SINGAPORE: Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean has suggested that the Ridout Road case will be a reference to public servants on avoiding conflict of interest in a ministerial statement he delivered this afternoon (3 July) as Parliament debates the issues surrounding the state-owned colonial bungalows Cabinet Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have rented.
Mr Teo, who has reportedly been aware of at least one of the rental agreements since 2018, had led a probe into the case after being tasked to do so by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 22 June.
Days prior, on 17 June, PM Lee had also directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to investigate potential corruption and misconduct involving the Ridout Road rentals. The CPIB report and SM Teo’s report cleared both Ministers of wrongdoing.
Positioning the CPIB as a “fearsome investigative body,” the Senior Minister quoted liberally and verbatim from the CPIB report as he addressed parliamentary questions on the Ridout Road rentals in his ministerial statement. He said:
“I trust members realise the importance, the meaning, the weight of the Prime Minister asking CPIB to investigate this matter. The agency reported directly to him, the Prime Minister – not to the Minister of Home Affairs, nor to me for that matter, the Coordinating Minister for National Security.
“Moreover the director of CPIB can go directly to the President if the Prime Minister stops him from investigating a possible crime. The Constitution provides CPIB Director that right. There is no more thorough, persistent and – I dare say – fearsome investigative body in Singapore.”
Mr Teo quoted the CPIB report to make the point that there was no evidence of corruption, criminal wrongdoing or preferential treatment given to the ruling party politicians and that both ministers declared any potential conflict of interest and followed proper procedures to avoid any actual conflict of interest.
In response to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Hazel Poa’s question on the ministerial code of conduct, Mr Teo said that the principles of the codes covered any potential conflict in this case and added that it is more important to observe the spirit rather than the letter of the Code.
Moments after he covered how the Ministers took steps to avoid conflict of interest, SM Teo said that public servants would soon need to declare that they have taken appropriate measures to avoid conflict of interest, such as recusing themselves from any decision related to the transaction.
Revealing that this case will be a reference to the public service to underscore the importance of integrity for public officers, Mr Teo said that PM Lee is set to review the declarations required for property transactions involving ministers, parliamentarians and public servants who can access privileged information and influence outcomes.
Public servants will soon be required to make declarations before they can rent commercial and residential state-owned properties like bungalows, terraces, factories, office spaces, business parks, shops and food stalls.
This standard declaration requirement for officers will be introduced by the Public Service Division in collaboration with Government ministries and statutory boards like the HDB, NEA and SLA.
Mr Teo concluded his statement by asserting that the controversy “demonstrates the paramount importance of maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability in the government and nationally.”
Suggesting that this issue illustrates the integrity of the political office-holders involved, he added: “The extensive questions posed by Members from both sides of the House reflect the importance we place on the integrity and quality of Singapore’s system of government. Let us continue, generation after generation, to instil strong values in our people, especially the men and women in politics and public service, to continue serving with integrity and excellence, even when no one is looking.”