SINGAPORE: Singaporeans are asking why the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) bundled a plot of land about one and a half times the size of the property at 26 Ridout Road, after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam clarified in Parliament today (3 July) that he never wanted to lease the land and only wanted to bear the cost of the land’s upkeep because the safety issues in the adjacent land would cause problems for him.
Assuring that there was no misconduct on his part in entering into a tenant-landlord relationship with a statutory board under his Ministry, as he had recused himself from the chain of command and declared potential conflict, Mr Shanmugam revealed that he sold his family home after reviewing his finances when he reached his 60s, in 2016.
Sharing that he realized that a significant portion of his savings was tied up in his family home, Mr Shanmugam said that the family home was purchased during his time as a lawyer and that his income changed when he became a minister, prompting him to sell his home and move into a rental property, in a bid to diversify his savings.
Mr Shanmugam said that he did not regret giving up his previous earnings as a Senior Counsel, expressing that serving the public was a privilege and he would make the same choice again if asked.
Asserting that he paid market rent for the property and incurred a net deficit when considering property tax and income tax on the rental proceeds, Mr Shanmugam explained that he used his previous lawyer’s income to cover the rent for 26 Ridout Road, indicating that he would not have offered to rent the property based solely on his current income.
As for the additional land that came with the property, Mr Shanmugam said that he did not want the extra land spanning 150,000 sq ft given the legal obligations that came with the area. The parcel of land was rife with mosquitoes and large trees that could pose a hefty risk if they fell.
Mr Shanmugam said that he offered to maintain the extra land that was adjacent to 26 Ridout Road at his own cost because problems would arise and impact the property he is renting if the plot of land was not properly maintained.
He added that all he wanted to do was to pay for maintenance of the extra land but not include it within the house boundary.
The veteran politician said that he chose to pay for the maintenance because he felt he could manage it better than the SLA, because the specialized care he can provide as one person managing one piece of land is better than the care the statutory board that is managing hundreds of properties can provide.
SLA agreed to Mr Shanmugam’s proposal but decided to bundle the extra parcel of land into the minister’s tenancy agreement for 26 Ridout Road, saddling him with the legal obligations for the extra plot, which is more than 60 per cent of the total property size.
Mr Shanmugam added he would be happy to give up the extra land, if SLA agrees to take it back.
The Minister’s clarification has magnified the scrutiny the SLA is under, with regards to how it handled the tenancy agreements with the two Cabinet ministers. A number of critics are asking why the statutory board did not maintain the plot of land before the minister offered to do so and why it accepted Mr Shanmugam’s maintenance offer.
Others understand why the SLA accepted the offer but are asking why the authority decided to bundle the land into its agreement with Mr Shanmugam, especially if he has said repeatedly that he “didn’t need the land (and) didn’t want it.”
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