TOC firm makes public documents showing donations

Dr Paul Tambyah, who is pictured at the SDP rally on May 03, 2016, gave $13,000 to The Online Citizen between January and April 2015, according to documents made public.
Dr Paul Tambyah, who is pictured at the SDP rally on May 03, 2016, gave $13,000 to The Online Citizen between January and April 2015, according to documents made public. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Papers handed to MCI show SDP's Paul Tambyah gave $13k to The Online Citizen

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) central committee member Paul Tambyah gave $13,000 to sociopolitical website The Online Citizen between January and April last year, according to documents made public yesterday.

They were among 12 files of documents handed to the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) as part of an appeal against a government order to return foreign funds received last April.

The funds, totalling $5,000, were received by The Opinion Collaborative (TOC Ltd), a company that ran The Online Citizen website until last September .

The Media Development Authority (MDA) ordered it to return the money on the grounds that it had breached the conditions of its Internet content provider licence.

Today is its final day for submitting documents to support its appeal to keep the money from Britain-incorporated Monsoons Book Club (MBC), given to sponsor an essay competition run by TOC Ltd.

TOC Ltd director Howard Lee argued that MDA, a statutory board under the ministry, had taken too long to ask for the money to be returned. He said the company had declared its foreign funding in the revenue form it submitted to MDA last May, but the regulator's order was given on March 4 this year.

MDA gave it 30 days, from March 4, to return the money. TOC Ltd did not meet the deadline.

Mr Lee disagreed with MDA that TOC Ltd had breached the conditions of its licence by receiving funds from MBC, which the regulator called a "non-commercial foreign source". To make his point, he included a declaration form from an MBC director, saying MBC organised commercial activities.

He also included an invoice of one of MBC's events, and showed that MBC sold tickets to public events it organised.

Mr Lee also argued that the essay contest was a "bona fide commercial" deal, for which the law allows websites in Singapore to use foreign funds. As proof, he released e-mails between himself and Singapore fugitive Tan Wah Piow, who is an MBC director, working out details of the MBC sponsorship deal.

"MDA's actions thus far are a fetter on free speech and free trade between legitimate business entities, for reasons only MDA can explain," said Mr Lee yesterday.

He sent to the media two audio recordings of MDA officials clarifying the regulator's policy of a three-month notification period to return foreign funding, and the kind of deals that qualified as bona fide commercial ones.

The recordings were made with the officials' consent during a meeting at MDA in September 2014, Mr Lee said.

The document files made public yesterday also show that the husband of opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Mr James Aruldoss, gave $3,500 to The Online Citizen website.

MCI last night said it has received the document and that MDA has to make its case to the ministry in 21 days. "The minister will review the matter once all the representations have been received and will make his decisions thereafter," it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'TOC firm makes public documents showing donations'. Print Edition | Subscribe