SINGAPORE – Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah has described as inappropriate the use of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) over comments he made regarding the Covid-19 situation in foreign worker dormitories.
The Pofma Office had issued five correction notices in total to The Online Citizen Asia, New Naratif, Channel News Asia (CNA) and National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) over comments Professor Tambyah made on July 3 at an NUSS forum.
CNA and NUSS have complied with the correction direction.
Speaking to reporters during a walkabout on Monday (July 6), the 55-year-old, who is contesting Bukit Panjang SMC, described the development as “complete distraction”.
“What I said was from a circular from MOM (Ministry of Manpower),” said Prof Tambyah, referring to an e-mail advisory sent to employers.
“It was sent out by MOM. It was not sent out by MOM and MOH (Ministry of Health).”
He added that the advisory was signed only by an MOM official and not anybody from MOH.
“Frankly, that seems to me an inappropriate use of Pofma.”
The Pofma office had quoted the SDP chairman as saying that the MOM e-mail advisory to employers on testing of migrant workers was made without the advice of public health medical professionals.
It also said Prof Tambyah had added that the “advisory stated employers would lose their work pass privileges if they brought their workers for Covid-19 testing” and that the ministry “actively discouraged” the testing of workers.
The Pofma Office said these allegations are false.
But Prof Tambyah denied making the statements, adding that there have been “so many Pofmas since July”.
“Frankly, trying to decide who signed a circular is not going to cause racial and religious strife whether it (the e-mail) came from MOH and MOM, or whether it came from MOM alone,” said the infectious diseases expert, who is contesting the single-member constituency against Mr Liang Eng Hwa of the People’s Action Party.
Prof Tambyah said the SDP has been trying to focus on the issues that matter to Singaporeans, such as jobs, income security and the response to Covid-19.
“This Covid-19 is not just a medical problem, it’s also an economic problem,” he noted.
The events surrounding the e-mail were clarified by the two ministries in a July 5 joint statement.
They said Changi General Hospital had informed MOH on Feb 8 that an employer in the construction industry was sending all his workers to the hospital to be tested for Covid-19 although the workers exhibited no symptoms and were well.
The employer had also asked the hospital to certify the workers fit and that they were not infected with Covid-19.
The hospital was concerned this would result in a flood of healthy workers being sent to accident and emergency departments, which would distract them from the care and treatment of ill patients who required their attention.
On Feb 12, the two ministries and other agencies jointly issued an advisory to the industry, saying there was no need to prevent workers who were residing in the dormitory from working if they were not sick.
Another advisory was sent out on Feb 19 to advise employers not to send their workers who were healthy for testing, so as to ensure that medical facilities and resources were focused on patients who needed medical treatment.
In the advisories, MOM did not say employers could not take their workers for testing. Neither did MOM actively discourage the testing of workers.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force, had separately refuted Prof Tambyah’s statement that claimed the e-mail advisory was made without the advice of public health medical professionals.
Describing the allegations as “baseless and false”, Mr Wong said the task force has always relied on scientific evidence and the advice of medical experts in coming up with decisions.
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