Saturday, 30 September 2023

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The black & white about crazy rich politicians & the Rideout Fiasco – If only late Ong Teng Cheong is still our president

by Joseph Nathan

The report by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on the Ridout Fiasco clearly shows that we have a very clever Law Minister, and there is no way he can get caught by a People’s Action Party (PAP)-led investigation.

The Hard Truth is that when you put a shrewd politician like K. Shanmugam in front of a committee full of mediocre 4G politicians from the PAP, he will easily outgun, outwit and outsmart every one of them on the legality of corruption.

That is why SM Teo’s report ended up giving Shanmugam & Vivian Balakrishnan a “Not Guilty” verdict.


You see, when the PAP-led government embraces money-politics in a desperate attempt to entice candidates to join them, they inevitably ended up trading away our once highly respected meritocracy-based government and public sector in exchange for mediocre politicians.

In the process, they have also eroded our social morality of our public institutions.

That is why in the on-going Ridout Fiasco, when Singaporeans finally get to see the material excesses of what money politics has done to our government and our public sector and how it has antagonized the rich-poor divide that is plaguing us as a nation, the anger and frustrations can only get stronger.

So do not be surprised that the Rideout Fiasco turns out to be the beginning of the end for the PAP, when the “men in white” are finally seen to have turned into “men in black”.

All these are happening at a time when a large segment of working Singaporeans are struggling to stay employed or put food on the table while many elderly Singaporeans are left with no option but to clean tables at hawker centres and coffeeshop so that they can live for another day.

No More Respect For Its Leaders

The reason why PAP politicians are getting more audaciously daring to act recklessly, like some “Crazy Rich Politicians”, goes to show that they no longer have any respect left for their leader or the leadership in the PAP.

If they had even an iota of respect for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong or his leadership, such a fiasco would never have happened in the first place, no?

But could this be a form of retaliation by both Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan against PM Lee for making them hold so many political portfolios and yet not trust them sufficiently to be his Deputy Prime Ministers?

As PM Lee has famously told Singaporeans that Singapore is not ready for an Indian Prime Minister to squash talks about Tharman Shanmugaratnam succeeding him previously, is the Rideout’s Fiasco an attempt by these two ministers to end their political careers with the PAP because Lee and Singapore may also not be ready for an Indian Deputy Prime Minister now?

Missed Opportunity By the PAP

Faced with a declining trust-deficit, the PAP must be crazy to have missed yet another golden opportunity to do right by the people.

What is evidently missing from Teo‘s Report is that it fails to address the failure of the PAP politicians to act in a socially responsible manner, and as such, undermines the growing conviction of fellow Singaporeans that the “men in white” may have gone black or rogue.

As frustrated and angry Singaporeans seek more answers to this latest national embarrassment, isn’t it troubling that many PAP politicians suddenly “vanish” into thin air while their grassroots activists got bombarded by their residents?

This is definitely going to tarnish PM Lee’s election record further, as the fear of having a rogue government is no longer a random hypothesis but a reality.

In a moment like this, I think many Singaporeans will agree with me that how they wish that Ong Teng Cheong is still around as our President so that we can have someone whom we can respect and trust to step up and unite us as a nation so that we can collectively play our part to do what is right and good for our country and restore the integrity of our public institutions.

Remembering Ong Teng Cheong – The Man & His Legacy

Despite being a former PAP cadre and a Deputy Prime Minister from 1985 to 1993, Ong has consistently shown himself to put the country before the political agenda of the PAP.

As our Elected President from 1993 to 1999, he was fondly referred to as The People’s President” for his non-partisan stance against the PAP-led government.

That is why many Singaporeans find it so sad and disturbing when he was only given a state-assisted funeral instead of a full state funeral and all its honours by the PAP-led government.

For younger Singaporeans who may not know Ong, he was the one who went against powerful opponents in the government, including the likes of Tony Tan, who were against our investment in the Mass Rapid Transit “MRT” system, and together with other pro-rail advocates, they eventually got the MRT “green-lighted” in May 1982.

As a trained architect and the experience as a town planner in the Ministry of National Development, Ong obviously knows more about urban planning than the financially-minded Tony Tan (who later was pushed to become the President, by the way) and was able to see the economic-multiplier of what an MRT can do for a highly urbanized city like Singapore.

So if the prices of your properties have gone up and have made you rich or very rich because of the proximity of your property to an MRT, then you have to thank Ong and all those pro-rail activists for their foresight and courage to stand against strong opposition from the PAP’s government.

