Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean confirmed that there is “no conflict of interest” following his review of the rental of Ridout Road by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan.
Teo explained in Parliament on Jul. 3, 2023, that the Ministers and the public officers involved “duly declared any potential conflict of interest” and “followed the proper processes to prevent any actual conflict of interest from arising”.
However, he highlighted that the Public Service Division (PSD) would be using the case as “an additional example to reinforce the importance of public officers to act with integrity” and will introduce rules such as requiring public servants to make a declaration before they can rent government properties managed by their agencies.
CPIB findings “independent, thorough, and authoritative”
In his ministerial statement, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean reiterated the findings of his review, which was released publicly last week.
He said that his findings relied on CPIB’s investigations which are “independent, thorough and authoritative.”
Teo stressed that CPIB reports directly to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, not the Minister of Home Affairs, or himself as the Coordinating Minister for National Security.
The Constitution gives the Director of CPIB the right to go directly to the President if the Prime Minister stops him from investigating a possible crime.
“There is no more thorough, persistent, even fearsome investigative body in Singapore,” Teo said.
Teo later added that the CPIB found no evidence of corruption or criminal wrongdoing in the rental transactions of the Ridout Road state properties by Shanmugam and Balakrishnan.
“CPIB found that the Direct Tenancy rules were applied fairly for both rental transactions. The investigation did not reveal any corrupt intent on the part of any person, or any inducement given to any individual involved in the processing of the rentals
CPIB found no preferential treatment given to the ministers and their spouses, and no disclosure of privileged information in the process of the rental transactions.”
There was no evidence to suggest any abuse of position by the ministers for personal gain, Teo stated.
Shanmugam removed himself from the chain of command
Teo pointed out that, for the rental of Ridout Road properties, a conflict of interest could have arisen if Shanmugam had remained in the chain of command as the Ministry of Law oversees SLA.
He explained that it would have been an actual conflict of interest if Shanmugam made decisions that affected his rental of 26 Ridout Road. However, Shanmugam removed himself from the chain of command and decision-making process entirely.
“There was no matter raised by SLA to MinLaw or any of the Ministers during the entire rental process,” Teo added.
SM Teo not involved in the rental process
Teo said that Shanmugam had declared to him about the rental, as Shanmugam had recognised the potential conflict of interest.
Teo pointed out that Shanmugam “took effective steps to eliminate this potential conflict” and “prevented any actual conflict from arising”.
“I wish also to state that as no matters were raised to me regarding any aspect of the rental transaction, I am not an involved party in the rental process,” Teo said.
No policy for VVIPs
In the case of 31 Ridout Road, Teo said no issue of conflict of interest arose because Vivian Balakrishnan’s official responsibilities did not include SLA.
Teo emphasised that CPIB also noted that there was no preferential treatment given in the process of the rental transaction.
“In fact, CPIB found that in response to the MA’s query on policy for VVIPs, the SLA Leasing Manager had emphasised in her email reply that there was no policy for VVIPs, and all prospects and tenants were to be treated equally,” Teo explained.
SLA Valuer did not know the identity of the prospective tenant
In the case of Shanmugam, the SLA Valuer did not know the identity of the prospective tenant throughout the whole episode, said Teo.
Teo shared that the SLA Valuer only learnt that the tenant was Shanmugam after the media reported this matter.
The SLA Valuer also did not know the rental amount the Leasing Division had negotiated.
Public Servant Division to introduce standard declaration requirement for selected groups
Teo said that the Public Service Division would work with relevant ministries and statutory boards such as Housing Development Board, Jurong Town Council, National Environment Agency and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to introduce a standard declaration requirement for selected groups of officers who have access to or are involved in, leasing and valuation matters.
“Officers in these organisations who have access to privileged information and, or can, influence the outcomes of decisions will have to make a declaration before they can rent government properties managed by their agencies.”
Officers will have to declare that they have taken adequate steps to prevent any conflict of interest from arising, Teo informed.
Properties will include commercial and residential state properties, such as black and white bungalows, terraces, factory/office spaces, business parks, shops in neighbourhood centres, and hawker and market stalls.
“The Prime Minister will also review the declarations required for property transactions for ministers and PAP Members of Parliament,” Teo said.
Episode demonstrates “paramount importance of maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability”
Teo concluded his statement by stating how this episode surrounding the rental of the two Ridout Road properties demonstrates “the paramount importance of maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability in the government and nationally”.
“The extensive questions posed by Members from both sides of the House reflect the importance we place on the integrity and quality of Singapore’s system of government,” he said.
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