Two ministers found themselves in the limelight last week after an opposition politician found out that they “occupied” houses with rental beyond what they presumably could comfortably afford.
The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has since responded, and they seem pretty dulan with the accusations.
Here’s everything you need to know about this saga.
Rental of Ridout Road GCBs By Ministers Draws Strong Accusations From Opposition Politician
Opposition politicians haven’t been getting along very well with our Ministers lately.
Earlier this year, in March, Mr Leong Mun Wai hailing from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), aired his beef with the Home Affairs and Law Minister, K. Shanmugam, in Parliament.
Last week, Ms Sylvia Lim from the Workers’ Party also seemed to have angered Mr Shanmugam in her questions about the Minister’s speech on the Russian invasion of Ukraine—so much to the extent that at one point, Mr Shanmugam stood up, dropped a one-liner response and returned to his seat.
The most recent addition to this line of sagas is this: Mr Shanmugam, alongside the Foreign Affairs Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, found themselves in the crosshairs of a shotgun aimed right in their faces by the Reform Party’s secretary-general, Kenneth Jeyaretnam.
And these two Ministers aren’t the only ones Mr Jeyaretnam has made accusations against.
On Saturday (6 May), Mr Jeyaretnam published a blog post on The Ricebowl Singapore (TRS) directing several strong accusations at the Government.
The opposition politician found out that two Good Class Bungalows (GCBs) on Ridout Road were “occupied” by Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan. Specifically, Mr Shanmugam rented the 26 Ridout Road property while Dr Balakrishnan rented the 31 Ridout Road property.
According to Mr Jeyaretnam, these GCBs are former colonial mansions owned by the Singapore Government. They are open for public tender, meaning you could bid for those mansions if you wanted to.
Well, that’s if you could.
The Ridout Road houses aren’t cheap—Mr Jeyaretnam did the maths on our behalf and shared that the ballpark figure for rental at Ridout Road costs at least $1.65 million annually.
It makes sense—this is what the interior of a Ridout Road GCB looks like:
Save up the money for bubble tea instead lah.
At this point, the opposition politician starts to get suspicious of how our Ministers can afford the Ridout Road rental.
“Even on our Ministers’ outrageous salaries of around $2 million a year it is difficult to see how Vivian or Shanmugam could afford to pay the market rent for such a pricey property,” the opposition politician wrote.
As such, Mr Jeyaretnam has called on the SLA or the Ministers to account for this “mystery”.
Opposition Politician Accuses Shanmugam of Being an “OBN” to Lee Hsien Loong
The accusations don’t end here.
Mr Jeyaretnam drives his point home by spreading a couple of other accusations on thick.
The opposition politician speculated in the TRS post that a possible reason for the Ministers’ ability to afford the Ridout Road rental could be because of inherited wealth.
Alternatively, it could be all that money from the Ministers’ eras before entering politics funding their rental at Ridout Road.
After all, it has been repeated time and time that Ministers earn crumbs now compared to what they did before entering politics. Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong once shared that Mr Shanmugam “took a very substantial pay cut” when transitioning from private legal practice to politics.
At this point, Mr Jeyaretnam makes a rather snarky remark questioning why Mr Shanmugam went from riches to rags upon entering politics, despite being an Order of the Brown Nose (OBN) to PM Lee.
If you don’t know what’s an OBN, it’s essentially what we colloquially call “suck thumb” but for politics.
Caught in the Crossfire: Other Accusations Made By Jeyaretnam
Aside from the two Ministers, other names like PM Lee and his wife also found themselves caught in the crossfire.
Mr Jeyaretnam made several tongue-in-cheek comments about what he calls “Uniquely Singaporean mystery[ies]”.
Forget about True Singapore Ghost Stories, we’d like to see Mr Jeyaretnam’s book of these mysteries.
He raises a few examples of such “mysteries”, including PM Lee’s use of Temasek’s business jets and his wife Ho Ching’s positions in Temasek.
We have a strange feeling that the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation (POFMA) officers might have some late nights in the office soon…
The Reform Party secretary-general also implicitly challenged the POFMA office to POFMA him, speculating that even if they do, they do so behind a smokescreen. He goes so far as to liken the “facts” provided on the Factually website following a POFMA correction order to the words of a “slippery lawyer”.
If only Terry Xu from The Online Citizen Asia were still in Singapore, he and Mr Jeyaretnam probably could have been kakis.
The opposition politician then wraps up his TRS post by making the grandest accusation: If the SLA or Ministers fail to respond to Mr Jeyaretnam, Singaporeans will have confirmation that “in Singapore’s Animal Farm, animals wearing a fascist lightning symbol are more equal than others”.
We can’t quite put our finger on how he fares in politics, but at least we know he’s a good literature student.
SLA Responds: Ridout Road Properties Were Vacant for Years Before Ministers Rented Them
Contrary to Mr Jeyaretnam’s implied accusations of under-the-table deals, the procedures undergone by Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan to rent the Ridout Road GCBs were all above board.
According to SLA’s statement on Friday (12 May), the two properties had been vacant for years before the Ministers rented them.
26 Ridout Road was vacant for more than four years before the Home Affairs and Law Minister rented it in June 2018. He was the only one who bid for the GCB.
Further, Mr Shanmugam’s bid was higher than the undisclosed guide rent, which is the net amount of rent that should be paid based on market rates.
To this day, Mr Shanmugam still rents the 26 Ridout Road property after renewing his tenancy for another three years in June 2021.
On the other hand, 31 Ridout Road was vacant for over six years before Dr Balakrishnan got his hands on the property in October 2019.
Similarly, the Foreign Affairs Minister’s bid exceeded the undisclosed guide rent. In fact, he was the highest bidder.
Dr Balakrishnan still “occupies” the 31 Ridout Road property today after renewing his tenancy in October 2022.
However, further details on the two Ministers’ bids for the properties were not disclosed—we’ll have to wait.
“More details on this issue will be provided during the next Parliamentary session in July,” SLA added.
So, keep your eyes peeled for the sequel.
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