Featured News Opinion OPINION | Glossing over conflicts of interest, Ho Ching for President, tents...

OPINION | Glossing over conflicts of interest, Ho Ching for President, tents as affordable housing instead of flats and other stories in review

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"Will the PAP ignore this too?" — Ghui, OPINION

Hot on the heels of the Tin Pei Lin Grab saga, comes speculation that the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Madam Ho Ching might become the next elected President of Singapore by virtue of being the most qualified candidate.

For those who have had their heads buried in the sand, Member of Parliament (MP) for MacPherson Single Member Constituency, Ms Tin stirred up some controversy when news broke that she was to be the director of public affairs and policy work of Grab Singapore while still serving as an MP. The public raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, and in the end, Ms Tin accepted the hail-riding company’s lower-profile director of corporate development instead.

While somewhat of a compromise, the fact remains that as an MP with access to power brokers, she could still potentially give Grab a leg up in introductions no matter what type of director she is.

Tin’s example has raised the question of whether or not serving MPs should be allowed to have two jobs. Further, should there not be clearer rules of what roles those with connections to those with political power can or cannot play? Otherwise, wouldn’t businesses with the resources to entice MPs into their employ have an unfair advantage over other businesses? Further, wouldn’t such employment opportunities provide potential inducements to MPs to lobby hard for their employers over what might be best for their constituents and the country?

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has long opined that it believed in paying its politicians top dollar to avoid the temptation of bribery. But is having a system where MPs could potentially influence state policy to better the position of their employers counterproductive to that belief? Should public officeholders be permitted to have their cake and eat it too?

This speculation about Madam Ho’s plans has certainly reminded the public of these burning questions.

Madam Ho herself is no stranger to controversy. For years, her appointment as CEO of Temasek Holdings has long raised eyebrows. As veteran journalist PN Balji wrote about the Tin debacle:

What is more worrisome is that the episode shows how the ruling party has chucked the issue of conflict of interest into the dustbin to be ignored and forgotten. It is not a new issue; it has been cropping up since 1986 when Lee Kuan Yew made his son a minister in the late PM’s Cabinet. There was disquiet in the country but nothing was articulated publicly.

Then came the appointment of his daughter-in-law, Ho Ching, as CEO of Temasek Holdings by then PM Goh Chok Tong. What made it even more alarming was that her husband was the Finance Minister to whom the government investment company had a dotted line of responsibility.

What should worry concerned Singaporeans is the insidious way the topic of conflict of interest has seeped into our society which can only lead to moral principles being compromised and the talented thinking twice about Singapore’s future.”

The rules surrounding the elected presidency have long since been a point of contention where there were rumours that the change in rules, seemingly last minute, made sure that the current President, Halimah Yacob was the only person qualified to be the president. The public perceived her as the PAP’s choice despite having resigned as Speaker of Parliament. If Madam Ho becomes president based on her experience having served in Temasek Holdings, wouldn’t this raise even more concerns about the elected presidency? Besides, if Mr Lee Hsien Loong was still Prime Minister, we could end up with a husband and wife being Prime Minister and Head of State, respectively. If that is not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is!

Qualifications aside, a candidate’s suitability for a public job depends more than what experience is written on their CV. Potential conflicts of interest are just as important (if not more important).

At a time when the world is seeing record price hikes, the last thing we need is a lack of transparency which could, in turn, lead to speculation and social instability. If those in power are suspected by the masses of profiting off the back of their connections at the expense of the common people (even if that is not the case), this could create an atmosphere of suspicion which will be bad for social cohesion and stability.

People are currently very concerned about the affordability of housing in Singapore. An online citizen shared a housing meme in an online news forum on Monday (Feb 20) aimed at public housing prices in Singapore. The post included two headlines stating that a 5-room HDB flat in Sengkang was sold for S$928,000. The other reported that an HDB flat along Margaret Drive was sold for S$1.5 million. “With the way housing prices are going, I’ll just settle for this,” the post read. Attached to it was a meme showcasing a lowly tent under a bridge. The meme read, “The only housing I can afford.”

Judging by the comments, the post resonated with many Singaporeans.

Further, video footage of people resting on the floor surfaced online has also created concerns about homelessness in Singapore.

Whether these are legitimate concerns or the musings of armchair critics, it does indicate that people are starting to get worried.

MP for Sengkang Group Representative Constituency Jamus Lim has suggested lowering housing prices, saying that higher house prices could mean ‘robbing Ah Seng to pay Ah Huat’.

The Worker’s Party MP explained the WP’s universal lease buyback scheme, “which will guarantee those who need to cash out at least a reasonable price. Sure, they’ll give up a windfall, but at least they’ll not be completely left out to dry. To avoid overbuilding in the short run while we’re waiting for more supply to enter the market via lease buybacks, we can operate an expanded public rental scheme, with larger format apartments that can be rented for a maximum of 10 years.”

The WP does regularly come up with policy alternatives. They fought for the minimum wage to be implemented in Singapore and lobbied hard for the Goods & Services Tax (GST) to be delayed. All these were seemingly ignored by the PAP.

Will the PAP ignore this too?

They seemed to have glossed over the various “conflict of interest” concerns. Applying the same deflection tactic to housing prices could lead to resentment boiling over, only to be punished at the ballot box like in 2011.


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