Third Pofma order issued to TikTok user in a week, this time over false claims about public housing, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Third Pofma order issued to TikTok user in a week, this time over false claims about public housing

A TikTok user has run afoul of fake news laws and racked up a third correction notice in less than a week, this time for making false claims about public housing policies.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and Law Ministry said the user, who goes by the moniker dr.ishhaq.jay on TikTok, will be required to create a new TikTok post containing a correction notice, which states that his earlier posts contains a false statement of fact, and provide a link to the government’s clarification.

Additional clarifications published by MND on the Government fact-checking website Factually on Tuesday said the man made false statements claiming that the Housing Board profits from selling Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, among other things.

MND said the videos posted by the man on Aug 17 and Aug 18 contained three false statements.

First, the man falsely claimed that HDB prices and sells BTO flats to make a profit.

MND said this is false because HDB prices new flats with the aim of keeping public housing affordable for Singaporeans.

It said: “To determine housing affordability, HDB looks at resident household incomes and compares them with the range of flat types and selling prices on offer at every BTO launch.

“In pricing new BTO flats, HDB establishes the market value of flats by considering the prices of comparable resale flats nearby, and then applies a significant market discount to the assessed market values, to ensure BTO flats are affordable.”

Second, the man falsely claimed that HDB makes a profit from selling BTO flats.

MND said HDB does not make a profit from BTO sales. In fact, it has incurred a deficit from the sale of such flats.

It said: “The amount collected from the sale of HDB flats in every financial year is less than the total development cost, which includes land and construction costs, and CPF housing grants disbursed to eligible homebuyers.”

In the last three years of financial years 2020, 2021 and 2022, HDB incurred a deficit of about $2.68 billion a year, it added.

Third, the man falsely claimed that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) charges a premium when selling land used to build HDB flats, and makes a profit from the sale.

MND said state land, which is part of the reserves and not owned by SLA, is sold to HDB at fair market value determined by the Chief Valuer.

It said: “When state land is sold at fair market value to HDB, there is no increase in the value of the reserves. Neither are the reserves made worse-off nor diminished. It is a conversion of one type of asset (land) to another (cash).”

MND also made clarifications on three points the man made in his videos.

First, the man claimed that HDB factored in land costs into BTO flats.

MND said HDB does not price flats to recover the cost of land and construction. It added that HDB’s pricing approach is “totally separate and independent” from the development costs of BTO projects.

Second, the man claimed that HDB does not disclose the cost of building flats. MND said this information is publicly available and disclosed every year in HDB annual reports and financial statements.

It added that construction costs are also published on the HDB website and government procurement portal GeBIZ, when tender results are announced.

Third, the man claimed that the Government does not give a solution for Singaporeans to be able to afford housing, after their funds get channelled towards retirement purposes.

In response, MND said Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions in a member’s ordinary account can be used to pay for housing.

It added that 90 per cent of flat buyers who collected their keys from HDB in the first half of 2022 used 25 per cent or less of their monthly income to service their HDB loan instalment payments. “This means these flat buyers can service the loans using their CPF contributions, with little or no cash outlay.”

For Singaporeans who have difficulties paying the monthly instalments of their HDB housing loan, MND said there are financial assistance measures in place, such as deferring or reducing monthly loan instalments for six months.

MND in its statement also said it is aware that the man posted a video clip on Wednesday in which he claimed that he received Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) directions simply for “asking questions”.

MND said: “This is incorrect. Pofma does not deal with opinions or questions, but aims to protect Singaporeans from false statements of fact. Expressing opinions and asking questions should be done responsibly.

“In the case of TikTok user ‘dr.ishhaq.jay’, he has gone beyond asking questions to make a number of serious falsehoods affecting public interest on multiple occasions.”

On Aug 18, ‘dr.ishhaq.jay’ was issued the first correction direction over claims that the Government can trace votes to voters. The second was issued on Aug 20, over false statements he made about CPF policies.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee instructed the Pofma Office to issue a correction direction to the man, and a targeted correction direction to TikTok over his posts, said the joint statement.

TikTok will be required to communicate a correction notice to all end-users in Singapore who have accessed the posts that carried the falsehoods.

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