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  • Writer's pictureThe Convergence

Recap: Ridout Road Bungalow Rentals

In early May, Opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam from the Reform Party published social media posts about the Ridout Road properties involving two ministers occupying these prime properties, questioning how they were able to pay market rent.

On May 12 2023, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) issued a statement providing the timeline and the circumstances of how Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian rented the properties. The statement described that both ministers were each renting properties in Ridout Road in full compliance with the relevant procedures.

The statement concluded that both ministers had rented the properties through a bidding process, with Mr Shanmugam the sole bidder for 26 Ridout Road (tenanted to him on June 2018) and Dr Balakrishnan the highest bidder for 31 Ridout Road (tenanted to him on July 2013).

The SLA statement did not mention how many bids were received, or how much the properties were rented out for. These details will be provided at the Parliament sitting.

Members of Parliament filed questions based on the SLA’s clarifications, and there had been a rise of speculatory comments about the statement online. As such, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to investigate the matter on May 17. The CPIB is an independent agency that is responsible for the investigation of corruption offences in Singapore and reports directly to the Prime Minister.

Subsequently on 22 May 2023, PM Lee instructed Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean to conduct a separate review in order to address wider potential process or policy issues, which go beyond the scope of CPIB’s investigation.

On June 28, the CPIB and SM Teo released the findings of their reviews. The CPIB said in their report that there was no preferential treatment given to the ministers and their spouses. Both properties had been vacant since 2013. In 2018/19, the lease availability of both properties was made known to the general public and advertisement signs were prominently displayed at their gates.

The CPIB also found no disclosure of privileged information in the process of the rental transactions, and no evidence to suggest any abuse of position by the ministers for personal gain.

The CPIB report also found that a total of $1,085,900 was spent to refurbish the Ridout Road bungalows rented to two ministers. The sum was used to repair gas pipes, water pumps and sewerage systems, as well as for termite eradication, among other things, said the SLA in an interview with The Straits Times.

Since both properties had been vacant for a long time, substantial repairs by Singapore Land Authority (SLA) were needed to ensure that they were in habitable condition. This is SLA’s standard practice for the properties it rents out.

Both ministers also made additional improvements to the properties at their own cost. The properties, with these improvements, will be surrendered to SLA at the end of the ministers’ tenancies.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers has agreed with the findings and recommendations and directed that no further action be taken as the facts did not disclose any offence.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hian found from his independent review that both ministers, public officers and private sector intermediaries involved had conducted themselves properly in the rental transactions.

For instance, Minister Shanmugam removed himself from the chain of command and decision-making related to the rental. Minister Balakrishnan’s official responsibilities do not include SLA.

Both ministers were unaware of SLA’s Guide Rent, which is the minimum rental to be achieved for each property. They determined their bids independently and met the respective Guide Rents which were in line with market rates for similar properties.

SM Teo’s report also stated that there was no abuse of power or conflict of interest resulting in the ministers gaining any unfair advantage or privileges, and the process of renting out the two properties did not deviate from the prevailing Singapore Land Authority (SLA) guidelines and approaches in renting out black-and-white bungalows for residential purposes.

Ministerial statements on the rental of two Ridout Road bungalows will be delivered by Minister Shanmugam and Minister Balakrishnan at the next parliament sitting on July 3 2023.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean will speak on the review of rentals for 26 and 31 Ridout Road, while Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong will speak on the rental of state properties.

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