Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Dr Chee Soon Juan criticizes Singapore Parliament’s exoneration of ministers in state properties rental controversy

SINGAPORE — Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), has come out strongly on Facebook against the recent parliamentary session concerning the controversial rental of state properties by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

The session, which saw four ministerial statements delivered, was convened due to the controversy surrounding the rentals by Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan, particularly as Mr Shanmugam, in his capacity as Minister for Law, oversees the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) that manages these properties.

In particular, it was revealed that Mr Shanmugam tasked the then-Deputy Secretary from the Ministry for Law to prepare a list of unlisted state properties, which he then used to decide to rent 26 Ridout Road.

“The Parliamentary sitting that exonerated Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan was utterly unsatisfactory, raising more questions than it answered,” Dr Chee posted on his Facebook page, implying that the session did not sufficiently address the public’s concerns.

Dr Chee went on to voice the public’s anger and discontent, stating that “the anger of the public is palpable and warranted.”

He decried the People’s Action Party (PAP) for what he perceives as hypocrisy.

“While berating and lecturing the people about living frugally, the PAP continues to demonstrate its hypocrisy with ministers luxuriating in opulence,” he expressed.

The SDP leader also queried the processes of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), writing, “Herein lies the problem. The bids for the bungalows were not made by the Ministers themselves but their wives. Did the SLA determine that the wives also earned at least 3 times the bid rent of $26,000 a month? If not, how did it know that the women were of sound financial status? Was SLA told that they were the wives of the Ministers’? Did this affect the decision-making process?”

Dr Chee questioned the ministers’ failure to proactively disclose their rental arrangements.

“When Ministers, who are in charge of the government, do private transactions with the government, it should not be whistleblowers who reveal the facts. It is the Ministers who must volunteer, promptly and forthrightly, the information. Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan did none of this,” he added.

On the solution to the issue at hand, Dr Chee suggested the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry.

“To salvage the woeful debacle, only an independent commission of inquiry, one perhaps chaired by a retired judge or law professor, to delve into the case and ask the necessary questions will suffice. Anything less will stoke the public’s resentment even more,” he posted.

In a notable historical footnote, Dr Chee has personally experienced the harsh glare of public service. Back in the early 1990s, he was dismissed from the National University for misuse of office stamps, a decision he contends was a political vendetta led by S. Vasoo, then a PAP MP.

In the parliamentary session, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong maintained unwavering confidence in Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan.

Investigations carried out by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean found no evidence of criminal activity or improper conduct of the two ministers.

The parliamentary debate saw Opposition Leader Mr Pritam Singh, the Secretary General of the Workers’ Party, questioning PM Lee on the scope of the CPIB investigation.

PM Lee defended Minister Shanmugam’s decision to receive personal use information from civil servants, stating, “My view is he (Mr Shanmugam) could have done it a different way. He could have done it this way. He has given the House the reasons why he did it this way.I think those are cogent reasons, which I accept.”

The session ended with Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean reiterating the necessity for a clean government and the importance of building an inclusive and progressive society.

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