MHA slams Richard Branson for rejecting debate with Shanmugam, tells him not to give 'lame excuses'

The ministry added that it had been actively engaging Singaporeans on the issue.

Matthias Ang | November 05, 2022, 01:31 PM

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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) criticised British billionaire Richard Branson for rejecting an invitation to a live televised debate with Minister K Shanmugam.

MHA: Branson has been making "untrue" statements about penalties on drug traffickers

In a press release on Nov. 5, the ministry said Branson has been, for some time, making "untrue" statements about the penalties imposed on drug traffickers in Singapore and that his reasons for declining a televised debate "do not hold water".

MHA noted that Branson had described a televised debate as limited in time and scope, as well as having the risk of prioritising "personalities over issues".

In addition, Branson further claimed that such a debate would not do the complexity of the death penalty any service and would reduced "nuanced discourse into soundbites".

MHA said such reasons are "surprising" given that there was no suggestion about soundbites and that Branson would have been able to put forward his views, "nuanced or otherwise", and explain fully whatever he wants to explain.

The ministry added:

"We can only surmise that Mr Branson realises he will be shown up, because what he has been saying about Singapore is not true.

Mr Branson’s sudden scrupulous desire not to engage in soundbites is at odds with the soundbites and broad unsubstantiated allegations, which he has been making, in his blog posts."

Government actively engaging Singaporeans on the death penalty

The ministry also responded to Branson's suggestion for the government to engage Singaporeans instead of him, pointing out that the billionaire might be unaware that the government has extensive engagement with the public on the issue.

MHA highlighted the following instances of engagement:

  • In 2022 alone, the government has engaged in discussions with thousands of Singaporeans about the death penalty,
  • The issue has also been discussed several times in Parliament in recent years,
  • The Leader of the Opposition has also agreed that the imposition of the death penalty is necessary, and
  • Studies have shown that Singaporeans overwhelmingly support imposing the death penalty.

In addition, offering Branson a chance for a debate on the issue is also a form of public engagement, MHA added.

The ministry said:

"He has been publicly peddling falsehoods about Singapore, using his celebrity status to campaign to change Singapore’s position. If his facts are wrong, it is important this be publicly exposed. If Mr Branson is convinced he is correct, he should take up our offer of a debate, and not offer lame excuses to opt out."

Not for Branson to tell Singapore government who to talk to

MHA further added that it is not Branson's place to tell the Singapore government who to talk to.

The ministry noted that the billionaire had named several people and organisations the government should engage, some of whom have been feeding him misinformation and untruths.

MHA highlighted:

"Interestingly, a few of the persons indirectly referenced by Mr Branson travelled to Malaysia in 2018 to congratulate Dr Mahathir on being elected Prime Minister, and to ask Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Southeast Asia (including Singapore).

These are persons who turn to foreigners like Dr Mahathir and Mr Branson to pressure Singapore, because they do not get much support from Singaporeans."

MHA also responded to Branson's point to study other countries by pointing out that the government has indeed been doing.

MHA said: "We see the high rates of drug abuse and drug related crime, and the countless lives lost and families destroyed. Singapore is not completely free from the drug menace either, but our drug situation is under much better control."

Singapore adapted what works to its own situation

The ministry further stressed that Singapore has adapted what works to its own situation and avoided practices that have failed.

"Our children largely grow up free from drugs, people live in our city state without fear of violence or crime, and Singaporeans and foreigners alike enjoy the genuine freedoms in a vibrant, global city with a very low crime rate," MHA stated.

The government is also fully capable of making its own decisions, explaining them to Singaporeans, and getting support for such decisions at the polls, it added.

MHA then slammed Branson further by saying that his disregard for facts, his condescension in declining a debate, and his failure to recognise that the government has considered such matters carefully point to either of the following conclusions:

  • Branson either believes that he should be listened to without question, simply because of his status or
  • Branson knows that what he has said cannot be defended and to avoid being exposed, he has offered an "elaborate set" of non-explanations.

The ministry also gave the following statement:

"We do not accuse Mr Branson of hypocrisy as some British media have done. We do not question (as others have), his prioritisation of profit over the human rights principles which he so loudly professes. Nor do we judge him for taking drugs together with his son (as he has publicly admitted to doing). But Mr Branson should act with some honour. If he takes a public position on a matter which can impact thousands of lives in another country, then he should be prepared to explain himself."

By avoiding a serious discussion and choosing pontification "from a distant mountaintop", such actions do not suggest any respect on Branson's part either for principle, or for the well-being of the people he claims to champion, MHA concluded.

Top left photo via MHA/Facebook, right photo via Richard Branson/Instagram