Are some people being unfair to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan? Yes and no.
Opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam has been asking how the two ministers could afford, on their pay, to rent their current good class bungalows (GCBs) at 26 Ridout Road (Shanmugam) and 31 Ridout Road (Balakishnan). Rents being advertised on some property websites for GCBs in Ridout Road and vicinity show a range of $60,000 to $150,000 and more per month. According to the Public Service Commission, as of 2023, the benchmark level of a minister’s monthly salary stands at S$55,000, working out to an annual salary of S$1.1 million.
You judge for yourself, bearing in mind ministers would have accumulated some savings of their own before entering politics or that their spouses may be quite wealthy. They are not without means.
Also, what anyone wants to do with his money is his own business. How are other people shortchanged? To each, caveat emptor.
Which would you prefer, as an objective citizen and observer? To allow foreigners with fewer roots and little loyalty or commitment to buy any of the 2,800 GCB land plots – or see Singaporeans stay in these properties which are what I would describe as a strategic resource for this land-scarce island? No-brainer answer.
The bigger question, however, is: how regulated and transparent is the whole process of renting a GCB?
Is there a Singapore Land Authority website that periodically announces each round of invitation for rent quotes? This process should be fair and well-publicised, so that there is full participation instead of it being confined to a select group of interested people.
Or do we have a system where these GCBs are not exactly considered as normal state property but more as a reserved pool to be dispensed any way the government sees fit? I would regard such a system as the rather perverse opposite of the HDB pool of rented property which is useful as temporary housing for the lower-income earners or unemployed. A portion of the 2,800 GCBs would be useful as an incentive accommodation for the establishment elite, including SAF officers and top-end foreign visitors.
What is that we have here, that 26 and 31 Ridout Road might force out of the closet?
The Workers’ Party has filed its first questions for the July debate on 26 and 31 Ridout Road. According to CNA, party chief Pritam Singh will ask how the government will assure the public that the two ministers were not in receipt of any privileged information pertaining to their leases; and whether there are any rules, conventions or policies to ensure that Cabinet ministers do not take advantage of privileged information received in the course of their official or non-official duties in regard to the lease of government properties.
He said his party will study the matter as it develops and that his fellow MPs will have other questions as more information emerges. WP: “As questions continue to be asked in the public domain about the circumstances behind the leasing of both properties to Cabinet ministers, we call on the SLA to release all relevant and material facts in advance, such as the guide rent for both properties, so as to make for a fuller and more meaningful debate in parliament.”
People’s Action Party MPs have scrambled to pre-empt other questions by first filing some of them:
Will the bid process be fair and competitive? Was K Shanmugam involved in his official capacity in any decisions relating to the rental of these properties?
MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) will ask a good question. He said he would ask about the circumstances under which the properties came to be rented to the two ministers.
“Matters of governance and law are very important in our country as we not only have the rule of law to uphold but a global reputation to maintain,” he wrote on Facebook.
The ball is now in the court of the Law and Home Affairs Minister – and, of course, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balaktishnan to clear the air. The irony is that Ridout Road is named after Major-General Sir Dudley H. Ridout, who set up Singapore’s first secret service in 1915.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.
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