Last Updated on 2023-05-31 , 8:20 am
Unless you are living under a rock, we are confident that you will have heard about the latest “scandal” rocking the ruling party in Singapore.
Yes, we are referring to two ministers in Singapore renting good-class bungalows along Ridout Road.
The two ministers in question are Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Unsurprisingly, since the news about both ministers renting bungalows in the upscale area off Holland Road and near the Dempsey Hill entertainment and lifestyle area, there have been speculations and allegations levelled at both ministers.
The two ministers have been faced with media scrutiny and lobbied questions about their opinions regarding the situation.
Mr Shanmugam even responded that the allegations made were “outrageous” from his perspective.
What allegations, you may ask. We are here to consolidate some of the more interesting ones for your reading pleasure.
The Bungalows Rented by the Two Ministers Are Out of Their Pay Scale
Amongst the barrage of questions which followed the revelation from Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam on 6 May that Mr Shanmugam and Mr Balakrishnan were renting good-class bungalows on Ridout Road were how the ministers could afford to pay for the bungalows.
According to the expose written by Mr Jeyaretnam on The Ricebowl Singapore (TRS), the “outrageous salaries” that our ministers draw at S$2 million are not enough for them to afford to live in these beautiful black-and-white colonial bungalows.
This is even if they have “inherited wealth” or still have “previous earnings” squirrelled away from before they entered the political scene.
Mr Jeyeratnam writes that he has personal knowledge of one of the bungalows being rented out for S$30,000 a month “several years ago”. Given the inflation rates and rise in the value of property, as well as the recent rental boom, the market rents should have “increased considerably since then”.
Doing some quick maths, if the price of one of the properties that the two ministers occupy is around S$1,100 per square foot, then a Ridout Road property of 50,000 square feet would be worth S$55 million. Mr Jeyeratnam surmises that a rental yield of 3% translates to an approximate S$1.65 million in rent per year.
These calculations were made under the assumptions that the properties could be sold (they cannot, and they belong to the government for now), and that the land area is accurate (there are rumours that some Ridout Road properties can go up to 70,000 square feet in size).
Given that S$1.65 million is more than 80% of the annual income of a minister, as Mr Jeyeratnam shares, he implies that something does not add up.
The Bungalows May Not Be Paid for by the Ministers
Another juicy allegation related to the eye-watering sum the bungalows demand is how the bungalows are being financed.
In another article published on The Ricebowl Singapore, Mr Jeyeratnam offers more insights into the actual size of the two bungalows. No. 26 Ridout Road, which Mr Shanmugam occupies, is said to be over 260,000 square feet in size, while Mr Balakrishnan’s No. 31 Ridout Road is supposedly over 150,000 square feet. These two locations are “second only to the Istana in size”.
Again whipping out the calculator, the worth of Mr Shanmugam’s rental would be at least S$250 million a year, and a rental yield of 3 per cent would mean S$7.5 million in rent a year. For Mr Balakrishnan’s rental, it would be worth at least $150 million, which makes a 3% rental yield of S$4.5 million a year.
Again, compared to the salaries that the ministers make, these rental prices seem quite out of reach.
The article goes on to speculate whether there is a “generous donor to the PAP” who is concerned that the “hard working” ministers need a “bucolic” location to “relax in so that they can brainstorm novel ideas for investing money to improve the lives of as yet unborn generations of Singaporeans, most of whom will come from abroad”.
As to who the “generous donor” is, there are no names directly dropped though the article does cheekily mention that if “the state is picking up at least part of the tab”, then the duo may be “guilty of Criminal Breach of Trust as public servants”.
Just to note, these allegations might not hold water; you can read this article or watch this video to the end:
The Bungalows Were Not Unoccupied Before the Ministers Swooped In
We all know by now that Mr Shanmugan publicly stated that both the bungalows were “empty for years” when the ministers placed their bids on the properties. No. 31 Ridout Road was supposed to have been empty for six years, while No. 26 Ridout Road was empty for four years.
For those who are unaware, the bungalows have to be bidded on because they are owned by the government and have to be rented out (typically for two-year durations). The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) website has a page for colonial-bungalow-hopefuls to place their bids.
Unfortunately, you can only see the last six months’ bids, so we do not know how much it actually costs to rent out these swanky houses (unless, of course, you actually win the bid).
But were the bungalows really unoccupied? Mr Jeyeratnam appears to assert otherwise.
In a post on The Ricebowl Singapore made two weeks ago, Mr Jeyeratnam mentioned that “sources close to the location on Ridout Road have informed” him that one of the properties may have been “inhabited by an expat hedge fund manager who was then squeezed out by unreasonable terms” imposed by the SLA.
This led to the property being “freed up…for the senior Ministers”.
Hmm, some interesting revelations indeed, although it should be noted that the sources aren’t revealed.
The Bungalow Renovations Were Not Paid for by the Minister
Another allegation levelled against the controversial bungalows revolves around a car park built in the bungalow Mr Shanmugam lives in.
The Online Citizen published an article on 20 May (with screenshots as receipts) suggesting that the SLA may have built a car park at No. 26 Ridout Road for Mr Shanmugam.
Could this be a special perk for the boss? Or is this just another instance of a certain publication stating matters which would be forced to be retracted later on?
In the article, it is suggested that SLA is identified as the “developer” of a “new structure” built at the “main building” of the bungalow occupied by Mr Shanmugam. In October 2018, there was written approval from the Urban Development Authority (URA) for an open-sided car park shelter to be built. Putting two and two together, the SLA could have been the developer of the car park in the bungalow.
While this may not be enough to raise eyebrows, what is worthy of raising an eyebrow or two is how Mr Shanmugam (or his designated contractor) is not listed as the developer in the SLA documentation. In contrast, Dr Balakrishnan had his own contractor listed as the developer when he did some renovations in No. 31 Ridout Road.
The article also goes on to extrapolate that it is unclear who paid for the construction works.
Ministers Asked For Many Trees Were Cut Down Within the Compound
This allegation may anger some of the tree-huggers out there. It involves the ministers ordering trees to be cut down (or allowing them to be cut down) while occupying the bungalows.
In an article published in The Online Citizen, there were satellite images of the bungalows that the ministers occupied showing a significant loss of greenery between 2012 and 2022. The ministers moved into the bungalows around 2020, when COVID-19 was raging in the country.
In both images, the number of trees (which look like broccoli viewed from an aerial point of view) is significantly fewer in 2022 as compared to 2012.
Some may say that the timeframes of the pictures and when the ministers moved in do not match; hence these allegations do not hold much water.
That is a fair point made, given that the trees can have been cut down at any time during those ten years.
What is interesting is that many of the colonial bungalows were built since the late 19th century and before World Word II hit Singapore, so trees planted back then would be very mature by any measure. Conceivably, some of these trees would be afforded protected or conserved statuses given their age.
If that was the case, how is it possible for the trees to be cut down unless there was some “special permission” involved?
Netizens who want to flame the ministers also point to the “irony” of the situation since Mr Balakrishnan officially launched the Heritage Tree Scheme in 2002 when he was Minister of State for National Development. The scheme allowed for nominations to protect a “heritage tree”, which would receive structural protection from lightning strikes as well as information panels detailing its significance.
Now, if you’re still confused, you may want to watch this video to get a summary of the accusations on the Ridout Road saga:
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