Govt directs political activist, The Independent Singapore to correct posts on alleged HDB flat eviction

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong has told the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office to issue a correction notice against political activist Gilbert Goh, and alternative news site The Independent Singapore. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - An online account of a woman who was allegedly evicted from her Housing Board rental flat is not true, said the Ministry of National Development (MND) on Wednesday (Feb 26) as Singapore's law against fake news was invoked on the matter.

Earlier this month, political activist Gilbert Goh put up a Facebook post on the eviction issue, while alternative news site The Independent Singapore (TISG) posted an article on its website and put up a post on Facebook about it.

On Wednesday, MND said that National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has told the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office to issue a correction notice against Mr Goh and TISG over this.

The correction direction requires Mr Goh and TISG to carry, in full, a correction notice at the top of their posts.

Their posts and article relate to an account about a woman, said to be a single mother known only as Lina and her six children, who were said to be evicted from their rented HDB flat for defaulting on rent payment.

The posts also claimed that the family was staying at her sister's house.

MND said both claims are false as HDB did not evict Lina from the flat. Instead, in early February, a man who was verified as her husband terminated the tenancy for the flat and returned the keys to HDB.

The family also did not have any overdue rent throughout the period of the last tenancy.

The ministry added that Lina and her husband bought a new flat from HDB, which has been paid in full, and the family have moved into the new flat.

Mr Goh's Facebook post on Feb 19 is written in first person, allegedly from Lina, who asks for help.

It lists the ages of her six children, with the eldest, 14, and youngest being two months old, adding that the two-month-old baby is "low on milk - she drinks (soya milk) not normal milk formula".

In an editor's note at the end of the post, Mr Goh writes: "We will be visiting the family tomorrow to verify the information. If you can offer some assistance, please let us know."

TISG's Feb 21 article on Lina and her family is based off Mr Goh's account of his interactions with the woman. It said that Mr Goh and his team gave her a "small angpao", referring to a red packet, as well as $50 in supermarket vouchers. An anonymous donor was also said to have given the woman and her family groceries and food.

MND said on Wednesday that when HDB staff visited Lina's family in their new flat last Saturday, the woman and her husband explained that it was their relative who had approached Mr Goh for help.

The family have been receiving assistance - including cash, vouchers, subsidies and food rations - from various government agencies and community partners, including the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Ministry of Education, the Early Childhood Development Agency, HDB and the Sembawang Family Service Centre.

The family have also received food rations and supermarket vouchers from their local grassroots organisation, said MND.

The ministry said that HDB public rental flats cater to needy Singaporean households who have no other housing options and no family support. HDB works closely with other agencies and community partners, such as social service offices and family service centres, to provide support to rental tenants.

"The false statements reported by Mr Goh and TISG give the impression that HDB has deprived a needy family of public rental housing because of their inability to pay for it," MND added. "This is not the case and it is important to set the facts straight."

TISG put up a correction notice on its Facebook post and online article on Wednesday evening. Mr Goh, too, put up the correction notice on his Facebook post on Thursday morning at 11.18am.

At about 12.20am on Thursday, Mr Goh posted an apology on his Facebook page along with photos of a police report he had made against Lina. He added that the Pofma Office's correction notice would be complied with by the given deadline.

In his Facebook post, Mr Goh said that he realised Lina's story was false as she had lied to him after he contacted her about the matter. He said refunds would be made to those who donated money to Lina, with $610 returned so far.

He apologised to MND and TISG, as well as donors and sponsors who "have taken the time to provide the necessary aid to the family", noting that some spent a large amount of about $500 to shop for food items and deliver them to the family personally.

"Moving forward, we will want to further verify...information first before approving any aid to future requests submitted by needy families," he added. "Do bear with us if this process will take a longer time."

The Straits Times has contacted TISG for comment.

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