Couple in Leong Mun Wai’s post that was issued Pofma order wrote to Pritam 4 years ago, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Couple in Leong Mun Wai’s post that was issued Pofma order wrote to Pritam 4 years ago

The West Coast couple featured in a Feb 12 Facebook post by Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had first reached out to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh four years ago but received no response then.

However on Feb 11, the couple received a call from Mr Singh and were told that someone would visit them. A day later, Mr Leong visited the couple and told them Mr Singh had let him know about an e-mail he received four years ago, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua.

Mr Leong’s post about the couple – a man, 60, who is blind, and his wife, 55, who has mobility issues after she broke her ankle in a fall in 2023 – was subsequently dealt with under the fake news law.

Mr Leong had claimed that the couple were not receiving financial help from public agencies aside from a monthly Home Caregiving Grant.

He also claimed that the woman had used up most of the funds in her MediSave account to pay for a leg operation, and had stopped attending physiotherapy sessions as she could not afford to pay the $100 for each session. In addition, he said the couple’s application for assistance with transport costs had been rejected.

Mr Leong was issued a Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) direction, as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said the couple are receiving financial assistance from various agencies, including transport vouchers. It added that the woman still has more than $60,000 in her MediSave account, and did not have to pay out of pocket for the physiotherapy sessions.

On March 4, Mr Chua told Parliament that following the post by Mr Leong, MSF volunteers spoke with the couple to find out what had happened. This was because they knew the couple and had been helping them consistently, and knew that Mr Leong’s post contained falsehoods.

Mr Chua said the couple told volunteers they were surprised to find Mr Leong at their door on Feb 12 because they had not approached the PSP or Mr Leong for help.

The couple said they had written to Mr Singh in 2020, but received no response from the Workers’ Party or Mr Singh.

“As to why Mr Singh did not do anything for four years, and why he then chose to speak with Mr Leong; and whether Mr Singh knew or agreed with Mr Leong that this matter will be highlighted on social media just four days before the Budget statement was due to be delivered on the 16th of February - that is not clear to us,” said Mr Chua.

“I don’t know what Mr. Singh was trying to do, and I make no specific comment on his motivations, but I’m sure he and everyone in this chamber here will agree with me that people, especially the vulnerable ones that we serve and their plights should not be politicised. Instead there must be a sincere intent to help,” he added.

Mr Chua said it was “an old art in politics” to highlight one case in order to colour perceptions and make people harbour negative thoughts about the Government as a whole.

Mr Singh (Aljunied GRC) confirmed that he had received a letter from a resident four years ago, although their address was not mentioned in it.

He picked up the letter when clearing files in his office, and decided to check in on the couple to see if things were better now. They told him that they still face difficulties.

After asking for their address, Mr Singh said he realised they live in an area where Mr Leong and the PSP are active. The PSP narrowly lost West Coast GRC in the last general election and have been active on the ground since, while the WP has traditionally contested in the eastern parts of Singapore.

He asked the couple if they had contacted social services, to which the man said he had not as he is blind, and his wife is immobile.

Mr Singh said it was for this reason that he got in touch with Mr Leong and told him he may want to follow up with the couple if his team was visiting.

Mr Singh added that he has received similar feedback from his own residents about trouble other people may be facing in a different constituency.

He said Mr Chua would know about an e-mail that he sent to MSF, in which he asked them to follow up on information about a resident who does not reside in a constituency the Workers’ Party is active in. It was not clear if Mr Singh was referring to the West Coast couple or other residents.

“This is how the WP operates as well,” said Mr Singh, noting that he did not know how Mr Leong followed up with the couple afterwards.

“But certainly when we know of residents who are in trouble, who are in need, who are in difficulty, it is not in the Workers’ Party’s interests to go online and to point fingers at government agencies, point fingers at organisations like SSO (Social Service Office) for no rhyme or reason,” he said.

He added that when WP knows of residents who are in need in any constituency, it tries to get help for them through people it knows are active on the ground, or through the MSF and social services.

Mr Chua said the Government was not saying that WP and PSP were pointing fingers at the Government on social media, but said Mr Singh had not answered his question on why he waited four years to get in touch with the couple.

Mr Singh had raised his hand to respond but question time had ended. The Straits Times has contacted Mr Singh for comment.

Mr Leong stepped down as PSP secretary-general on Feb 20 to take responsibility for the correction direction he received for his Facebook post about the couple.

The issue was raised after WP MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) questioned the need for MSF to make the couple’s financial situation public, including their Central Provident Fund and MediSave balances. He also asked if this aligns with Singapore’s privacy protection standards.

Mr Chua said the Pofma correction direction did not identify the couple in any way, and that the public disclosure of the couple’s CPF and Medisave balances was necessary to dispel falsehoods. Mr Leong had claimed the woman’s Medisave account was depleted.

He said it was unfortunate that there is a habit of rushing to publicise cases of persons in need, and advised members of the public and MPs to instead let social services know of such cases.

“I hope that we can agree that it is more important to first be assured that such individuals are indeed receiving the help they need rather than to use them to prove or substantiate one’s policy or political arguments,” he said.

“When cases are publicised with errors of fact, they create the misleading impression that we as a society are failing those of us who are in need. Government agencies have to set the record straight in the public interest,” added Mr Chua, who noted that this is in line with the Government’s instructions manual and the Public Sector Governance Act on data governance standards.

LEONG MUN WAIPRITAM SINGHWest Coast GRCProgress Singapore PartyWorkers' PartyEric ChuaPofma correctionSINGAPORE PARLIAMENT