Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Public policy veteran highlights potential conflict of interest in Ridout Road rental controversy

Amid the ongoing discourse concerning the rental of two colonial bungalows on Ridout Road, Gan Swee Leong, a seasoned public policy educator and a former political columnist for The Straits Times, has put forward some critical arguments.

As a proud Singaporean deeply involved in political commentary, Gan stated in a Facebook post, “We urgently need to build a fair and just island republic for all our future generations.”

Gan’s detailed analysis revolves around four significant concerns.

Firstly, Gan, who has also held a senior position in the government’s policy formulation department, underscored the potential for a perceived conflict of interest because the government’s landlord, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), reports to the Ministry of Law.

He wrote: “THERE may not be a direct conflict of interest but surely a perceived conflict of interest because the government landlord, the SLA, reports to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).”

Secondly, he identified an odd bypass of the standard communication channel within the Ministry of Law, stating that Law Minister K Shanmugam’s request was handled by the Deputy Secretary (DS), rather than the Permanent Secretary (PS).

Gan questioned why the DS was involved, conjecturing that it could be due to the DS’s direct command over the SLA.

In his words, this move might be an attempt at a ‘shortcut’ without directly appearing to coerce a statutory board.

Moreover, he pointed out what he deemed a misuse of public funds, saying, “Isn’t it a waste of taxpayers’ money to get two superscale public servants (DS and CEO) each earning more than $500,000 to waste their time performing such a menial task?”

Thirdly, he argued that there is arguably a breach of the Minister’s Code of Conduct, which demands that Ministers avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest.

He stated that mainstream media reported the Minister’s request to the SLA for “a list of properties available to the public for rent, AND THEN VISITED some of these (highlighted) properties” without any official reason, suggesting this could be viewed as a personal request and a potential abuse of power.

Finally, Gan emphasized the need for parity, suggesting that if the Minister could make such a request in his personal capacity, then every Singaporean citizen should also have the right to direct personal requests to the DS of MinLaw and the CEO of the SLA.

He asserted, “No need for Meet the People sessions with our MPs to request for a rental flat; be it smaller or cheaper.”

This post comes against the backdrop of reports by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) that cleared Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan of any wrongdoing concerning the rentals.

The report, prepared by SM Teo, stated that the two Ministers did not violate the Ministers’ Code of Conduct as there was no conflict of interest. Notably, it was SM Teo whom Mr Shanmugam informed in 2018 about his rental of the Ridout property.

The forthcoming parliamentary session tomorrow, where these issues will be addressed, is keenly awaited. The public eagerly anticipates the ministers’ responses to the questions filed by Members of Parliament from both the ruling party and the opposition.

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