Featured News People's Association under fire for circulating infographics on B&W bungalows

People’s Association under fire for circulating infographics on B&W bungalows

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Noted author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh said the PA has been disseminating these graphics "to its Neighbourhood Committees and asking members to spread them to their respective networks."

SINGAPORE: The People’s Association (PA) has come under fire for circulating infographics about the state-owned black and white bungalows, like those along Ridout Road rented by Cabinet Minister K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan.

Questions of whether the Ministers abused their authority to secure the tenancies of the colonial bungalows circulated online for weeks until the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) cleared Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan of any potential corruption or criminal wrongdoing in the rentals of the Ridout Road properties.

The CPIB’s report stated that no preferential treatment was given to the ministers or their spouses, and there was no disclosure of privileged information during the rental transactions involving the two black-and-white bungalows.

A separate probe, headed by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, also found no evidence of misconduct. His report emphasized that no abuse of power or conflict of interest led to the ministers obtaining any unfair advantage or privilege.

Both the reports have been accepted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the Attorney-General’s Chambers has said that it will not investigate this issue further.

The reports disclosed that Mr Shanmugam pays a monthly rental of $26,500 for 26 Ridout Road and an additional plot of land that is one and a half times the size of the 26 Ridout Road property, while Dr Balakrishnan paid $19,000-$20,000 to rent 31 Ridout Road.

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Both ministers reportedly forked hundreds of thousands out of their pockets to renovate the bungalows while the Singapore Land Authority, a statutory board, spent a total of $1,257,900 on “essential repair works” on the two bungalows to make them habitable.

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While the reports have answered some questions and have assuaged some Singaporeans, a number of key questions remain. Critics are asking whether the ministers are staying in the Ridout Road properties and whether Mr Shanmugam pays rent for the additional parcel of land that has come under his tenancy contract.

Others have said that Mr Teo should not have led the probe into the matter, as the CPIB report indicated that he was the senior Cabinet minister whom Mr Shanmugam informed about his bidding for 26 Ridout Road back in 2018.

Some critics also have questions about SLA’s role in the saga and have asked why SLA didn’t think to renovate the properties in advance and market the bungalows more prominently to attract competitive bids.

The way SLA handled the two properties has drawn criticism, with some asking whether the rental prices are too cheap while others claim that the statutory board could have been lax and derelict in managing the properties in a financially sound manner.

Some have dubbed the Senior Minister’s probe a case of “ownself check ownself”, and this notion has gained more traction in online discussions after the PA began circulating infographics on the black-and-white bungalows.

The graphics consist of four slides covering how the colonial bungalows are managed. The last slide discusses the condition of these bungalows and states that the lack of modern amenities in these properties appeals to a niche market.

Noted author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh said on Wednesday (28 June) that the PA has been disseminating these graphics “to its Neighbourhood Committees and asking members to spread them to their respective networks.”

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He said, “One might be wondering why the PA is assisting with propaganda for a narrow political agenda. But that script was written long ago. Next Monday Parliament will debate RidoutGate. Ahead of that, expect a taxpayer-funded media blitz.”

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There have been growing concerns over the years about whether the management of the PA should be less politicised.

The PA is a statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). Its Chairman is the Prime Minister, and its organisations are commonly run by grassroots leaders, many of whom are members of the PAP.

The PAP has fielded candidates who were active grassroots leaders in PA organisations in past elections and there are allegations that these organisations have encouraged the public to support PAP candidates at rallies and electoral events.

One of the PAP’s fresh faces in the recent General Election was the former Chief Executive Director of the PA, Mr Desmond Tan Kok Ming. He had resigned from his post mere days before the elections were called. Mr Tan coasted to Parliament as part of the team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC led by Senior Minister Teo.

PA facilities are also commonly used to host community events organised by PAP politicians but the same benefit is unavailable for opposition MPs, according to Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh. Additionally, opposition MPs are not allowed to be advisers to government-run grassroots bodies.

Shortly after the WP won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election, party Chairman Sylvia Lim said the WP was informed that 26 public sites, including fields and hard courts, had been leased by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to the PA and that the PA had informed them that “booking by WP will not be allowed”.

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Long-time WP MP Low Thia Khiang, who has since left electoral politics but is still active in the WP, had also noted that temples were allowed to hold activities in his constituency only if they had supporting letters from the grassroots organisations and not from him, as the elected MP.

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The Government, however, has held that the PA and its grassroots organisations are not politicised.

PAP minister Chan Chun Sing said in 2016 that the PA “executes the directions for the Government of the day, as per any statutory board. The PA does not allow any political activity or canvassing on our premises or in our activities. And we certainly do not mobilise anyone for any political party”.

More recently, in March this year, PM-designate Lawrence Wong said that the public service should be “politically sensitive” but “should never become politicised.”

He added, “You must remain impartial and do your work with professional objectivity, while recognising the political context in which we operate.”

CPIB clears Shanmugam, Vivian of misconduct relating to Ridout rentals, says SLA statement was incorrect

Former NMP makes call to depoliticise the People’s Association

All four top leaders of the People’s Association are former army generals

PAP wards have PA to run events, the WP does everything itself: Aljunied-Hougang town councillor

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