Since a statement issued by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on 12 May 2023 confirmed that Cabinet ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan reside in two colonial bungalows located on Ridout Road, their actions have faced scrutiny from the Singaporean public.
In response to the situation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Tuesday (23 May) that Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, will conduct an independent review of the Ridout Road properties saga.
However, there have been suggestions that instead of an independent review, the President of Singapore should order a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the matter thoroughly.
Gerard Ong, a former Managing Director at Foreword Communications, voiced his opinions on the conduct of the two ministers through a Facebook post.
He emphasized that as public servants and leaders, they have a responsibility to uphold decorum and dignified propriety in their lifestyles, regardless of their generous salaries.
“They must understand they are holding their positions of power for a purpose – to serve the people of Singapore with a sense of duty and commitment coupled with empathy for those who are less fortunate and who are unable to even in their wildest dreams live in houses in Ridout Road.”
“Yes I don’t doubt you have nothing to hide K Shanmugam. Yes I am also sure everything was done above board.”
“The electorate is watching you all the time”
“However, you must also be aware that as a minister, the electorate is watching you all the time – the car or cars you own, the watches and shoes you wear, the lifestyle you lead and of course where you live.”
He recalled that in the early 70s, as a young serving officer in the Ministry of Defence, he saw Singapore’s Deputy PM and Defence Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, driving past the complex gates in his old beat-up Morris and parked the car himself and strode to his office in pretty unfashionable office attire.
Gerald Ong believed that the late DPM Goh definitely could drive a more handsome car and wear more stylish clothes, but he chose not to.
“He must have known all eyes were on him and it was best not to prance around and show off his position and money especially when the rest of us were living from pay check to pay check.”
In addition, he mentioned that Singapore founding Father Lee Kuan Yew also chose to live in a relatively humble home with his family, instead of living in the Istana like British governors in the colonial era, as he “did not want his children to grow up living in opulence with butlers picking up after them. ”
“Perhaps what he did not say was he did not want the citizens to look aghast at the PM living in an ostentatious house with expansive grounds especially at a time when everyone was finding it hard to make a living. ”
Ong further noted that in the 80s, when LKY’s second son Lee Hsien Yang and he were attending a senior officer’s staff course, he recalled taking a lift from him after one of their TEWT exercises.
“I remember chiding him on the humble car he was driving and cheekily asked why he wasn’t driving a fancier car which some of the officer students were driving.”
“Rather calmly he told me yes he could afford to, but he had been brought up not to be seen flaunting his position (as the son of the PM obviously) or living an extravagant lifestyle and anyway he was very happy with his car.”
Ong believes that LHY’s colleagues, friends and people at large would always be watching him, and he did not want to embarrass himself or his father as a person who was living a life of privilege because of who his father was.
Netizen expressed disappointment that current leadership seems to have lost the sense of humility
Echoing Ong’s sentiments, another netizen expressed agreement and added that the current leadership seems to have lost the sense of humility.
“Absolute power, high rewards with no accountability, all power to decide in POFMA and many other ways to adjust the constitution when needed are tempting devices to overcome any ordinary man.”
The netizen reiterated that positions of power should be regarded as a privilege to serve the people, emphasizing the importance of empathy, compassion, and a sense of duty.
“Do things right and do the right thing” both needed in good governance
A comment noted that the Ministers likely followed the required procedures and systems, but he emphasizes that doing the right thing is not sufficient for public office holders.
“They need to also to do things right. In good governance we need to do both ie do things right and do the right thing.”
The comment suggested that ministers should avoid situations that may be perceived as having vested interests and proposed bringing such matters to Parliament for approval, guidance, accountability, and transparency, even considering the majority representation of the ruling party.
The comment further expressed a desire for the ruling party to introduce a code of conduct in Parliament to ensure accountability and transparency in handling issues related to Singapore’s national interests and assets, allowing the people to contribute to checks and balances if necessary.
A netizen criticized the Ridout Road properties saga, stating that it contradicts Lawrence Wong’s promises during the May Day Rally to look after workers and help them achieve a better life, while allowing ministers to live luxuriously.
In his May Day Rally speech, Lawrence Wong promised: “The 4G team and I are fully committed to look after our workers, to protect your interests, and help you earn a better living and live a better life. “
“The Ministers should purchase their own house”
One comment defended that being a modest politician is outdated and that as long as the ministers are not corrupt, they should be able to spend their money freely.
However, another netizen countered this argument by pointing out that Singaporean ministers are the ones who set their salaries at levels comparable to top CEOs, which means they are using public funds rather than engaging in business.
“Since they have So much money, can’t they purchase their own house and why must they “rent & occupied” the land, we are lack of land! can’t we use the land for public?”
In fact, the salaries for civil servants, including ministers, were revised in 2000 and was announced by then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 29 June 2000, and recommended to benchmark an MR4 entry-level minister to the median income of the top 1,000 Singapore citizen income earners, with a 40 per cent discount to “reflect the ethos of political service”.
A comment questioned when the moral erosion began and speculated whether the significant increase in ministerial salaries, reaching six digits and beyond, played a role in it. He recalled that in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s monthly salary was only in the four digits, which was considered high at that time.
“Has our astronomical ministerial salaries contributed in any way to our high costs of living and high demands and expectations of our gen Z’ers and “me” generation wunderkins?”
Agreeing with the comment, another netizen also mentioned that the high wages have created a herd mentality, where people blindly follow without questioning, even if the rules are ridiculous.
“Why wait until July if the minister had nothing to hide?”
Raising a valid question, another netizen expressed curiosity as to why the minister, who claims to have “nothing to hide,” would wait until July for the Committee of Inquiry (COI) to be conducted: