Photo of Vivian Balakrishnan form Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Speaking in his closing address speech for a city planning conference held at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said that Singaporean should counter fake news by sharing facts. The Minister also said that the Singapore government build trust by actively sharing data but did not explain in details what “data” the government is sharing.

“The best antidote against fake news is to put out facts… Governments can build trust by actively sharing data. Such open data sharing underpins the process of collective problem- solving in a smart nation… We are systematically moving to an open source, open data society. That is the antidote for cynicism, and antidote against fake news.”

The former Environment Minister also complained about the internet which actively shared a news of flooding where a road “turned into a river”. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan slammed the news as “fake news” because the “river” was only there for 15 minutes:

“When there were flooding problems, the headline on social media was: ‘The road has become a river’. Yes, for 15 minutes. But no one ever put out a note that it has been fixed.”

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also praised his government as “open” and that the “openness” will change the “tone of society”:

“Singapore’s Government also puts out information about air quality, traffic jams and litter problems, for instance. Such openness is aimed at changing the tone of Singapore society – from one that is suspicious and critical to one that solves problems collectively.”

The Foreign Minister also embarrassed himself when forum panelist, Frenchman chief editor of Le Monde newspaper, asked about privacy concerns with data sharing. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan responded claiming that the government’s privacy is protected and Singaporeans support the banning of internet usage in the civil service:

“Privacy and security are key to building a smart city, and this is also why the Government decided to delink the computers of 143,000 public servants from the Internet. People scolded us and said we were living in the dinosaur age. Then, the WannaCry malware came and, fortunately, we were not hit in a big way. Today, the criticisms have died down.”

While the Singapore government has indeed been consistently sharing data, the information and statistics are however selective. For example, there is no breakdown in land costs for a BTO HDB flat even though there are well-tabled selling prices. Another recent example is the actual salaries of low income workers, where the Ministry of Manpower shared all wages-related data about low income workers except to provide the single most relevant data of wage growth in percentage for the low income.

Selective data sharing by the Singapore Government is common as the authority wants to cover up the actual state of society. In employment statistics, there is no explanation what constitutes employment but Singaporeans on National Service full-time are considered “employed”. Household income per head is also declared, instead of the more accurate median income by percentile income. As a result of these covered up statistics, international surveys have been unable to put a ranking to Singaporeans’ purchasing power in recent years.

Vital government statistics are also not available to Parliament MPs and even the President. In 1998, former President Ong Teng Cheong demanded for the actual amount of national reserves, to which the ruling party PAP government responded that the calculation will take “56 man-years” to have an answer.

More notably, there is no Freedom of Information Act where a member of the public has the right to request for data. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s pompous speech on “openness” is sadly just another farce for the uninformed.