SINGAPORE - Socio-political website TR Emeritus (TRE) has apologised for its online report alleging that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's medical expenses are funded by the taxpayer, which the Government called out as a "blatant lie".
In the first of two Facebook posts on Tuesday (June 7) morning, TRE said it had republished a reader's comment in a June 6 article - which said the cost to the taxpayer of Mr Heng's medical bills to date would be almost $500,000 - "without checking the underlying facts".
"We therefore extend our apologies for this matter," it said.
But it added that according to its terms of service, it had the rights to republish any material submitted to the website in any format, and that it has been "doing so as a socio-political platform".
The content producer is "solely responsible for any liability arisen from the publication of (his) messages", it added.
In another Facebook post two hours later, its editors said "it was never our intention to misrepresent the facts".
"We had believed that the facts provided by the writer was true because there was indeed a scheme (in the past) when civil servants was fully covered by the states for injuries and sickness during working hours," it said, adding that since Mr Heng was in a Cabinet meeting when he collapsed, it was "natural to assume" that the State would cover his medical expenses.
Mr Heng, 54, collapsed during a Cabinet meeting on May 12 after suffering a stroke. He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where doctors successfully closed a ruptured aneurysm that caused bleeding in his brain.
The June 6 TRE article had said that Mr Heng would have been "surrounded round the clock by Senior Consultant neurologists at the Professor and A/Professor-level, daily checks by other specialists, doctors, advanced practicing nurses, and a rotating team of bodyguards".
"This means that the bill will be at least $15,000 per day which are actually funded by taxpayer's monies. It has been 25 days since being hospitalised as of 6 June 2016," TRE added.
In response, the Government said the claim was a "blatant lie".
In a statement posted on the Gov.sg Facebook page shortly after midnight on Tuesday (June 7), the Government said that TRE "has once again sought to mislead the public", adding that ministers in Singapore are on the same medical benefit scheme - the Medisave-cum-Subsidised Outpatient (MSO) scheme - as most civil servants.
"Ministers receive no extra benefits for themselves or their spouses/children. All ministers and other political office-holders pay tax."
The statement said that Mr Heng's hospitalisation "is most certainly not borne by taxpayers' monies".
In its latest Facebook post, TRE said that it was now aware of the changes to civil servants' medical benefits, and that "what we understood to be the case may not be applicable now".
"We have written to the PSD (Public Service Division) in view of this information, as well as to express our disappointment that they have accused us of misleading the public," it said.