In the war against scams, why is the WP more interested in pontificating? 

14/01/2024
sylvia lim Josephine teo

This is a bit like firefighters on the front line. You are trying…to push back the fire (and) not let it spread. And then we have a group of bystanders who you know, instead of praying for them, encouraging them, are saying to them ‘You should be doing this, you should be doing that.’ Pontificating.”

What made Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo say that? To unravel the question, we must go back to the events in Parliament leading up to that moment. 

This week, all eyes were on the debate on a motion to build a safe and inclusive digital society. Led by MP Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) and several other MPs from the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Communications and Information, it was a rallying cry to wage war on the scroungers of modern crime (aka scammers) and make the online space a safer one to all.  

For nearly seven hours, we heard impassioned pleas and insightful thoughts on tackling deepfakes, building online trust, improving digital literacy and holding banks more accountable. It became clear that the woes of scammed residents have struck a chord with our MPs as they called for a whole-of-nation effort to boost digital safety.  

But will the Opposition be part of these efforts to protect Singaporeans from online harms? We are not too sure. Because why else would Worker’s Party (WP) MP Mr Jamus Lim pour cold water on the Shared Responsibility Framework and call it “fundamentally unfair.” Having said that, what was his alternative? 

By creating a moral hazard in the name of fairness, of course. While MP Lim’s suggestion to limit individual liability in fraudulent transactions is attractive, one could almost smell an epidemic of risk-taking behaviour underway. Imagine if all you have to lose is $100. From e-commerce discounts to bogus investments, there is practically little to fear and everything to gain (in the slim chance that the ad is not a scam) if the government and banks are there to pick up the bill every, single time. And let’s not forget how some of it is actually public money.  

In the end, if such a scenario were to happen, that is when we can expect a real crisis of confidence – a phrase that WP repeated several times in their speeches. As Minister Teo pointed out, “I am not sure what is the purpose of describing the problem this way.” 

And to be honest, neither do we. One can easily dismiss it as the usual WP’s posturing at the expense of the ruling party. However, Minister Teo was right to point out how the term may sound to the agencies and officers. Dismissive, disparaging, if not contemptuous perhaps, towards the very people working tirelessly to make our digital spaces safer. From where we are watching, it is clear that Parliament is a place where the Government and PAP MPs are working hard to come up with practical solutions. Meanwhile, WP MPs continue to scaremonger and politicise every issue they can latch on without offering any feasible alternatives.   

Subsequently, WP MP Ms Sylvia Lim tried to explain herself away for her alarmist misrepresentation of a phenomenon that has hit everyone globally – that there was no intention to politicise the issue on her part since she was merely offering her opinion. 

But it was too late, and the damage was done. To all the scam busters on the frontline, it seems like the WP leaders do not think that you are doing a good enough job. Besides, it was hardly the first time, and nor will it be the last, that WP MPs turned into a coterie of bystanders, happy to watch firefighters fight an inferno with popcorn in their hands.  

“Pontificating,” as Minister Teo puts it.  

Photo Source: CNA/ Josephine Teo via Facebook