The recently exposed Ridout Road saga, involving two residential properties managed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and occupied by Cabinet Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan, has stirred significant concern among Singaporeans.
This issue has sparked heated discussions, with many expressing apprehensions about the independence and credibility of the ongoing independent review led by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is a colleague of the ministers involved.
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 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that the Ministers did not exploit privileged information to secure the leases.
Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal, in an article on 26 May, also emphasised that the ultimate credibility and effectiveness of the government’s review hinge on two factors, which are full disclosure of all material facts and the perceived independence of the review.
Despite the ongoing review and a promise that answers will be provided in the upcoming July parliamentary sitting, an online petition has been initiated to urge the government to establish a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to uncover all the relevant details concerning the rental of properties at 26 and 31 Ridout Road by two ministers.
The petition, hosted on the ipetitions platform by a netizen named “Chris Chua,” includes a quote from Kenneth Jeyaretnam, who expressed scepticism about the upcoming parliamentary session’s ability to provide satisfactory answers.
Mr Jeyaretnam had emphasized his lack of confidence in receiving a transparent, comprehensive, and fair account of the issue in Parliament.
“I have no doubt that many MPs will make long speeches taking up the bulk of the Parliamentary session. A few inoffensive and vague questions will be asked by both sides of the house (for faux balance) and then an ad hominem attack will be launched on me from a place where the senior ministers enjoy parliamentary privilege and I have no right of reply. Then we will hear no more.”
As of Monday morning (29 May), the petition has garnered 487 signatures.
Netizens urged ministers or members from the ruling party abstaining from participating in the COI
In the comment section of the online petition, signatories expressed their agreement that an independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) is necessary, as opposed to relying solely on an independent review led by a colleague of the ruling party’s Cabinet.
They emphasized the importance of ministers or members from the ruling party abstaining from participating in the COI. The purpose of having a COI on the matter is to guarantee a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation of the issue.
One netizen commented that a review conducted within a majority PAP parliament can not be considered fair and impartial, and expressed the view that anything less than a COI composed of opposition members and/or retired high court judges would be seen as an attempt to cover up the issue.
“Trust in the government is built on government’s accountability and transparency. Therefore, I support this petition and hope the government do the right in restoring trust in the people.”
Another netizen highlighted the contradiction in Minister K Shanmugam’s statement of having “nothing to hide” and calling for an “independent” review, while PM Lee appointed a long-time close colleague from the same party to lead it.
One critical comment questioned the rationale behind renting a large state-owned bungalow, while ordinary Singaporeans are struggling with ever-increasing cost of almost everything and a depreciating leased HDB for a roof over their heads.
Netizen suggested that COI must comprise former Judiciary High Court Judges who are independent
A comment emphasized the importance of having former Judiciary High Court Judges as members of the proposed COI who are independent and not influenced by any political party, particularly the PAP.