Saturday, 30 September 2023

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It’s another sad, sad day when the Ridout findings turn out just as expected

by Augustine Low

It’s the outcome we saw coming – the two ministers at the centre of the Ridout controversy have been cleared of misconduct and wrongdoing.

No one put a foot wrong. Not even one small misstep. Clean as a whistle. Case closed.

We are not in the least bit surprised because we did not expect any other outcome.

Apart from loopholes and unanswered questions, just look at the string of coincidences.

Minister K Shanmugam paid $26,500 monthly rental for the massive 26 Ridout Road property – exactly the same as the guide rent set by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which was unknown to the minister.

How’s that for a coincidence?

As for Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, his wife happened to come across a “For Lease” sign at 31 Ridout Road and contacted SLA about the rental. They paid $19,000 a month – just $200 above the guide rent.

So it’s purely by coincidence that the two ministers became neighbours.

If Mrs Balakrishnan did not happen by chance to venture out to 31 Ridout Road, she would not have seen the “For Lease” sign, and she and her husband would not have ended up as tenants so close to where Minister Shanmugam lived.

We know now that the “senior Cabinet colleague” that Minister Shanmugam sounded out about the rental of 26 Ridout Road was in fact Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Coincidentally, SM Teo was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to conduct the independent review.

Someone with a conflict of interest investigating another for conflict of interest?

In his report, SM Teo said the ministers “conducted themselves properly” and took appropriate steps to avoid any conflict of interest.

He explained that Minister Shanmugam had removed himself from the chain of command and decision-making process, and recused himself from any discussion related to the rental of the property.

Just one simple question: once the minister showed his interest in the property, wouldn’t his subordinates know what to do?

So it doesn’t matter at all whether he recused himself from any discussion and decision-making.

Actually, we have heard this rationale before. They reach into their playbook and dish it out to us when the need arises.

Like when PM Lee took steps to avoid any conflict of interest by recusing himself from any discussion and decision-making on the fate of 38 Oxley Road – and he duly did so by appointing SM Teo (yes, the same tried, tested and trusted SM Teo) to chair the ministerial committee on 38 Oxley Road.

It feels like deja vu because we have been on the same merry-go-round.

The Ridout controversy came hot on the heels of the Keppel bribery scandal, preceded by the SPH Media circulation fiasco, preceded by the Parti Liyani-Liew Mun Leong scandal.

Each time, there’s a foul, bitter aftertaste because we could smell what’s coming from a mile away once they are done with their investigation.

Over time, we become numb to ownself check ownself and ownself investigate ownself.

We will also be numb to the debate and proceedings in Parliament next week.

Will it be anything other than the findings are out, nothing to see, case closed, let’s move on?

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