Religious leaders in S'pore prayed for Heng Swee Keat's recovery after his May 2016 stroke

While stressing the role that POFMA also played in upholding racial and religious harmony, Heng also cracked a few jokes with Ambassador Ong Keng Yong.

Matthias Ang | June 21, 2019, 06:44 PM

Several religious leaders prayed for the recovery of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in the wake of his stroke in May 2016.

This was a tidbit that Heng, who is also Finance Minister, shared on Friday (June 21) during a closing dialogue session at the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS).

Harmony a "precious" thing to "cherish and uphold and strengthen"

In laying out the context of the situation, Heng said he was at an event organised by the NGO Inter-Religious Organisation after recovering from his stroke.

"And at the end of the dialogue, every one of the leaders came to me and said, 'Mr Heng, we prayed for you.' I was so touched. Regardless of race, language or religion, everyone came up to me to say 'we prayed for you.' I was so touched. So I think this is something so precious in Singapore, that we must really cherish and uphold and strengthen."

Heng said also that religious leaders played a key role in maintaining harmony, day in and day out, and spreading such a positive message, whenever they met their followers.

He added that he also hoped religious leaders would continue to take action against extremist views, given that every religion has extremists who distort beliefs, and champion their own as the right path.

As for Singapore, Heng said he was glad religious communities here continue to support the government in taking a strong stance on such issues.

Acting against religious leaders with defamatory remarks

On the part of the government, Heng pointed out that action was previously taken against religious leaders from other places, who came into Singapore to preach.

Heng explained that these had come to Singapore without understanding our local context, and made defamatory remarks about starting crusades or jihad.

As such, it was important for the government to remain vigilant and uphold the law in playing the role of policymakers.

The role POFMA plays

Heng further cited the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) as an important law for upholding social harmony.

"I hope that our community understands the importance of POFMA in our multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual society, so that we take a strong stance.

We are not against free speech, we are not against dialogue — in fact, we should promote dialogue and reasonable arguments and decisions. But we must not allow falsehoods to spread, we must not allow people to go on hate speech to promote misunderstanding."

Additionally, dialogue, reasonable arguments and decisions should also be promoted.

Heng mentioned that in Sri Lanka, there were rumours on social media that Muslims were seeking to sterilise the Sinhalese majority, to equalise the population ratio.

He said such a rumour had great potential for social havoc, despite being totally false, and was an instance of why Singapore needed to take a strong stance against online falsehoods.

Dialogue had its light-hearted moments

The dialogue session wasn't entirely a serious affair, however.

When Ambassador-at-large Ong Keng Yong, who was moderating the session, asked Heng to give his comments to the young who had participated in the dialogue, Heng replied, to the laughter of the crowd:

"Your question sounds like now this is not just an interfaith dialogue, but an inter-age dialogue."

When Heng said he would be happy to support the youth in their efforts and initiatives to bring different faiths together for doing good, Ong quipped, "Just give us more money," which drew further laughter from the crowd.

This prompted Heng to reply with a laugh that the hardest job of the finance minister was "money not enough".

Heng also touched on the Bicentennial Community Fund (BCF) — a fund that had been established to encourage donations to Institutions of a Public Character (IPC).

Here, Heng explained that a S$200,000 donation from a company could lead to an IPC receiving up to S$400,000 in donations, thanks to topping up by the government through the BCF.

This drew Ong's cheeky reply that Heng, as a finance minister, had just given the crowd terminology that the crowd did not understand, and had taken the opportunity to ask people for money.

Heng replied with a laugh, "I'm just doing my job."

Top image from Heng Swee Keat Facebook page