Even if you haven’t been keeping up to date with the latest news, you’ve probably heard about the recent Ridout Road rental saga involving Home Affairs & Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
In particular, they were questioned in Parliament just earlier this week on Monday (3 July) regarding why they chose to rent their large colonial houses and whether or not they were given special treatment.
Most recently, Mr Shanmugam sat down with Lianhe Zaobao and Shin Min Daily News on Tuesday (4 July) to talk more about the issue.
Insisted His Conscience is Clear, Initially Did Not Realise How His Actions Would be Perceived
With regards to the current state of the situation, Mr Shanmugam insisted that his conscience was clear.
He talked about how his home at 26 Ridout Road initially only spanned 9,350 square metres (sqm) but was later expanded to 23,164 sqm after a neighbouring plot of land was added to his home.
According to him, he had asked for the plot to be added after seeing that it was “overgrown with vegetation”.
He also offered to pay the maintenance fees for that plot of land.
But of course, that’s definitely something that didn’t sit right with many Singaporeans, especially when land scarcity is taken into consideration.
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged these views and said that some people might be “shocked” at the land that his home occupies.
He then re-emphasised that he initially did not want that adjacent plot of land as he is only a tenant and not a landlord.
This means he would not be allowed to build any structures on the land.
Renting the land would also bring about other responsibilities, such as the prevention of mosquito breeding and handling of fallen trees.
Regarding his rental of the house, Mr Shanmugan explained that he was aware of the potential conflict of interest before he rented his house since the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is under the Ministry of Law.
Hence, he underwent the necessary steps to ensure that there was no conflict of interest.
However, he admitted he did not consider how society would view him and how his actions would be perceived by the public.
As for what he will do now, he shared that he might tell SLA that he does not want the adjacent plot of land.
However, if SLA agrees to remove that adjacent plot of land from his ownership, he said he will continue spending his own money to maintain the land.
Said He Felt He Did Not Do Anything Wrong Since Ministers Have Lived in Colonial Houses Before
When talking about the rumours that have spread, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that he felt he did not do anything wrong since ministers have lived in colonial houses before.
He added that as long as one is honest and pays the necessary rental fees, they can live in these houses regardless of whether they are a minister or not.
Mr Shanmugam also pointed out that the most important quality for a minister is having a good moral compass, which allows one to do what’s right.
He then touched on how ministers should not accept bribes or be involved in corruption.
On the other hand, he also commented on how some members of the public only care about attacking these political figures regardless of whether they have done anything wrong.
Spoke About His Own Experience to Combat the Rumours
Over the past few months, malicious comments and rumours regarding the minsters’ rental of the Ridout Road bungalows have flooded the internet.
In order to disprove the rumours, Mr Shanmugam did something that he rarely does in Parliament on Monday (3 July).
He brought up his upbringing and talked about how he lived in poverty as a child.
He used to live in a rental flat at Bukit Ho Swee before moving to a three-room flat.
Thereafter, they moved once again to a five-room flat before moving into a bungalow.
In particular, he highlighted that he eventually managed to improve his home bit by bit through his own efforts.
During his interview with Zaobao, he credited his success to the meritocratic system that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew implemented in the past.
According to him, without meritocracy, he, “a poor Indian boy without connections”, would not have the success he enjoys today.
He also talked about how he understands the concept of inequality since he has been on both sides of the financial spectrum.
As for whether the Ridout Road saga has been the greatest challenge of his career, he responded by saying that one needs a will of steel to do a job like his.
Said that the Investigators Were Very Firm and Professional
When speaking about the investigations, he revealed that he was interrogated for a few hours by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
As for how they conducted their interrogations, Mr Shanmugam mentioned that they were “very firm and professional”.
He added that as a lawyer, he is more used to these processes since he has handled them in court before.
According to him, even though the interrogations were “very thorough”, one has nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide.
On the other hand, Dr Vivian mentioned in Parliament that it was the most uncomfortable experience that he had gone through and that it stripped him of his privacy.
Mr Shanmugam’s Phone Was Not Seized Because His Phone Automatically Deletes Messages
In the most recent Parliament sitting, Mr Shanmugam revealed that the CPIB looked through his mobile phone during the investigation process.
However, his phone was not seized as it is set to automatically delete old messages.
When asked by Zaobao why he chose to turn on such a setting for his phone, Mr Shanmugam said that he often receives many text messages regarding security matters.
Hence, he deletes these messages for safety and security reasons.
Another reason why he does so is because he does not like the “untidy” look that too many messages create on his phone.
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