SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament Leon Perera has reiterated his point, in a Facebook post published today (4 July), that the investigation into the Ridout Road controversy should have been carried out by an independent third party instead of Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.
His comment comes a day after Parliament sat for more than six hours yesterday (3 July), discussing the cases of two Cabinet Ministers renting state-owned bungalows and whether there was no conflict of interest in the transactions.
SM Teo asserted that the Ministers had been cleared of corruption, criminal wrongdoing and actual or potential conflict of interest, while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong vouched for his Ministers and said that they had done nothing wrong.
The opposition politicians in Parliament raised concerns about the perception of a conflict of interest even if there was no actual or potential conflict. However, the ruling party appeared to hold that conflict of interest cannot be a subjective viewpoint based on perception.
One of the issues that the WP brought up was whether the Ministers’ actions in renting the state properties were in line with the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Mr Perera specifically asked whether the task of addressing the issue should have been given to an independent party instead of SM Teo.
Aside from being the colleague of the Cabinet Ministers involved in the saga, Mr Teo was also aware that at least one of the rental agreements was being struck in 2018.
The investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) indicated that Mr Teo was the colleague Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam approached in 2018 when he was planning to rent the bungalow at 26 Ridout Road.
Despite this, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tasked SM Teo with investigating whether the rentals contravened the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Asking why this task was not passed to an independent third party, like the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) or an independent judge, Mr Perera said in Parliament:
“I am not asserting that Senior Minister Teo’s review is not independent, but I think the perception that judgement, that determination was being made by someone who is not a senior colleague of the Ministers concerned but is an independent entity would go some way to address some of these public concerns.
“And the Auditor-General does have expertise in understanding norms of best practice within the Public Service, norms of corporate governance, audit compliance and so on and so forth,” Mr Perera said as he pointed out that the AGO has been asked to do a special audit on two occasions in the last 20 years.
SM Teo said that the AGO looks at things that have to do with audits and would have been tapped on if there was a misappropriation of funds. He said:
“To ask the Auditor-General to comment on whether or not the practices were in line with the code of conduct for Ministers, I think, goes beyond the ambit of the Auditor-General. I think, eventually, the Government, the Prime Minister, has to take responsibility for that. And we are.”
Mr Perera responded that the probe could have been done by “a judge or retired judge or someone else to put that imprimatur of independence”, but SM Teo said that he conducted the probe because “this Government takes responsibility over the Code of Conduct. We do not outsource it to someone else.”
He added, “We believe we should take responsibility for the Code of Conduct and the conduct of our Ministers. So, we take responsibility for that. You cannot outsource this. Those are the two points I want to make.”
PM Lee later disagreed with the notion that Mr Teo was not the right person to lead the probe. Asserting that Mr Teo was not involved in the rental process, Mr Lee said:
“I wanted to put my most experienced, qualified and capable person on the job… I appointed him to show I had every intention to maintain the Government’s and PAP’s longstanding high and stringent standards of integrity and propriety.”
The ruling party leaders’ responses have failed to assuage Mr Perera’s concerns. He said today: “Imagine if we lived in a world where each one of us (as individuals or organizations) adjudicated rightness or wrongness all by ourselves, without ever “outsourcing” that to third parties.”