Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Why did the Ministers get their wives to sign the tenancy agreements for Ridout Road properties?

The recent revelations from reviews conducted by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) regarding the rental of state properties by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have ignited intense debates across Singapore.

Despite the reports essentially clearing both Mr K Shanmugam and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan of any corruption or criminal wrongdoing in the rental process of these state properties, they have raised significant questions about the rental arrangements between the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the two Ministers.

Interestingly, these properties at No. 26 and No. 31 Ridout Road were rented in the names of the Ministers’ wives.

The report reveals that Mrs Shanmugam signed the tenancy agreement for 26 Ridout Road in June 2018. The agreement was renewed for a second term at the same rate of $26,500 per month in June 2021, as determined by the SLA, considering the then prevailing market conditions.

The SLA was found to have directly negotiated with Mrs Shanmugam on property-related issues, a move that the SLA justified by stating that it often takes over the management of properties that demand extensive work to reach tenantable conditions.

Conversely, at 31 Ridout Road, Mrs Balakrishnan negotiated the rental price with SLA’s appointed managing agent (MA) after coming across a “For Lease” sign.

After negotiating essential repair works and a toilet upgrade, the property was leased for $19,000 per month. This price was just $200 above the Guide Rent of $18,800, a figure that the SLA claims neither Minister Balakrishnan nor Mrs Balakrishnan was aware of.

The SLA’s standard screening criteria for prospective tenants seem straightforward, including immigration status, legal status, and financial standing.

However, based on the SLA’s bidding form, if the bidder is an individual, their average monthly income should be at least three times the bid rent.

There is no option for a joint bid.

This stipulation leads to questions over the financial eligibility of the two women.

Specifically, Mrs Shanmugam and Mrs Balakrishnan would need to earn $79,500 and $57,000 per month, respectively, to qualify as bidders according to these criteria.

TOC understands that Mrs Shanmugam, who works as a clinical psychologist, should have significantly less monthly income than what is required. On the other hand, Mrs Balakrishnan is publicly known to be a housewife.

This discrepancy raises questions: why were the ministers’ wives, who seemingly don’t meet the financial criteria, allowed to rent these properties?

Did the SLA consider the wives’ financial status sound because their husbands are Ministers, given that the SLA holds the sole discretion to assess based on the information and documents provided with the bid?

This scenario leads to another question: why didn’t SLA request the financially qualifying husbands to be the registered tenants instead of allowing the tenancy to be under the wives’ names?

And why didn’t the ministers bid under their names, given that they would be the ones who would financially qualify to bid?

Could the decision for the wives to bid be due to potential perception issues, particularly for Mr Shanmugam, who oversees the SLA as the Minister for Law?

Even if the CPIB found no financial impropriety, wouldn’t the decision-making process of the SLA still appear odd, based on the above information?

These unanswered questions call for greater transparency in the rental process and SLA criteria in these two cases.

A more in-depth examination of this case is expected in the upcoming parliamentary sitting, where the two ministers will hopefully provide more clarity on the matter.

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