agent in Brazil.

Clarification: Mr Bowyer’s claim was misleading, said the Government.

In the last 33 years, Keppel has made profits every year. In the last four years, Keppel's profits reached S$3.4 billion. This includes a S$196 million net profit in the year when the Brazilian fine was imposed.

Clarification #3: Bharti Airtel

Mr Bowyer’s claim: Mr Bowyer referred to telecommunications company Singtel’s investment in Bharti Airtel, a loss-making Indian telco.

Clarification: Singtel’s shareholding is valued at S$13 billion today, more than double its investments of S$5.1 billion 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 Government said.

Clarification #4: Amaravati project

Mr Bowyer’s claim: Mr Bowyer suggested that S$4 billion in investments by GLCs and related parties in Andhra Pradesh had been doing poorly.

Clarification: The Government said that he made this sweeping statement, but gave no basis for it.

MR BOWYER REPLIES

In a Facebook post on Monday, Mr Bowyer said he has amended the post in question.

“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,” he wrote.

“I do my best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinion based on the details I have access to.”

He cautioned those who comment on domestic politics and social issues to do so with “due care and attention especially if you speak from any place of influence”.

He said that the correction directive would “in no way impact my resolve or desire to do what I feel I can to improve our social and political discourse, and how Singapore is governed and develops, both now and in the future”.

In another post later in the day, Mr Bowyer said he did not use false and misleading statements to smear Temasek or GIC.

“(I am) just using publicly available data to question their decision-making and more importantly the Government’s oversight of that,” he wrote.

“If they feel slighted or aggrieved, I apologise but feel it is fair to comment when such sums and negative results are in question without any clarification or response to the contrary.”

Related topics

Brad Bowyer clarification Temasek GIC business and finance news and politics Pofma

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