Recently, a post about Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has been making rounds on WhatsApp about questionable financial benefits from the creation of quarantine centres to house patients who are showcasing mild symptoms of COVID-19.
In the viral message, it claims that Ms Teo did not manage to control the infection rate in migrant worker dormitories, resulting in a huge jump in the country’s number of positive cases of the deadly coronavirus in the dormitories.
Due to her poor handling, the country’s medical resources have been placed under immense pressure, causing “obscene costs to the coffers”, the viral post mentioned.
It added that the “public coffers” have to take over the dorm operators responsibilities to quarantine the migrant workers staying at overly-crowded dorm with poor hygiene.
As of today (18 May), Singapore has recorded 28,343 infections, making it the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
For those who are unaware, nearly 90 percent of Singapore’s cases are recorded among migrant workers staying in dormitories.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on 12 May that more than 32,000 workers living in dormitories have been tested for the coronavirus, which is only 10 percent of the overall number of migrant workers living in dormitories in the country. There are a total of 323,000 migrant workers staying in dorms in Singapore.
Of these tested workers, 25,109 of them have been confirmed to be infected with the deadly virus as of 16 May.
Given the high number of cases recorded in dormitories, the Government has gazetted 25 dormitories as isolation areas to prevent the virus from spreading further into the community. This means that these workers are confined to their rooms with catered meals be supplied to them.
In order to house all these infected workers, the Government had to transform other public facilities to care facilities. One of such premises is the Singapore Expo.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong explained that this is done to make sure that there will be continued capacity to house and treat patients who are suffering from the deadly novel coronavirus at the acute care hospitals.
For patients who are suffering from mild symptoms, they are sent to the community care facilities to be monitored, and will only be brought to the hospital “if necessary”.
“For patients with mild symptoms, generally they don’t need any medical support. In fact, they can actually recover and be cared for in these facilities until they are well and can be discharged, without having to go to the hospitals,” Mr Gan noted.
Besides Singapore Expo, another facility at Tanjong Pagar Terminal was also set up to accommodate up to 15,000 patients or migrant workers.
Singapore Expo was set up in three days
After the Government made its decision to create a care facility to house COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, two halls at Singapore Expo were transformed into a well-equipped isolation facility with 950 beds in just three days by 50 workers.
This one-of-a-kind project was made possible by infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong and their working partners despite all the challenges faced by them.
These 50 workers worked long hours over one weekend to build 950 cubicles, with each equipped with bed, a cabinet, a desk lamp, a chair and charging points for electrical devices. The premise also has Wi-Fi coverage for the patients.
The firm’s group chief executive officer Wong Heang Fine told TODAY that generally the company would have the luxury of time to work on such a project, but due to the current health crisis, he said that his team only had a week of “discussion time” before starting work for their client, the Ministry of Health (MOH), as it wanted to admit the first cohort of patients on 10 April.
“Our task is to deliver to our clients what they want and solve all the issues that are related to delivering it. We don’t look at difficulties. We look at how we can propose solutions that will be able to match our objective,” Mr Wong said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also took to Facebook on 26 April to praise the fast work done by the company as it managed to finish the project in three days.
As of 2016, Surbana Jurong is wholly owned by Temasek which is headed by Ho Ching, spouse of PM Lee.
Construction works benefits Surbana Jurong
The said-viral post also claimed that a large number of these projects were awarded to Surbana Jurong Private Limited.
“A lot of these projects were awarded to Surbana which logically will make a lot of money. Thus their financial will be glowing. And when your financials are glowing you reward the top dogs,” it said.
Is there any truth to the post?
Ms Teo is indeed Singapore’s Manpower Minister and she has been holding this position since 2018.
It is also true that her husband is the CEO of Surbana Jurong. Mr Teo joined Surbana Jurong Group as the CEO (international) in 2016. According to the firm’s website, he “spearheads Surbana Jurong’s efforts to expand its international footprint in Singapore, Southeast Asia and North Asia.”
All government agencies are mandatory required to post their invitations for quotations and tenders above $6,000 openly on the Government electronic business portal (GeBIZ). Looking at the portal, we cannot find any tender for these isolation care facilities.
In fact, given the short span of time noted by Surbana Jurong — that they only had a week of discussion before they completed the work within three days — meant that there was no time for a tender to be called. In general, quotations must be open for at least 7 working days, and tenders for at least 14 calendar days.
As such, we can assume two possibilities for this situation. The first is that Surbana Jurong completed the projects for free, which is quite unlikely. The second possibility is that there was a waiver of tender which the minister(s) in charge of the project can do, given the urgency of getting the community isolation wards be up and running.
There is nothing that can be confirmed at this point, however, it would be a crazy theory to say that Ms Teo showcased her incapability as a Manpower Minister to control the spread of the virus at the dorms just so that her husband’s company could benefit from building all these facilities.
TOC has written in to Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower for their response on the erection of the isolation facility at Expo and selection of its contractor.