Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Progress Singapore Party NCMPs file parliamentary questions to seek clarification on Ridout Road saga

SINGAPORE — In a recent Facebook post, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) announced that it has raised parliamentary questions about the circumstances surrounding the tenancy of large state bungalow properties at 26 and 31 Ridout Road by Cabinet Ministers.

In the upcoming Parliament Sitting on 3-4 July, both Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP) from the Progress Singapore Party, Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai, will raise pertinent questions regarding the issue.

“We echo the Workers’ Party’s call for the relevant authorities to release all essential and material information ahead of the session. This will enable a comprehensive and meaningful debate in Parliament, ” said PSP in the latest Facebook post.

The following questions were posed by both NCMPs to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong:

  • Who is the senior Cabinet member that Minister K Shanmugam had notified regarding his bid for the state property at 26 Ridout Road; and (b) what actions has the senior Cabinet member taken after the notification.
  • Why is the Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security tasked to review Minister K Shanmugam’s tenancy of 26 Ridout Road and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s tenancy of 31 Ridout Road, rather than an individual from another branch of government, such as a Supreme Court Judge.
  • Whether the Ministers’ tenancies of 26 and 31 Ridout Road have breached the Code of Conduct for political office holders.

PSP NCMPs to seek clarification from Prime Minister n whether any other political office holders or MPs currently renting or occupying state property for residential purposes

PSP NCMP’s parliamentary questions also sought answers from the Prime Minister on the current rules, conventions, policies, and processes for Cabinet Ministers to declare conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from official matters on which they may have an actual or perceived conflict of interest; and (b) whether there are any plans to strengthen such rules, conventions, policies, and processes.

Additionally, they requested clarification from the PM on whether any other political office holders or Members of Parliament are currently renting or occupying state property for residential purposes.

Regarding the Parliamentary Question addressed to Minister for Law K Shanmugam, the PSP’s NCMPs asked the Minister:

  • (a) Why are rental rates for state properties not publicly available beyond six months of the tender; (b) what are the rental rates in respect of the two state properties at Ridout Road that are currently rented out to two Ministers; and (c) how do these rental rates compare with the rent paid by other tenants of comparable black-and-white bungalows.
  • (a) What is the total land area occupied by black-and-white houses in Singapore; (b) what is the total built-in area of such houses; and (c) how many black-and-white houses are currently rented out and what is the Government’s total annual rental income from such houses.

They are also asking whether the Government has incurred any costs, such as renovation, construction, or maintenance costs, relating to the tenancy of the state properties at 26 and 31 Ridout Road, before or after the properties were rented out to the Ministers. And if so, how long have the renovation and construction works taken and how much has been incurred.

Lastly, they inquired whether SLA always rents out state properties to the highest bidders, or whether other factors, such as tenant profile, are considered, whether the President’s assent is required when not awarding state properties to the highest bidders as such properties are part of the reserves and whether SLA has considered other measures to improve the rental yield of state properties.

The Ridout properties, which the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) confirmed, are occupied by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan, have been at the centre of social media speculation and media inquiries.

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary-General of the Reform Party, first published about the ministers’ occupation of these properties and voiced the lack of transparency in the auction process.

While SLA stated that the rental procedures adhered to all guidelines and the ministers’ rent exceeded the undisclosed guide price, Mr Jeyaretnam estimated that the annual rent of such a property could be approximately S$1.65 million.

Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal, commented on the Ridout Road controversy last month, highlighting the crucial factors for the government’s review: full disclosure of all material facts and the perceived independence of the review.

On Tuesday (23 May), PM Lee 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.

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.

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