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Public questions arise over the Ridout Road saga involving two Singaporean ministers

Singapore – The recent findings of the review conducted by Senior Minister (SM) Teo Chee Hean and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) concerning the rental of two state properties on Ridout Road by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have stirred up heated discussions across the nation.

While the reports essentially cleared the two ministers of any corruption or criminal wrongdoing in the rental process of these state properties, the findings raise more questions about the rental arrangements between the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the two Ministers.

As the two ministers prepare to deliver joint ministerial statements in an upcoming Parliament session along with SM Teo and Mr Edwin Tong, Second Minister for Law, the public has submitted numerous questions seeking more clarity on this saga.

These questions, submitted by members of the public, are diverse and highlight the intense public scrutiny and interest in the matter.

Below is a summary of the primary issues raised, alongside a list of the questions.

1. Rental Process and Costs

The public questioned the specifics of the rental process, focusing on the ministers’ bid prices and the cost calculations. They also queried the lack of transparency from the SLA and the delay in presenting relevant documentation.

  • How did Shanmugam determine his bid of $26,500/month, which is just $500 above the SLA’s market rate and exactly the guide rent set?
  • Why did the SLA not clarify the issue initially by showing relevant documents such as bidding proof or rental agreements?
  • Why was the additional space (double the initial land size) rented not charged at market price but at a nominal fee of $2,000 per month?
  • What happens if the tenant does not wish to renew the lease after the initial term? Is there a clause in the lease agreement about the SLA clawing back the balance sum of $172,000 not amortized?
  • With all the recent increases in all government-owned properties, why are the rents in these B&W properties locked in based on the same price as bidding previously?
  • According to the CPIB report, one of the properties, 26, was not listed on the SPIO website. Despite this, the Law Minister requested a list from the Deputy Secretary, and a year later, his agent submitted a bid which was accepted. If the property wasn’t listed on the website, why would there be a higher bid? Furthermore, why should such a bid be considered acceptable given the property wasn’t even listed?
  • Can any citizen with an opinion that a plot of land under SLA’s care is poorly maintained such that it poses a risk to public health/safety be allowed to maintain it at his/her own cost and have it fenced up for personal use?

2. Renovations and Property Modifications

Queries were raised about the extensive renovations made to the properties and the regulations governing such modifications, especially for heritage properties.

  • Who were the contractors involved in the renovation of the two units?
  • What were the $515,400 renovation works on Shanmugam’s bungalow and $570,500 for Balakirshnan’s bungalow?
  • Why were swimming pool constructions considered minor renovations by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)?
  • How can they extensively renovate the houses and the grounds with added swimming pools, given that the two properties are conserved buildings?
  • Did the CPIB check the receipts of the ministers’ renovation costs?

3. Environmental Impact

Public concern revolved around the potential environmental impact of the rentals, focusing on cutting mature trees on the property.

  • Why did the National Parks Board approve the cutting down of mature trees on the estate?
  • How many trees at 26 and 31 Ridout Road were cut down? How many of them exceeded the 1-metre girth that required NParks approval?
  • Who approved the removal of heritage trees that were over 100 years old?
  • Can we see the arborist’s report on the trees that were cut down?

4. Accountability and Transparency

Questions sought clarification about the transparency of the review process and the potential for conflict of interest.

  • Was the Auditor General part of the current investigation?
  • Did the Auditor General raise any questions on the sloppy work of SLA in managing the vacant properties in the past 3 to 4 years audit of the organisation?
  • Did CPIB check the receipts of the 2 minister renovation as they claim they spent 400k and 200k respectively?
  • Was any draft of the review report sent to any cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, for comments/edits/preview, before the release to the public?
  • Did the Prime Minister know SM Teo was the Senior Cabinet minister whom Shanmugam informed before appointing him to oversee the review?
  • When did PM Lee know of the two ministers residing at Ridout Road?
  • Why was the Prime Minister not forthcoming about the rental situation involving the two ministers?
  • Why did the ministers use their wives’ names for the rental?
  • Why was SM Teo not upfront about his conversation with Minister Shanmugam when he was appointed to conduct the review?
  • Did Shanmugam think asking the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Law for a list of vacant B/W bungalows was appropriate when this was for personal interest?
  • Was Shanmugam informing SM Teo about his intention to rent a B&W administered by SLA in writing?
  • Given the recent revelations, as the Minister in charge of SLA, does Shanmugam not see the incompetence and wastefulness of SLA in managing our national assets?
  • Can the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) confirm that building a pool is a small issue and does not need permit? What if there is an accident?
  • How does SLA approve the lease? Specifically, how does SLA ensure the minister is not aware of the guide price or is in the position of influencing the approval process given that SLA reports to him?
  • If these black and white colonial houses are so expensive to maintain and the rent collected is so low, why have them at all?

5. Ethical Considerations

Many queries focused on the ethical implications of the rentals and questioned the living arrangements of the ministers.

  • Is it appropriate for ministers to live in such expansive rented bungalows when they already own luxurious homes?
  • Does the Prime Minister agree that ministers and civil servants should live in humility, or does he agree with both ministers that it is fine for ministers to live lavishly?
  • And if they do own private properties, are they renting them out?
  • Why doesn’t the government have a law prohibiting civil servants from renting places leased out by the state?
  • Are these rental arrangements the best use of the Ministers’ salary?

These questions reflect the public’s keen interest in the saga and hopefully, these questions get answered in the upcoming parliamentary session as the ministers respond to the questions filed by the Members of Parliament.

*The opinions and questions highlighted in this article are based on inputs from the public and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author or this website.

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