The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has confirmed that Cabinet ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan are residing in two colonial bungalows located on Ridout Road.
In a SLA statement issued on Friday, it was disclosed that the properties, 26 and 31 Ridout Road, had been unoccupied for several years prior to the ministers moving in, with all rental procedures fully adhering to SLA guidelines.
This official announcement from the SLA follows a series of social media posts and media inquiries over the past week regarding the properties, instigated by opposition politician and Secretary-General of the Reform Party, Kenneth Jeyaretnam.
Mr Jeyaretnam has expressed concern over the affordability of these prime residential properties for the ministers, questioning how they could pay market rent for such high-value homes.
In a blog post dated 6 May, Mr Jeyaretnam estimated the worth of such a property to be around $55 million, considering an average price of $1100 per square foot and a property size of 50,000 square feet.
Based on a 3% rental yield, Mr Jeyaretnam estimated that the annual rent for such a property would be about $1.65 million, a substantial amount compared to the ministers’ annual salaries, which are reportedly around $2 million.
Mr Jeyaretnam has urged for transparency in the auction process of these state-owned properties, which are supposed to be rented out via an open tender every two years. He has requested the SLA to reveal information about the received bids and the auction process.
According to the SLA, the total size of the lots 24,26,31 Ridout Road is 48,790 square metres or approximately 525,171.19 square feet.
Meanwhile, The Online Citizen Asia (TOC), also reported previously that it wrote to the SLA and the ministers’ assistants in a separate inquiry, seeking clarification on this issue twice last month, but did not receive any response.
A search by the TOC failed to find tender information for the two properties, raising further questions about the tendering process and the price at which the ministers acquired the properties.
It is worth noting that SLA is a statutory board overseen by the Ministry of Law, headed by Mr Shanmugam, who has been serving as Minister for Law since 2008 and Minister for Home Affairs since 2015.
The SLA disclosed that 26 Ridout Road had been vacant since December 2013, and was rented out to Mr Shanmugam in June 2018.
Mr Shanmugam, who was the sole bidder, offered a rent higher than the undisclosed guide price. The tenancy was renewed in June 2021 for another three years.
Similarly, 31 Ridout Road, vacant since July 2013, was rented to Dr Balakrishnan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in October 2019. SLA noted that Dr Balakrishnan’s bid, which exceeded the undisclosed guide rent, was the highest received.
The SLA has assured further details on this matter will be disclosed in the forthcoming Parliament session in July.
In August 2022, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai questioned the rental demand for colonial black-and-white bungalows, their land area, and lease duration in a parliamentary query.
Mr Shanmugam responded that the SLA manages 262 such bungalows with a median land size of about 38,000 sqft and a median rental of about $13,000/month.
As of 21 July 2022, 236 of these bungalows were occupied.
These bungalows, including those on Ridout Road, can only be rented and not sold, a fact significant to the history of these colonial houses, many of which were built with profits from the British opium trade.
Online discussions on the ministers’ occupation of these colonial bungalows were controlled to a large extent, with the Hardwarezone thread being locked and Reddit moderators removing any links or threads on the topic.