Shanmugam, Balakrishnan, and the Code of Conduct: A Demand for Straight Answers

Shanmugam, Balakrishnan, and the Code of Conduct: A Demand for Straight Answers

In a country renowned for its high standards of governance, the recent controversy surrounding the tenancy of two state properties by Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has raised some perplexing questions.

Both ministers, tasked with the important responsibility of upholding the integrity of Singapore’s laws and foreign affairs, respectively, find themselves under scrutiny following allegations of a potential breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

Mr Shanmugam claimed in his statement on Tuesday (23 May) to have “nothing to hide” and encouraged questions.

However, the irony is palpable when we consider the simple question that remains unanswered: Does leasing from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), an organization he oversees, breach the Ministerial Code of Conduct?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s decision to initiate a review is commendable and necessary to maintain the high standards of integrity that are a cornerstone of the Singapore government.

However, having a fellow People’s Action Party Senior Minister, Teo Chee Hean, chair the review does raise some questions. Furthermore, it remains puzzling why a straightforward answer isn’t forthcoming from the ministers implicated in this issue.

Under Section 3 of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, it’s stipulated that a Minister must avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest between his office and his private financial interests.

While we should refrain from jumping to conclusions before the review concludes, the public certainly has the right to question whether a Minister leasing public property could conceivably conflict with his public duty.

This predicament reflects an unprecedented evasion of responsibility, particularly from Mr Shanmugam, who has been vocal in demanding clear and direct responses from political opponents.

Now that the tables have turned, the nation awaits his clear and direct answer – does leasing the property at 26 Ridout Road contravene the Code of Conduct for ministers?

Instead of a straightforward response, we see the matter deferred to a review committee and promises of addressing the issue in Parliament, where the ruling People’s Action Party holds a supermajority. This is far from the accountability and directness we expect from a Minister, especially one overseeing Law and Home Affairs.

The question is simple and direct, yet the absence of a clear answer has inevitably raised eyebrows and triggered skepticism about our leaders’ transparency and accountability. It is incumbent upon Mr Shanmugam and Mr Balakrishnan to clear the air and restore public confidence by providing a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.

Do the two ministers not think that the average person will likely perceive a conflict of interest when ministers rent from a government agency under the Law Minister’s purview? Once such a perception exists, how can there be no breach of Clause 3 of the Ministerial Code?

Clause 3, analogous to the maxim that justice must not only be done but seen to be done, requires a Minister to avoid actual conflict of interest and apparent or perceived conflict of interest.

Parliamentary privilege and safe environments shouldn’t be an excuse for evading direct answers. Singaporeans deserve more than opaque explanations and bureaucratic deferrals; they deserve straightforward, honest responses from their public servants. This is a matter of trust, transparency, and, above all, integrity.

If there’s anything the public can perceive from the actions of the ministers so far, it’s how out of touch they appear to be with common folks – both in the matter of principle and the need for accountability – from atop their massive ivory towers on Ridout Road.

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