Fake news law: Opposition politician Lim Tean told to correct Facebook posts alleging Govt spends more on foreign than local students

The correction direction requires Mr Lim Tean to carry, in full, a correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts. PHOTO: LIMTEAN/YOUTUBE, GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Opposition politician and lawyer Lim Tean was asked by the Ministry of Education on Monday (Dec 16) to correct a post on his Facebook page, which the ministry says had implied that the Government was spending more on foreign students than Singapore students.

The Government's fact-checking website Factually on Monday (Dec 16) cited two of Mr Lim's statements: "the total pot available to Singaporean students [is] $167 million compared to the $238 million that is spent on foreign students" and "PAP spends $167 million on Grants & Bursaries for Singaporeans, but $238 million on foreign students??".

It said that the statements imply that the Education Ministry spends less on Singaporean students than on foreign students and called the statements false and misleading.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has asked the Protection from Falsehoods and Manipulation Act office to issue the correction directions to Mr Lim, who is the People's Voice party chief.

Factually website said: "The Ministry of Education's annual budget is $13 billion, almost all of which is spent on Singapore citizens. The $167 million cited by Mr Lim refers only to bursaries for Singaporean tertiary students, and grossly understates MOE's total spending on Singaporean citizens for education."

The figures of $167 million and $238 million are not comparable, the Government said.

"The more appropriate comparison should be nearly $13 billion spent on Singaporean students to provide subsidised education for all Singaporean students at all levels, as against the $238 million attributed to foreign students referred to by Mr Lim Tean, which is less than 2 per cent of the total education budget," the Government added.

It noted that much of MOE's budget goes towards costs to provide education for Singaporean students, such as infrastructure, facilities, laboratories, faculty and teachers, which are either fixed or non-variable costs up to the medium term. "A large part of the $238 million attributed to foreign students comprises these fixed and non-variable costs that we have to incur anyway, whether or not we admit a small proportion of foreign students (currently 5 per cent) in the system."

The correction direction requires Mr Lim to carry, in full, a correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts.

Mr Lim was secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party between 2015 and 2017 before founding People's Voice.

When contacted, he described the Government's response as "absurd" and said that he was considering his legal options.

He said: "Anyone who read my post and the series of posts I made on this subject last week would have been under no mistaken impression that I was discussing the amount of money spent on grants and scholarships and not the overall spending on all Singaporean students.

"It is clear to me that Pofma is being used by this Government ahead of the upcoming general election to silence its opponents and chill public discussion of unpopular government policies."

This is the fourth time the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) has been used since it came into force on Oct 2.

On Saturday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo issued correction directions to two Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Facebook posts and an online article alleging that more local professionals, managers, executives and technicians were being retrenched due to foreign competition.

SDP put up the correction notes on Sunday but also posted an online letter citing news sources that it claims back up its allegations. It has also said it will apply to cancel the correction directions.

In November, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat asked opposition party member Brad Bowyer to put up a correction notice on his Facebook post which accused the Government of making bad investment decisions through Temasek and GIC. Mr Bowyer complied.

In another incident last month, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam directed website States Times Review to attach the Government's correction notice after the website said a person was arrested in an incident involving a spoof student union Facebook page referring to People's Action Party member Rachel Ong's alleged religious affiliations.

After Mr Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, the States Times Review editor, refused to do so, the Government issued the directive to Facebook instead, which later complied by putting up the note - "Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore Government says this post has false information."

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