Richard Branson’s reasons for turning down TV debate with Shanmugam ‘do not hold water’: MHA

Richard Branson's reasons for turning down TV debate with Shanmugam 'do not hold water': MHA

In its statement, the ministry described Mr Branson as someone who has been “publicly peddling falsehoods about Singapore” and who uses his celebrity status to campaign to change Singapore’s position.

“If his facts are wrong, it is important this be publicly exposed. If Mr Branson is convinced he is correct, he should take up our offer of a debate, and not offer lame excuses to opt out,” said MHA.

On Mr Branson’s suggestions on the people and organisations Singapore should be engaging, it said it is not for him to tell the Singapore Government who in the country it should talk to.

It pointed out that some of them “are quite clearly among those who have been feeding him misinformation and untruths”.

MHA added: “Interestingly, a few of the persons indirectly referenced by Mr Branson travelled to Malaysia in 2018 to congratulate Dr Mahathir on being elected Prime Minister, and to ask Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Southeast Asia (including Singapore).

“These are persons who turn to foreigners like Dr Mahathir and Mr Branson to pressure Singapore, because they do not get much support from Singaporeans.”

Referring to another suggestion that Singapore studies lessons from other countries, MHA said the Government already looks at what is happening in the UK, US, Europe and other parts of the world. 

“We see the high rates of drug abuse and drug related crime, and the countless lives lost and families destroyed,” said MHA. 

“Singapore is not completely free from the drug menace either, but our drug situation is under much better control.”

By adapting what works to Singapore’s situation and avoiding practices that have failed, children in Singapore largely grow up free from drugs and people here live without fear of violence or crime, said MHA.

Such an approach allows Singaporeans and foreigners alike to enjoy the genuine freedoms in a vibrant, global city with a very low crime rate.

“We ask only for our right to choose our own path, to continue keeping Singapore and Singaporeans safe. The elected Government of Singapore is fully capable of taking our own decisions, explaining them to Singaporeans, and getting support for them, including at the polls,” said MHA. 

“Mr Branson’s disregard for facts, his condescension in declining a debate, and his failure to recognise that we have considered these matters carefully” point to one of two possible conclusions: He either believes that he should be listened to without question, simply because of who he is; or he knows that what he has said cannot be defended.”

The “elaborate set of non-explanations” is a result of Mr Branson trying to avoid being exposed, it added.

MHA said that it doesn’t accuse Mr Branson of hypocrisy as some British media have done or question his prioritisation of profit over the human rights principles “which he so loudly professes”. It also doesn’t judge him for taking drugs together with his son, as he has publicly admitted to doing.

“But Mr Branson should act with some honour. If he takes a public position on a matter which can impact thousands of lives in another country, then he should be prepared to explain himself,” added MHA. 

“Pontificating from a distant mountaintop, and then avoiding a serious discussion when challenged, does not suggest any respect either for principle, nor for the people whose well being he claims to champion.”