If Ong is still around as our President, then you can expect that he will not let this Ridout Fiasco or the Keppel Bribery Scandal go unchallenged.

You can bet that both Shanmugam and Vivian will be sweating in their pants if Ong is still our President.

The Democratic Necessity Of Strike & Civil Disobedient

For that, we need to look back to January 1983 when he was hastily appointed as the Secretary-General of the NTUC by Lee Kuan Yew to replace Lim Chee Ong, who antagonized many unionists and their grassroots by “proclaiming effusively that the PAP and the NTUC came from the same mother.”

As the Secretary-General of the NTUC in 1986, Ong actually sanctioned a strike in the shipping industry as he was of the opinion that the management was taking advantage of the workers.

Knowing that the government would not approve of his action, he did not inform the cabinet about his decision to sanction a strike.

Again, Tony Tan, who was then the Minister of Trade and Industry, was very angry with Ong when he was unable to deal with calls from the US asking what was happening in Singapore.

In an interview with Asiaweek in 2000, after he stepped down as our fifth President, Ong felt that the strike was necessary and viewed it as a success when he told Asiaweek that “I had a job to do… (the strike) only lasted two days. All the issues were settled. It showed the management was trying to pull a fast one.”

Being grounded in Confucius’s values, he finds it compelling to do what is right for Singapore and Singaporeans by calling for a strike and holding the management “socially responsible” for their action.

Yes, when Ong was the Secretary-General of the NTUC, he actually had the moral courage to call for a real strike by asking the affected workers and their union leaders to act in “civil disobedient” against the tyranny of their management so that they, the workers, can unite and act in solidarity to right a wrong that is against them.

This act of being “socially responsible” was done way before the concept became a trend.
But alas, with perverse politicking and political gerrymandering across the public and private sectors, the whole objective of what it means to be socially responsible has been heavily corrupted.

The Lack Of Social Responsibility In The Ridout’s Fiasco

Can the concept of social responsibility still be used in the Ridout Fiasco to hold all those public officers who are responsible for the fiasco to account for their lack of oversights and failure in their fiduciary duties to protect the integrity and value of our national assets?

The short answer is yes.

We now know why when Ong first took office as our Elected President in 1993, he was told that it would take the government “56-man-years to produce a dollar-and-cents value of the immoveable assets”, and that includes our state properties that are currently being managed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which is placed under the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

So if the lack of proper financial oversights on the part of the senior management of SLA, and the failure of their fiduciary duties in managing our state property with due care and diligence, then isn’t it also the fiduciary duty of President Halimah Yacob, upon discovery of these discrepancies, to refer the matter to the Auditor-General so that they can query the senior management of SLA, and also the Law Minister since SLA is under its judiciary?

Isn’t this “fiduciary duty” part and parcel of her holding the second key to our reserves and protecting it from reckless exploits?

As these two cases cannot be just two isolated cases, Halimah does have a fiduciary duty to call for a wider investigation to see how widespread SLA may have been mismanaging our national assets all these years since these shortcomings will have an obvious financial impact to our reserves under her care, no?

Yet, all these were sorely missing from SM Teo’s Report, and in failing to highlight the many potential breaches and lapses of fiduciary duties, it is no surprise that Teo ended up with nothing to report except to “happily” proclaim that everyone involved is innocent and expect the case to be closed.

More Breaches Of Fiduciary Duties

There can be no mistake that breaches of fiduciary duties by public servants and political appointees, including ministers, are serious failures on the part of the government.

This means that everyone who is entrusted with such national obligations also has an obligatory responsibility to act in the best interests of our country without exception or biases, starting with the government of the day, which happens to be the PAP-led government.

As such, it is not sufficient to just hold the SLA’s officers involved responsible but the government must also hold itself socially responsible for the Rideout Fiasco first, starting with the permanent secretaries from the Ministry of Finance all the way down to the Ministry of Law for their collective failures to protect the values and integrity of our national “immovable assets”, and for failing to act diligently to maximize the market potential of all assets under its management, collectively and individually.

You see, when the whole issue is reduced to just arguing about what is the fair rental rates that both the ministers ought to be paying, it is like trying to fix the stable door after all the horses had bolted.

That is why it is imperative to reframe both the Keppel’s Bribery Scandal and the Ridout Fiasco by looking at all the potential fiduciary breaches and lapses so that CPIB can start filing fresh criminal charges and haul those guilty into our courts in order to protect the integrity of our public institutions.

