Shanmugam Uses the Agency He Controls to Defend the Indefensible
It took SLA, Shanmugam and Viivian Balakrishnan one week to respond to my blog posts. I guess they needed the time to draft a response that was both arrogant, entitled and devoid of meaningful information..
The headline in state media mouthpiece The Straits Times said Shanmugam, Vivian rented Ridout Road properties in full compliance with procedures. I take fundamental exception to that claim. If it was in full compliance with procedures then the procedures are, like everything overseen by the PAP Government, fatally lacking in checks and balances to prevent Ministers and those in charge of exploiting the system for their own benefit. The whole Ridoutgate scandal exemplifies what PAP Ministers and their relatives have been able to get away with under their guiding philosophy of “Ownself Check Ownself.”
in classic “Ownself check ownself” speak Shanmugam who is the head of SLA has used the PAP’s own puppet media to issue a one sided response to my blog rather than answer my questions directly. Questions around concerns that many of our citizens share.. I of course, do not get right of reply in the media. The ST did not contact me for a comment before selectively quoting my blog. For those who do not know, this is not accepted journalistic practice in any developed nation. The PAP are using tools they own and control to evade transparency and accountability to the citizens who elected them.
It is impossible to overstate the principle that there is a fundamental conflict of interest in two senior Government Ministers helping themselves to two of the biggest residential properties in Singapore that just happen to be owned by the Government. Why was this not disclosed in Parliament or to the public? Even worse, the Honourable Minister Shanmugam oversees the operations of SLA which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Law. In the business world company directors’ share purchases of their own stock are subject to scrutiny because of the likelihood that they have inside information on the company’s prospects that are not available to other shareholders. Similarly the presumption here must be that Shanmugam would as SLA’s head have access to information that was not available to the general public. Nothing in SLA’s statement answers this question. The very fact that SLA issues a statement which must be approved by the Minister of Law Shamugam leads one to the conclusion that Shanmugam as good as wrote it himself. However, like all the other relevant information, this is not disclosed. For an SLA statement answering questions about Shamugam to be fit and proper, Shanmugam should recuse himself and someone independent take over, if there is such thing as an independent person to be found in Singapore. He certainly should not be allowed to hide behind an authority he himself oversees.
SLA says both properties were vacant for years before they were rented out to Vivian and Shanmugam. Why was this? Were they in a state of disrepair that required extensive maintenance work? Were they advertised during this period on the SPIO website like other Government properties available for rental? If they were not listed, why not? If they were, had any other bids been received? I did a check yesterday and found that 13 properties were listed on SLA’s website out of 262 such Government properties. That’s less than 5% of the total. Most of those listed were fairly mediocre or of small size. So there is clearly huge demand for these colonial era black-and-white bungalows built by our former masters.
If the properties were in a state of disrepair and renovated prior to being leased to the Ministers, were the guide rents revised subsequently to reflect the costs of renovation and thus completely new market values. Were the Ministers aware of this before the general public and thus in a better position to make bids? Why does SLA not disclose the guide rents or the rents paid by the Ministers? What are they hiding? We need to know how Shanmugam as head of SLA used his position to oversee the refurbishments and maybe even approve the budget and direct the repairs to his own specific needs and those of Vivian. Subsequent to the renovations, how long were the properties listed on the SPIO website before being rented to Shan and Vivian and was all the information about the renovations disclosed? Should SLA not just have listed them on the website but taken steps to advertise such prestigious properties more widely to make the general public aware of their availability?
According to the ST report, Shanmugam notified a senior Cabinet colleague of his intention to bid for the property. In the absence of information as to who that colleague was we can narrow senior collagues who are not subservient to Shanmugam down to Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and the PM himself. This raises a whole host of questions about how a highly favourable deal for a Minister with a clear conflict of interest was approved without disclosure to Parliament or taking steps to ensure that the deal was at arms’ length to the senior minster involved. In the absence of clarification the balance of probabilities points towards it being LHL himself who he notified. How was it done? In writing or a casual conversation in the corridors of Parliament or at a social function?
Whatever rent was charged, it is clear that SLA is grossly mismanaging Government property, and by extension, the Government is mismanaging the reserves, a subject that I have already raised grave concerns over with regard to the sham smoke-and-mirror Budgets in which money disappears into the reserves but never seems to come out and to warning signs over Temasek’s and GIC’s investments.
Readers of my blog will be familiar with issues I have raised. Even on a 1% yield properties of the size of 26 and 31 Ridout Road should be producing incomes of several million a year. This ought to be beyond the means of even an obscenely paid senior Government Minister on a “peanuts” (as Mrs Goh Chok Tong so memorably described $600k a year back in the early 2000s) salary of $2 million a year. So however the Government tries to spin it, it is clear that there is a huge subsidy already in whatever rent is being charged (which it has been suggested is at most $30,000 a month.) If the properties were converted into luxury hotels then they would probably bring in tens of millions a year. I did some rough calculations of the potential value of redevelopment and came up with figures of between $1-4 billion. At the very least it could provide housing for several thousand Singaporeans living in tiny inadequate spaces for years, even decades, while they wait for the Government to build enough housing.
