Minister Shanmugam says Seng Han Thong not racist

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has come out in defense of Member of Parliament Seng Han Thong, saying that he 'is not a racist.'

He told media at a press conference yesterday that it is unfair to label him as such based on comments that were wrongly attributed to him.

He said: "A significant part of what has been attributed to Mr Seng is false, to be quite blunt about it."

Mr Shanmugam pointed out that Mr Seng's comments on Blog TV was a reference to an SMRT officer's statement on Chinese, Indian and Malay train drivers' lack of English proficiency, which he had heard over the radio. The remark suggested that poor language skills of these drivers were part of the problem faced by SMRT during the recent spate of train breakdowns.

Mr Seng had in fact disagreed with the remark.

Mr Shanmugam clarified that what Mr Seng wished to say was that the workers, specifically the drivers, were not given sufficient training to deal with these emergencies, and he had misquoted the MRT officer who in fact, had referred to drivers of all races in his statement. Mr Seng had mistakenly heard only Malay and Indian train drivers being mentioned.

Mr Shanmugam said:  "The mistake... was that he misquoted the MRT officer and said that the officer had referred to Indian and Malay drivers having poor English language skills, when in fact the officer had referred to all three races."

But he agreed that Mr Seng could have been more explicit in disagreeing with the view that the officer had expressed - that the Indian and Malay drivers had poor language skills. Mr Shanmugam added: "He could have gone further and rebutted that."

Mr Seng has since apologised for his remarks.

At the press conference, Mr Shanmugam also took issue with socio-political blog, The Online Citizen's (TOC), reportage of the controversy. He pointed out that the headline and article was an incomplete report of the sequence of events.

TOC headline had been: "MP Seng Han Thong: SMRT's unpreparedness also due to Malay and Indian staffs English language proficiency". Mr Shanmugam said the article, which was attributed to Mr Seng, was false and was the opposite of what he had said. It also did not say that Mr Seng had been quoting an SMRT officer, or that he was quoting it to agree or disagree with it.