Civil servants' rebuttal proper: PMO

Civil servants' rebuttal proper: PMO

IT IS "completely in order" for civil servants to defend Singapore's interests by correcting misrepresentations about the country, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) yesterday.

And when the integrity of the Prime Minister and his Government's policies is questioned, an official reply from the PM's press secretary is also appropriate.

The PMO issued the statement in response to media queries over the propriety of recent letters by civil servants that rebutted articles in two foreign publications.

Last week, PM Lee Hsien Loong's press secretary Chang Li Lin wrote a letter to The Economist.

Before that, the Singapore Consul- General in Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo, similarly wrote to the South China Morning Post. The Economist article discussed PM Lee's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, who alleged that PM Lee had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies.

Ms Chang said in her letter that the libel was not "alleged", as The Economist put it, because the blogger had "publicly admitted accusing PM Lee of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation".

She also refuted the journal's view that the Government saw short-term benefits from the lawsuit as it would deter online discourse.

What is at stake, she said, is "the sort of public debate Singapore should have", adding: "The Internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation."

The PMO said: "When aspersions are cast on the integrity of the Prime Minister and his Government's policies, an official reply from the PM's press secretary is completely in order."

This is no different from what press secretaries in most other governments do, it added.

"Likewise, when a foreign newspaper carries an article with misrepresentations about Singapore, it is important that our diplomatic representative defend Singapore's interests by correcting misrepresentations and providing a balanced view," said the PMO.

Mr Foo "did just that" when he responded to the South China Morning Post article, it added.

The Hong Kong newspaper had carried a report about writer Catherine Lim's open letter to PM Lee, in which she said that Singaporeans no longer trust the Government.

Mr Foo replied that while "not all is perfect in Singapore", trust in the Government remains high.

The PMO's statement did not specify who had raised the concerns. But the Reform Party had questioned, in a statement on Monday, whether the letter by Ms Chang "may have breached the ministerial code of conduct... by defending the PM's private defamation suit", and whether this could be a misuse of state resources.

charyong@sph.com.sg


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