Govt invokes POFMA Act for first time against post made by PSP's Brad Bowyer

Bowyer had made a number of allegations about Temasek and GIC's investment decisions.

Sulaiman Daud | November 25, 2019, 01:13 PM

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has used the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Act to issue a Correction Notice against an online post.

This is the first time that a ministry has made use of the Act since it was passed by Parliament earlier this year.

MOF said in a press release: "Mr Bowyer’s post contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government."

Salt Bae

This post was made by Brad Bowyer, a member of the Progress Singapore Party, on Nov. 13.

Bowyer shared an article from a website called ZeroHedge that detailed the losses suffered by the restaurant chain owned by Turkish businessman Nusret Gokce, better known as meme sensation Salt Bae.

Back in April 2018, it was reported that Singapore state investment vehicle Temasek purchased a stake in the restaurant group connected to Salt Bae's restaurant.

Bowyer's post alleged that a "fair chunk" of the S$200 million investment put in by Temasek "looks like it will vaporise", less than a year on.

Other allegations about Temasek and GIC

Bowyer then went on to point out other so-called "losses" experienced by Temasek, including a fine levied in Brazil on its subsidiary, Keppel.

He also mentioned the troubles of Indian telecom company Bharti, in which Singapore's GIC made an investment, and the recent closure of the Amaravati capital city project in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, in which Singapore companies were involved.

Bowyer said: "Is any of this wise investment by the primaries (Temasek and GIC) or fiduciary responsibility of those overseeing them as it involves public funds directly managed or indirectly injected in to them?"

He ended his post with an appeal for readers to "review" the People's Action Party.

The Singapore government does not control Temasek & GIC's investment decisions

But on Nov. 25, government fact-checker website Factually published "corrections and clarifications" over Bowyer's post.

It said: "The Facebook post by Mr Brad Bowyer contains false statements of fact and misleading statements."

Factually stated that Temasek and GIC are run on market principles, independent of the government.

It added: "The Government does not influence, let alone direct, the individual investment decisions made by Temasek and GIC."

Factually also said that the government holds the boards of Temasek and GIC accountable for their performances.

Commercial allegations addressed

Factually addressed the allegations made by Bowyer on the various projects and investments made by Temasek and GIC.

For Salt Bae, Factually clarified:

"Temasek invested in D.ream International BV, and not in one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders called Doğuş Holding A.Ş.

The company that is reportedly in difficulties according to the article cited by Mr Bowyer, is Doğuş Holding A.Ş., and not D.ream International BV."

For the Amaravati Project, Factually said that Bowyer made a "sweeping statement" that the S$4 billion in investments made by government-linked companies and others in Andhra Pradesh have been doing poorly, but had no basis for it.

They added that the losses incurred by Singapore companies due to the cancellation of the project amounted to a few million dollars, not billions.

For Bharti Airtel, Factually said that the valuation of Singtel's shares in Bharti has more than doubled from S$5.1 billion to S$13 billion.

As for Keppel, Factually clarified that the fine incurred by Keppel did not lead to a loss, and that it has made a total profit of S$3.4 billion in the past four years.

Factually defends performance of Temasek and GIC

Factually then talked up the performance of Temasek and GIC, highlighting:

  • As reported by Temasek, its portfolio value is S$313 billion, as of March 31.
  • Temasek's total shareholder return has been 7 per cent (annualised) over the past 20 years.
  • Temasek has been rated Aaa by Moody’s Investors Service and AAA by S&P Global Ratings, ever since 2004.
  • The expected returns of MAS, GIC and Temasek make up 20 per cent of government revenue under the Net Investment Returns framework.

Factually said: "Mr Bowyer uses false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC."

Bowyer responds

Speaking to Mothership, Bowyer said: "I have made the amendment as requested and issued a statement on my Facebook page as several media outlets have reached out to me."

Bowyer's post on Nov. 25 said that he would amend his Nov. 13 post in response to the POFMA request.

You can see it below:

On his original post, he also included a link to the Factually article detailing his errors.

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Top image from Factually.