TL; DR – No Wrongdoing Found: CPIB report clears Ministers and spouses in Ridout Road Rental Probe
In its report released today, June 28, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has dropped the gavel on the Ridout Road rental debacle, declaring Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan and their spouses cleared from wrongdoing.
CPIB conducted an independent review, and no special treatment was afforded to the parties. In its investigation, the CPIB report also revealed there was no abuse of position for personal gains and no disclosure of personal privileged information.
Here are the 5 key details you need to know:
- NO CORRUPTION FOUND: The CPIB is an independent Agency responsible for investigating corruption offences in Singapore and reports directly to the Prime Minister. The rental transactions of the Ridout Road state properties by Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have been investigated, and no corruption or criminal wrongdoing has been found. The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) concurs with the findings of the CPIB.
- NO SPECIAL TREATMENT OR DISCLOSURE OF PRIVILEGED INFORMATION: No special treatment or privileged information was provided regarding the rental process. Both properties, 26 and 31 Ridout Road, had been vacant since 2013. A couple of years later, the lease availability of both properties was made known to the general public – advertisement signs were displayed prominently at the gates.
- NOT IN THE RIGHT CONDITION TO LIVE IN: Since the properties were empty for quite some time, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) had to fix them substantially to make them livable. This is standard practice for SLA’s rented properties. Also, the Ministers made significant improvements to the properties at their own expense. When they finish their tenancies, the properties (with these improvements) will be returned to SLA.
- NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Mr Shanmugam made sure to eliminate any potential conflict of interest by stepping away from the decision-making process related to the rental. He even handed over the responsibility to his colleagues, the then- Senior Minister of State in MinLaw, Ms Indranee Rajah and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean. As for Minister Balakrishnan, his official duties do not involve the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), so no conflicts there!
- FAIR RENTAL PROCESS: Both Ministers were unaware of SLA’s minimum rental guidelines, also known as the Guide Rent. They determined their rental bids independently, which met the respective Guide Rents, and in line with market rates for similar properties. It was all done fairly and squarely!
This Ridout Road saga has been a subject of significant attention, causing a stir. Approximately 500 of these fancy black-and-white bungalows are found across Singapore, known for their historical significance.
According to this article, a house at 2 Seton Close on Orchard Road was tenanted for $42,800 monthly. It has an estimated floor area of 4,629 sq ft and a land area of 36,705 sq ft.
A similar property on Stevens Road was also recently rented for $30,823 per month, while a black-and-white semi-detached house in Bukit Timah was tenanted for $16,188 per month.
The jaw-dropping market value of such luxury digs has led to speculations and debates about the finances of these ministers and potential conflicts of interest.
Curious about how it all began? Here is the rundown on the Ridout Road Riddle:
- May 6: Opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam questions how the ministers could afford to rent the pricey properties at No. 26 and No. 31 Ridout Road.
- May 12: SLA confirms that Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan indeed rented the two properties. SLA states that the rentals were done in compliance with relevant procedures but did not disclose specific rental amounts.
- May 18: Several PAP Member of Parliament, including Mr Murali Pillai, files a parliamentary question, asking if Minister Shanmugam was involved in an official capacity in any decisions related to the rental and inquiring about fair, transparent, and competitive bidding processes.
- May 18: Workers’ Party leader Pritam Singh announces that he will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the Government’s reasons for not addressing the public allegations through a press conference in May. He also raises concerns about privileged information and rules preventing ministers from taking advantage of it.
- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean to review the matter and establish whether proper processes were followed and if any wrongdoing occurred.
- Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan supported an independent review to restate any doubts about their integrity. They want transparency (and they want it now!).
- The CPIB report cleared both ministers and their spouses of any misconduct.
Further Disclosure: More details on the matter, including the rental amounts and bidding process, will be provided during the parliamentary sitting in July.