Ex-GIC economist & TOC issued POFMA correction direction over false claims about HDB’s deficits

MND said the S$500 million sum for the land would not result in net increase in past reserves.

Belmont Lay | October 16, 2022, 12:05 PM

Former GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong and website The Online Citizen (TOC) have been ordered to put up corrections over false and misleading statements about the losses made by the Housing and Development Board in a Build-To-Order (BTO) project, as well as gains by the nation's past reserves.

Yeoh and TOC are required to insert a notice against their original offending online posts or articles and a link to the government's clarification.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office issued them the correction directions on Friday (Oct. 14).

What happened

Yeoh published two Facebook posts on Oct. 4.

They referred to the reply by National Development Minister Desmond Lee to a parliamentary question by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

Lee had stated that a development loss of about S$270 million will be incurred by HDB for the Central Weave @ AMK BTO project.

In response, Yeoh wrote in his posts that the reply was "a rather disingenuous and misleading analysis of the supposed S$270 million loss made by HDB".

As the government "acquired most of the land at minimal or much lower cost by compulsory acquisition", Yeoh alleged further that there was an "accounting sleight of hand".

TOC then ran a piece on the same day about the points raised Yeoh's Facebook posts.

The website ran another article the next day.

This new article's headline alluded to how the S$500 million in land sales in the BTO project will see Singapore's reserves profit from it.

Government's response

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said the losses incurred by HDB for the AMK BTO project are "accurate and real".

The agency's deficits, MND added, are covered using funding from the annual Budget, which is raised from taxes and other revenue streams.

State land is part of Singapore's past reserves, and is not part of the assets that the government can use as it wishes, MND carried on.

"When HDB requires land to develop flats, the land has to be taken out of the past reserves. HDB has to purchase the land by paying fair market value for the land, and the money goes into the past reserves. The estimated land cost for Central Weave @ AMK is about S$500 million," MND said.

"The government cannot sell state land at nominal or much lower cost than its fair market value without the president’s approval, as doing so would constitute a draw on past reserves," the agency added.

Singapore's past reserves are protected by the Constitution for the benefit of current and future generations, MND noted.

There is an established process to determine the fair market value of land, it was also noted.

"Neither the government nor the past reserves profit from land sales."

"When state land is disposed of at fair market value, there is no addition to the past reserves but a conversion of one type of asset (land) to another (cash)," it said.

MND said the sum of about S$500 million for the land for the Central Weave @ AMK BTO project would not result in a net increase in the past reserves when deposited.

Yeoh and TOC have added correction notices to the posts in question.

Top photo via HDB