In terms of renovations which should have raised the market rent considerably, sources close to the properties have reported that new kitchens, tennis courts and swimming pools were built before the Ministers moved in. For Shanmugam new guard houses were built across the perimeter that are clearly visible form the road. Again did this cost come out of the public purse, were they factored into the rent? One football pitch is about 45,000 sq feet so both properties cover an area of nearly 10 football pitches. I almost feel sorry for the PM with his fake attempt at being just one of us with a staged picnic in the Botanic Gardens and his wife’s S$10 purse (poverty porn like Marie Antoinette) now being let down by his Ministers blatant and very visible avarice at the cost of the people. Welfareism for Ministers, austerity and self reliance for other Singaporeans.
The spectacle of Government Ministers (including the very man administering the properties) being able to exploit a gross undervaluation of prime state-owned assets for their own benefit while continually lecturing Singaporeans on why there is no such thing as a free lunch should not be lost on voters. The government is clearly not so short of revenue that it needs to manage these properties as a commercial profit producing enterprise.
The Government has said that it will provide more details on this issue during the Parliamentary session in July. However going on past experience they will try to get away with providing as few facts as possible. in August last year when Shanmugam was asked in Parliament about the rental of these bungalows he said that larger Black-and-white (B&W) bungalows tend to have lower per sq foot rental rates than smaller B&W bungalows. Shanmugam added that SLA does not disclose rentals of individual bungalows but does publish the results of recent open tenders on their website for a period of time. Suffice to say that TOC and i have not been able to find any information on the SLA website. Notably Shanmugam did not disclose his own interest in these bungalows to Parliament. The whole thing is rotten and the Minster should have disclosed his interest. Why has he not been referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges as JBJ was?
There is a very clear parallel here with the Nassim Jade corruption scandal. In that scandal the shareholders complained that Lee Kuan Yew and some of his relatives including the current PM (who bought two properties) had been given first dibs on the apartments and bought them at a significant discount. LHL, highest scoring mathematician at Cambridge claimed he had not been aware that the two apartments he bought were below market value. He was allowed to pay the difference and no further action was taken despite there being a presumption of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
We can expect an answer similar to that offered by Lawrence Wong who in Parliament said nonsensically that as Temasek was a private company, Singaporeans had no right to know the compensation paid to the senior management, including Ho Ching as CEO. I commented on the absurdity of the Government without any shame issuing POFMAs to certain individuals for repeating a Taiwanese news channel’s claim that the PM’s wife earned US$100 million a year but at the same time failing to provide any facts to rebut the assertion.
I fully support Terry Xu, Editor of TOC, in calling for the Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to provide the full facts. Hearings should be open and members of the public should be invited to provide evidence. However, as I have said repeatedly and the PM”s brother, Lee Hsien Yang, has also asserted in a recent interview with the New York Times, all institutions in Singapore have been corrupted over time to come under the control of the ruling party.
To ensure impartiality, the Chair of the COI should be a senior judge from Commonwealth country such as the UK, Australia, Canada, India or even Malaysia. Without an independent Chair there is a high risk of a whitewash. From now until the COI has completed its work, I suggest that both Ministers should be suspended and leave the properties. These should be opened up again to the tender process at the correct market value and both Ministers should be prevented from bidding. SLA should be removed from Shanmugam’s oversight. Until this happens SIngaporeans will be too scared to provide evidence fearing retaliation, which they are well aware in a totalitarian state is all too easy for the PAP.
Whatever happens, Singaporeans have been treated yet again to the distasteful spectacle of their rulers living lives of luxury, ironically in the very houses occupied by their colonial oppressors, utterly divorced from the everyday struggles and hardships of Singaporeans. And they do all this in secrecy pulling the wool over your eyes. At the same time, like the Soviet and Chinese Communists they most resemble, these same Ministers hypocritically claim to be humble servants of the people whose only concern is ensuring “inclusive” growth and raising up lower income Singaporeans. They even treat us to stories of the enormous sacrifices they have made. Surely it is now or never to end the humbug?
Dear Secretary General Kenneth Jeyaretnam
1. I think you forgot about that fellow Khan boon wan while he was in cabinet his daughter was having millions and billions of dollars in property and resort investment in Malaysia.
2. Khan was responsible for allowing China Chinese to to grab jobs in SMRT communications department and have thousands of China Chinese to work in seagate and in micron.
3. Please KJ, can we have a update on this fellow Khan boon wan on where he is and what he is doing?
4. He even saw China workers peddle contraband cigarettes in woodlands
Go kenneth go!
How long can the PAP hoodwink the proletariat? Thanks KJ for calling it out like it is. It may take another generation totally oblivious of the PAP`s past and sufficiently politically informed who can bring about change. Keep it up KJ. In the vernacular I say : “Keep the bastards honest”.