Two months after Shanmugam made the headlines for his heated debate with NCMP Leong Mun Wai, he is back in the headlines with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
Coincidentally, the two have beef with Leong Mun Wai, but he is not part of the equation this time. Instead, this saga started because another opposition party member made serious allegations about it.
You may be familiar with those black-and-white colonial houses scattered all over Singapore, and this is exactly what Shanmugam and Balakrishnan have received flak for.
They have since responded to the claims about their rental of properties along Ridout Road in Holland.
How the Drama Unfolded
On 6 May, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the secretary-general of the Reform Party, published a blog post on The Ricebowl Singapore (TRS) shooting accusations at the Government.
He mentioned that there were two Good Class Bungalows (GCBs) rented out by Law and Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam, who rented out the 26 Ridout Road property, and by Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Balakrishnan, who rented out the 31 Ridout Road property.
Mr Jeyaretnam said that these GCBs were previously colonial homes owned by the Government and are open for public tender so anyone can bid for them.
He claimed that even with ministers earning $2 million annually, it would be tough to see how they could afford the market rent of these expensive properties.
Calling this a mystery, he even called on Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the ministers to explain.
He also claimed that the ministers could afford to pay for the properties due to inherited wealth or the money they had earned before entering politics, as it is believed that Minister Shanmugam is earning less than he did when he was in private legal practice.
He questioned why Minister Shanmugam went from riches to rags despite being an Order of the Brown Nose (OBN) to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. OBN essentially means someone who sucks up to another to gain their favour.
SLA responded to him on 12 May, stating that the property rented out by Minister Shanmugam had been vacant for more than four years before he rented it in June 2018. He had reviewed his tenancy for another three years in June 2021.
Minister Balakrishnan’s property had been vacant for more than six years before he rented it in October 2019. He reviewed his tenancy for another three years in October 2022.
Both ministers’ bids for the properties had exceeded the undisclosed guide rent, which is the net amount of rent that should be paid based on market rates, with Minister Shanmugam being the only one who bid for the property and Dr Balakrishnan being the highest bidder.
MPs Seek Answers
The Workers’ Party (WP) released a statement on 18 May, mentioning that the general public is curious about the details surrounding the tenancy of the ministers at the properties along Ridout Road.
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh and three People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs have prepared questions for the July parliamentary sitting.
Mr Singh will ask why a press conference was not organised to address the allegations made against the two ministers, how the Government will inform the public that the ministers did not receive any privileged information regarding their leases and if there are any rules in place to ensure that the ministers do not take advantage of it.
MP Murali Pillai of Bukit Batok SMC will also ask a few questions, as highlighted in his Facebook post, including what measures have been put in place to make sure that any bidder participating in the tender doesn’t have an advantage over others and what steps were taken to market, tenant and renew the tenancies of the two properties.
MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim of Choa Chu Kang GRC also posted on Facebook that he would raise two questions: what the circumstances under which the properties came to be rented to them were and how SLA had marketed them.
Finally, MP Sitoh Yih Pin of Potong Pasir SMC will ask what SLA’s standard operating procedures are for tenancy, whether they will follow them, and also what the rental rates for the properties are.
Both Ministers Speak Out
Speaking to reporters in Yishun’s Chong Pang neighbourhood on Tuesday (23 May), Minister Shanmugam said that he “kept to the rules”, calling the allegations against him “outrageous.”
“You cannot let doubts about the integrity of ministers fester and be left unaddressed. I have nothing to hide,” he said, also acknowledging that people were “entitled to questions.”
Minister Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan had requested an independent review on the matter, with the former saying that the Government should prepare the facts and “lay them before Parliament and the people” to maintain trust.
He mentioned the allegations against him, including that he cut down trees illegally and asked SLA to pay for the work on a car porch.
Before this, PM Lee said that an independent review would be carried out by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean into the rental transactions of Minister Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan for the two properties, with the findings being released in the next parliamentary sitting in July.
Dr Balakrishnan told reporters on Tuesday (23 May) at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) building that he was “very glad” that PM Lee agreed to the review and that all the facts will be laid out before they debate in Parliament.
Minister Shanmugam was asked a gazillion questions, like whether his Cabinet colleagues knew about him renting out the property and why he had done so.
However, he declined to answer them and said the questions would be addressed once the independent review is complete and the facts are laid out.
“If the review does show some wrongdoing, you know what will happen,” he said.
For a concise explanation of this whole saga, watch this:
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