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SDP appeals against High Court's decision on Pofma direction over 10 million population claim

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is appealing against the High Court's decision to dismiss its application to cancel the Government's corrections directions over its assertion that Singapore's population would rise to almost 10 million by 2030.

SDP appeals against High Court's decision on Pofma direction over 10 million population claim
The Singapore Democratic Party's secretary-general Chee Soon Juan (pictured) said in 2020 that the ruling People's Action Party was "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million. 
  • The Pofma ruling was over a statement SDP made on the PAP not having ruled out a population size of 10 million in Singapore
  • SDP asserted that several current and former senior government officials had raised the idea of the 10 million figure
  • The notion that the Government is "toying" with the figure is thus "a reasonably formed opinion", said SDP

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is appealing against the High Court's decision to dismiss its application to cancel the Government's correction directions over its assertion that Singapore's population would rise to almost 10 million by 2030.

The opposition party said in a statement on Friday (May 13) that the matter originally arose from a comment by the party's secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, when he said in a televised debate during the General Election (GE) in 2020 that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) was "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million. 

"The word 'toying' denotes the consideration of an idea, especially in a casual manner. This is far from an assertion that the Government was 'aiming', 'targeting' or 'planning' for a population of 10 million," the party said in its statement. 

The statement follows a ruling by High Court judge Woo Bih Li on Tuesday to dismiss the party's appeal to cancel the Government's correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

WHAT HAPPENED 

During the GE debate, Dr Chee had probed PAP's representative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, on whether the Government had plans to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million, claiming that this was something mentioned by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. 

After the debate, Dr Chee posted on his Facebook account a 2019 article from The Straits Times, which reported Mr Heng’s remarks made at a Nanyang Technological University forum.

The article stated that Mr Heng mentioned former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.

Mr Heng later clarified that this did not mean Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people. 

Mr Heng said that he was "far from endorsing this" and estimated that the population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030.

The day after the debate, SDP published a press release on its Facebook page where it alleged that Dr Cheong Koon Hean, then chief executive officer of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), had said in a 2018 lecture that Singapore’s population density would increase from 11,000 people per square kilometres to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030.

“Given our land area, this means that our population would go up to nearly 10 million by 2030,” SDP said at the time.

PAP demanded that SDP apologise for misleading Singaporeans with the figure. SDP refused to back down, replying that it did not invent the number out of nowhere and that it had achieved one of its campaign goals. 

The Pofma office was then instructed to issue a correction direction to SDP. The party's application to cancel the correction direction was then rejected by the Minister for National Development.

After this, the party appealed to the High Court on various grounds, including one where it said that its statement was one of opinion, which was not covered under Pofma. SDP also argued that it was not a false statement of fact.

A 'REASONABLY FORMED OPINION'

Justice Woo in his ruling said that SDP “deliberately included” an assertion that Singapore's population would rise to almost 10 million by 2030 in its press release on Facebook the day after the debate, despite knowing that it was false.

Countering Justice Woo, SDP said that Dr Cheong of HDB had stated in his 2018 lecture that "building flexibility into our plans also requires us to develop plans which can accommodate a larger population" and that Dr Liu, whom Mr Heng had mentioned, had "advocated planning for a projected population of 10 million". 

The party also brought up remarks made by former foreign minister George Yeo’s during a discussion with Dr Liu earlier this year, where Mr Yeo said: "If you plan for more and we don’t reach that number, then Singapore will be very spacious". 

"The corollary to Mr Yeo’s statement is as such — if we had planned for more people and attained that number, Singapore would have successfully anticipated a bigger population," SDP said.

"Taken into context what Dr Cheong and, in particular, Dr Liu and Mr Yeo have additionally expressed publicly, the idea of a population size of 10 million — having been discussed among former and current senior government officials — cannot be dismissed out-of-hand," it added. 

The party said the phrase that the Government was "toying with the idea" of a 10 million population is "a reasonably formed opinion, and is a statement that the Government has not issued a Pofma against". 

"While we respect the decision of the judge, it is our opinion that the statement made in our post on (former) HDB chief executive officer Dr Cheong Koon Hean’s lecture also should not be construed as a statement falsely and deliberately made without any basis.

"The SDP will seek leave to appeal Justice Woo’s ruling," it added. 

Related topics

Pofma SDP Chee Soon Juan population Heng Swee Keat

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