On Tuesday (23 May), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, is to conduct an independent review regarding two residential properties under the management of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), occupied by Cabinet Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan.
The review aims to establish whether correct procedures were adhered to in the leasing of the properties, amidst allegations of possible misconduct. The results of this inquiry are set to be revealed before the Parliamentary sitting in July.
In its 12 May press release, SLA had earlier assured that it would provide further details during the forthcoming session.
PM Lee stated that the review was requested by Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan, that is independent of the ministries and agencies they supervise.
This announcement came in response to the rising social media speculation and media inquiries surrounding the circumstances of the ministers’ tenancy at 26 and 31 Ridout Road.
Following SLA’s confirmation of the residency of the two properties, the Secretary-General of the Reform Party, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, criticized the opacity of the auction process. He estimates the annual rent of such a property could be approximately $1.65 million, despite the SLA’s claim that the ministers’ rent exceeded an undisclosed guide price.
The Workers’ Party (WP), too, voiced concerns and announced that it had raised parliamentary questions about the case.
WP Secretary-General and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, has specifically called for a clearer explanation of why no press conference was held to address these allegations. He has also sought assurances from the Prime Minister that the Ministers did not exploit privileged information to secure the leases.
Netizens suggested that COI should be conducted instead of independent review
The issue raised by Mr Jeyaretnam sparked heated discussions online, with some netizens expressing concern about whether an independent review conducted by the Ministers’ colleague, SM Teo, would be able to effectively take any necessary disciplinary action against the two PAP Ministers in the event of wrongdoing in the Ridout Road properties saga.
Some individuals have commented on Singapore’s mainstream media, suggesting that, given the seriousness and public interest surrounding the saga, instead of an independent review, the President of Singapore should order a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the matter.
When commenting on The Straits Times’ Facebook post, one netizen astutely observed that relying on “Ownself check ownself” could potentially lead to finding excuses instead of genuine accountability.
“We have enough of that. This matter has involved the conduct of the two ministers and is only right for PM or President to call for COI. The report of the COI should then be able to convince the public.”
Under Singapore’s Inquiries Act 2007, the President has the authority to issue a commission appointing one or more commissioners to inquire into various matters, including the conduct of public officers, the management of public institutions, and any matter deemed to be in the public interest or welfare.
Some netizens are urging the government to conduct the investigation through an independent party rather than involving another pap minister in the review.
In a comment on CNA’s Facebook post, a netizen questioned why an independent party was not chosen to review the Ridout Road properties saga.
“There is nothing to hide then should have external party to view the documents, not by some one you choose.”
Ombudsman panel consisting of professionals to handle such event
A comment on Reddit highlights a concern about the close relationship between the ruling party and various institutions in Singapore, including the Civil Service, the President’s office, the Courts, and the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers).
“Any appointee leading any review or investigations will be prone to accusations of biases or conflict of interest due to close ties with the party. ”
“We needed an ombudsman panel, consisting of professionals (lawyers, accountants, researchers and scholars) for events like that, not their fellow minister to lead this review.”
Ministers should avoid renting properties from SLA
A comment has raised a suggestion that the Law Minister should refrain from renting a property managed by one of his statutory boards under his ministry to prevent raising suspicion and potential conflicts of interest.
A netizen has expressed the view that ministers should refrain from personally participating in bidding for tenders of any nature, as such involvement creates a conflict of interest due to their positions.
Netizens raised several questions, including the necessary for the ministers to rent luxurious public properties
A concerned netizen has raised important questions seeking clarification and addressing suspicions regarding the ministers’ housing arrangements.
These questions include inquiries about how the ministers became aware of the availability of the rental properties and whether they possess other properties, such as more affordable HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats.
These queries prompt further consideration of whether it is necessary for the ministers to rent luxurious properties given their potential ownership of alternative housing options:
Online discussion on whether SM Teo is the appropriate person to head the review
A redditor has raised a question regarding the suitability of MS Teo to lead the review on the Ridout Road properties saga.
The Redditor suggested that the review panel should have included someone from the judiciary who would appear more independent than a fellow 3G minister who has worked with the two ministers for over a decade.
SM Teo, tasked with the review, had previously chaired a committee examining the options for 38 Oxley Road, which included cabinet members responsible for heritage, land issues, and urban planning.
The late Lee Kuan Yew’s estate executors called the committee a secret committee.
The SLA’s press release also noted that Mr Shanmugam had informed a senior Cabinet colleague of his bid for the property in 2018, who only could have been PM Lee, SM Teo or SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam. However, it has yet to reveal who that colleague was, adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the case.
Furthermore, as members of the same party, the People’s Action Party and fellow cabinet members, it would be highly probable that SM Teo knew where Minister Shanmugam has been residing since 2018.