The unfolding controversy sparked by Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s social media posts has put a spotlight on the residences of the Minister for Home Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan.
Residing in the grand colonial bungalows situated along Ridout Road, these ministers’ homes are not without public scrutiny, particularly as they come under the jurisdiction of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) – a body overseen by Minister Shanmugam himself.
In response to the brewing controversy, the SLA assured that the rental agreements for the properties were processed in accordance with their established procedures.
However, questions regarding the transparency of the auction process and whether the ministers are paying below market value for these properties continue to stir public debate, spurred on by Mr Jeyaretnam’s call for clarity from the SLA.
The uproar has provoked parliament members across the political spectrum to table questions set to be discussed in the upcoming parliamentary session in July. Meanwhile, the Workers’ Party is pushing for SLA to disclose all relevant information, including the guide rent for the properties, in the interest of fostering an informed and balanced parliamentary debate.
Despite these appeals, the SLA indicated in its 12 May press release that they will only reveal further details during the parliamentary sitting in July.
While the undisclosed Guide Rent has added to the suspense, data from the Urban Development Authority (URA) reveals that the land occupied by the properties is quite substantial.
No. 26 Ridout Road sprawls over 306,930.38 square feet (28,497.67 square meters) with approximately 9,202 square feet of floor space, while No. 31 Ridout Road possesses a land area of 136,101 sq ft (12,664 sq m) with a similar floor space. The magnitude of these properties has fueled speculation about the guide rent.
For comparison, we can refer to Good-Class-Bungalows, a short walk away from Ridout Road, currently on the market, which provides some perspective.
One property has 9,000 sqft of floor space and occupies 15,000 sqft of land, and the asking price is S$69,999/month. This comes at about S$4.67 per sqft.
Another has 8,500 sqft of floor space and occupies 15,000 sqft of land, and the asking price is S$80,000/month. This comes at about S$ 5.33 per sqft.
The third has 9,000 sqft of floor space and occupies 18,000 sqft of land, and the asking price is S$60,000/month. This comes at about S$ 3.33 per sqft.
Given the same rates applied to the ministers’ residences, the median rental would be astronomical at a monthly rental of around S$1.4 million and S$635,000 or an annual rental of S$17.2 million and S$7.6 million, respectively, which far exceed their already substantial annual salaries.
It would, therefore, be pretty far-fetched to expect the ministers to be paying such an amount for the rental. However, if they aren’t, wouldn’t it be somewhat akin to raiding the reserve if the ministers are paying less than what the market price demands?
This term brings to mind Minister for National Development Mr Desmond Lee’s previous comments regarding the proposals from Progress Singapore Party’s Leong Mun Wai on public housing:
“Mr Leong’s proposal for HDB to pay historical price to the reserves means putting back into the reserves far less than what the state land is really worth today. This is a raid on the reserves, plain and simple, and will diminish the resources available for your children and their children.”
If, indeed, the ministers are paying less than the market price for the land they reside on, this situation may parallel Mr Lee’s concerns, underscoring the need for transparency.
As such, it is incumbent upon the SLA and the ministers involved to address the prevailing doubts by revealing the exact rental payments.
Doing so will uphold Singapore’s renowned reputation for strong governance and integrity while safeguarding public trust. As we eagerly anticipate their response, these ministerial residences’ true value remains an open question.