Saturday, 30 September 2023

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Who resides at 24 Ridout Road? Why was the greenery cleared along with 26 Ridout?

Singaporeans are eagerly awaiting an upcoming independent review, conducted by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, that promises to shed light on the controversy surrounding the state-owned bungalows rented by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan.

The earlier announcement of the review by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can be seen as a response to mounting public concerns and questions that have been growing ever since the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) confirmed the addresses following inquiries stirred by Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s social media posts.

The properties in question – 26 Ridout Road and 31 Ridout Road – are not just ordinary homes, but substantial state-owned bungalows, one of which has even been described as a palace. They carry symbolic and economic weight.

According to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), 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. Furthermore, URA records indicate that 24 and 26 Ridout Road are demarcated as a single plot of land.

This incident provokes questions about the relationship between power and privilege, challenging the core tenets of transparency, fairness, and the equitable distribution of state resources. This is particularly relevant given the persistent assertion by political leaders that state land, even when designated for public housing policy, must be paid for at market price.

Opposition parties, including the Workers’ Party (WP), have voiced their concerns. WP Secretary-General and Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh, has specifically requested a public press conference to address these issues. Additionally, three members of parliament from the People’s Action Party have raised questions about this incident in parliament.

Several dubious details in this case demand attention. The Online Citizen Asia (TOC) has previously highlighted the Singapore Land Authority’s role in developing a car porch for 26 Ridout Road, and the questionable mass clearance of trees in the same area – which is ironically a Tree Conservation Area, an initiative launched in 1991 to control indiscriminate felling of mature trees.

Anomalies extend beyond the boundaries of 26 Ridout Road. Satellite images show that tree clearance at 24 Ridout Road occurred simultaneously with that at 26. Despite observable changes to the fencing and additional layers of fence, no construction approval records for 24 Ridout Road have been found in URA records.

It prompts speculation whether the Ministers’ security detail or staff reside in 24 Ridout Road, given the simultaneous land clearance with 26 Ridout Road when Mr Shanmugam moved in June 2018, and the subsequent construction work undertaken.

Google Map documentation shows a man walking towards 24 Ridout Road in 2021. This individual is unlikely to be a delivery man, given the lack of goods or letters, and unlikely the owner, as he chose to walk to the main gate instead of the side gate accessible from the road. This observation may support the hypothesis of non-residents staying at that address.

Google Map image of entrances of 24 and 26 Ridout Road. A man is captured walking towards 24 Ridout Road in 2021.

The mystery deepens as repeated requests for clarification about the residents of 24 Ridout Road to the SLA have been met with silence.

As we anticipate the Parliamentary sitting in July, maintaining our demand for transparency is crucial. The public deserves to understand the circumstances under which these ministers have accessed and modified state-owned properties, and whether there has been any misuse of privileged information or resources.

Singaporeans are holding their breath, awaiting the outcomes of this supposed independent review.

Update: We are informed by a member of public, not SLA, that a tenant who is not connected to the Minister has been living at 24 Ridout Road since the start of COVID. We are unable to verify if this information is accurate.

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