Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan explained why he and his wife wanted to rent the property at Ridout Road, and confirmed that they were not aware of the two prior bids until the release of Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’s (CPIB) report on June 30, 2023.
A parliamentary sitting on Jul. 3 saw four ministers, including Vivian, addressing the rentals of the black-and-white bungalows on Ridout Road.
Living together under one roof
Vivian said that the motivation to rent the property was to bring his entire extended family together under one roof, while his grandchildren were still young.
This includes ensuring that each nuclear family can live together with their children in the same bedroom.
In September 2018, Vivian’s wife, Mrs Balakrishnan, was visiting a friend and happened to drive past a property at number 31 with a prominent lease sign.
She called the phone number attached to the lease sign, which directed her to a property agent from Colliers International Consultancy & Valuation (Singapore) Private Limited.
The property agent from Colliers showed Vivian’s wife several black-and-white properties around the vicinity and stated that the asking rent for the Ridout Road property was S$19,000.
However, the property had been vacant since Jul. 2013 and it was in an advanced state of disrepair, Vivian said.
Extensive repairs necessary
Problems included a leaking roof, holes in the upstairs wooden floor, rotting wooden fixtures and major termite infestation.
Around the property, there were several large trees which had uprooted and collapsed, damaging the fence. The undergrowth was also unkempt, and snakes were seen both in and out of the house.
“It was obvious that extensive repairs would have been necessary to make the house liveable,” Vivian said, and noted that three adjacent properties were also undergoing comprehensive rebuilding.
Spent more than S$200,000 on improvements
Vivian said, “we went into this with our eyes open”, agreeing to the asking rent of the bungalow of S$19,000.
However, they wanted essential repairs of the house conducted and the toilets upgraded.
The managing agent from Colliers rejected this offer, as this “would constitute [an] improvement of the property”.
Subsequently, Vivian and his wife agreed to bear the cost of improving and upgrading the toilets.
“In fact, we have since spent more than S$200,000 on a variety of improvement work to the property,” he said, adding that they were aware this amount could not be recovered once the tenancy expires.
“In other words, we accepted the asking rent stipulated by the property agent and the limited scope of works proposed by the Managing Agent,” Vivian said.
The standard tenancy agreement with Colliers, which was signed by his wife in October 2019, was set for “three plus two plus two years”.
Not aware of two prior bids
At the time of signing, Vivian said he was not aware of the guide rent, or that there were two prior bids to the property in July and August 2018 until the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) report was published.
According to Vivian, the two prior bids were at S$12,000 and S$5,000 respectively.
He and his wife requested for and was granted a lease agreement in 2022. This time, the renewal for a second term was for “three plus two years”.
The rental was increased to S$20,000, which is what the Balakrishnans are currently paying per month.
“My wife and I were acutely aware that although we were dealing with Colliers’ property agent, the ultimate counterparty to our tenancy agreement was the government of Singapore,” Vivian said.
“At all times, we were scrupulously careful to ensure that everything was above board,” he added.
Vivian asserted that the agents from Colliers and the civil servants from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) always conducted themselves “professionally and with utmost integrity” throughout their engagements in the rental process.
No conflict of interest or criminal wrongdoing
During the same parliamentary sitting, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who conducted a review of the matter, confirmed there was no conflict of interest or any evidence of corruption or criminal wrongdoing, based on CPIB’s independent investigations.
“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 added.
Top image via MCI/YouTube.