SLA’s Objective Is To Maximize “Rate Of Returns”

To begin with, why not just ask the permanent secretary of MOL why no one in SLA has done proper market evaluation like evaluating what is the market potential to rent these two properties out to the commercial sector so that SLA can strategically improve the “rate of returns” for these two “immovable assets”, as they can easily command rental that are several times more than those residential rates that were given to the ministers, without undermining the integrity of these black and white heritage that are under conservation?

That is why it is so troubling to note that Shanmugam, as the Law Minister, is not alarmed when the 249,335 ft/sq property at 26 Ridout Road was offered to him at a ridiculously low monthly rental of just S$26,500 as that works out to be just a mere 10-cents per ft/sq of land area?

Why did he not flag these shortcomings to the Auditor-General Office or the Finance Minister for further review and auditing since the SLA falls under the judiciary of his ministry?

Has he breached his fiduciary duty as the Law Minister in this instance or has he just acted in a socially irresponsible manner?

Either way, since his action and that of his wife can be seen as being “not appropriate” of a minister, then we can safely state that he and his wife may have acted “inappropriately” since the opposite of not appropriate is inappropriate, no?

If their behaviours are “inappropriate”, we can then safely state that they have acted in poor taste and fall short of the expected code of conduct of public office holders, no?

The same is true for Vivian Balakrishnan, too, no?

Sure, no one can legally or criminally fault them for taking advantage of the gullibility of the SLA’s officers, as SM Teo’s Report has clearly shown but they can definitely be held to task for their failure to act in a social responsible manner as public office holders, and for Shanmugam, for potentially breaching his fiduciary duty as the Law Minister since SLA falls under its judiciary, no?

This lack of social responsibility on the part of Shanmugam and Vivian also points to potential breaches of fiduciary duties on the part of SLA, MinLaw, Ministry of Finance (MOF) and also the office of the President, no?

All these shortcomings and breaches, and for acting inappropriately, are obviously not covered by Teo’s Report because until the PAP-led government start holding itself socially responsible for all these malices, then they cannot hold anyone to task for all these failures.

Potential Breach Of Fiduciary Duties

If SLA has diligently been trying to maximize the “rate of returns” for all our state lands like they had done so with getting HDB to pay for state lands at a full market rate, why aren’t they doing the same for these two properties?

Suppose Shanmugam can be allowed to act “inappropriately” and end up benefiting financially from SLA. In that case, HDB should also be allowed to do the same so that more than 80% of Singaporeans and PRs can also benefit financially from the shortcomings of SLA, too, no?

If only SLA had been as diligent in exacting the full market rate to maximize all the returns on investment for all their properties under their care, then these two properties would not have been left vacant for so long or ended up incurring such a high capital expenditure just to keep non-contributing assets under its management from unproductive decay.

Something is definitely very wrong at SLA and until we can be fully satisfied with the audits and investigations, then the value of our national reserves will remain “questionable” too, no?

So just how deep is the rot at SLA, and how many other state properties are being “inappropriately managed” by them?

In light of these discrepancies and the possibility that it can be more widespread than just these two properties, isn’t Halimah remotely concerned that the value of our reserves may be materially compromised?

Is that why she is running for her dear life by not contesting in PE2023?

Who Can Unite Singaporeans As One United People?

It is in times like these that Singaporeans come to realize that we need to find someone like the late President Ong, who has the boldness and moral courage to speak up fearlessly, to be our voice against bad conduct and inappropriate behaviour by public servants and politicians so that the integrity of our public institutions can be preserved and our reserves can be protected.

That is why in light of the upcoming Presidential Election, we desperately need to find someone like Ong to be our next Elected President if we want to put an end to all these scandals and fiascos.

Until all these shortcomings and breaches are properly addressed at the governmental level, do not be surprised should the likes of Tharman Shanmugaratnam or other presidential hopefuls from the establishments start mimicking those Crazy Rich Politicians and turn the Istana into some kind of luxurious retirement village for their personal exploits, as a sequel to the Ridout Fiasco.

Yes, the men in white will definitely be struggling to wash the dark strains from Keppel’s bribery scandal and the Ridout Fiasco off the back of their white shirts.

This may well be the start of the eventual demise of the PAP, as foretold by Lee Kuan Yew.

The question is, just how long can the men in white who has gotten badly stained by so many “black inks” find ways and means to stay in power?

That is the price that the PAP will have to pay for failing to appreciate the Hard Truth that Singaporeans clearly deserve better…

This post was first published on Joseph Nathan’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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