“This accounting in Parliament is not just to resolve the issue of the rentals of two Black and White properties in Ridout Road,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Parliament today (Jul 3).
“Important as that is, it’s also a demonstration of how the PAP is determined to uphold the standards which it has set itself from the beginning in 1959.”
These standards include honesty, integrity and credibility — Singaporeans expect these.
PM Lee’s speech came at the end of five full hours of our MPs questioning and Ministerial statements regarding Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian renting Ridout Road properties — and after extensive investigations by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Singapore’s highest anti-corruption agency, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
“When the two Ministers asked me to conduct an investigation independent of their Ministries, I decided that notwithstanding my confidence in them and in the system, it would be best for me to task CPIB to conduct a formal investigation and to establish definitively if there was any corruption or wrongdoing,” stated PM Lee.
Accounting for broader issues beyond criminal conduct
“Everybody in Singapore knows what it means when CPIB invites you to lim kopi,” said PM Lee.
“And they can invite anybody; Ministers, officials, businessmen, ordinary Singaporeans, whoever it is necessary for them to interview in order to establish the facts and the truth,” he added about the CPIB’s independence and commitment to accountability.
So this investigation went beyond the legal question of if there was criminal conduct. It also accounted for broader issues: if the Ministers enjoyed preferential treatment; if privileged information was disclosed to them; if they had abused the position on the rentals.
“As PM, my duty is not just to be satisfied that legally there was no wrongdoing. But whether quite apart from the law there was any other kind of misconduct or impropriety,” explained PM Lee.
PM Lee concurrently chose SM Teo to lead the concurrent, complementary review of the two Ministers because of his seniority in the Cabinet and his experience — SM Teo was the most qualified and capable person for the job.
“I appointed him to show that I had every intention to maintain the Government’s and the PAP’s longstanding high and stringent standards of integrity and propriety,” said PM Lee.
And the result of all these investigations?
“Their conclusions are quite clear. As the Ministerial statements you’ve heard earlier have explained from Senior Minister Teo and Minister Edwin Tong, CPIB found no corruption or wrongdoing.”
“No preferential treatment, no disclosure of privileged information, no abuse of position for personal gain. The AGC confirmed this after reviewing the investigation papers,” he added.
“And the Leader of the Opposition paid CPIB and paid the Government a compliment just now when he said nobody is suggesting corruption on the part of the Ministers.”
MPs Sitoh, Nadia and Zhulkarnain pressed with questions
“It’s very important that we’ve had this accounting, and Parliament Members have had full opportunity to ask questions and clarify doubts,” said PM Lee.
Our MPs, for example, sought clarifications from SM Teo, Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian and Minister Tong relating to the extensive review, from whether there was a conflict of interest to whether the Code of Conduct for Ministers — which detail how Ministers need to uphold the highest standards of behaviour and integrity — was breached.
In response to MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim’s (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and other MPs’ questions on whether there was a conflict of interest and if there was a breach in the Code, SM Teo explained that in this case, there was a potential for conflict of interest when Mr Shanmugam expressed interest in renting a black-and-white property managed by Singapore Land Authority, as the agency comes under the Ministry of Law.
However, Mr Shanmugam recused himself from any decision-making on the matter and prevented the potential conflict of interest. Hence, there was no breach of the code of conduct because, added SM Teo.
Also, MP Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked the Ministers to address allegations that contracts for works relating to the properties were awarded to Livspace, a company in which Mr Shanmugam’s son is chief executive.
In response to MP Nadia’s question, Minister Tong said that contracts for works on SLA-owned properties are awarded through open tenders, and that Livspace is unconnected with works on the two properties.
“I think the sting of these allegations is that there’s a preference given to this (company) that is completely scurrilous and unwarranted. There is no basis to suggest it,” said Minister Tong.
And regarding Minister Shanmugam’s rental transaction, MP Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir SMC) also questioned if it was appropriate for Minister Shanmugam to ask the then deputy secretary of his ministry for a list of available properties.
Minister Shanmugam said that he asked the deputy secretary instead of asking SLA directly so that “there was total transparency”. The deputy secretary is a senior administrative service officer and would keep the permanent secretary informed, and report to the head of the civil service or the prime minister if he felt it was necessary.
It was a detailed session of Parliament, then, and coming after a month of detailed investigations into the Ridout matter: They were needed, as PM Lee detailed.
Singaporeans can be assured too, that we will also not hesitate to uphold these standards.
“In other cases which come up, we will investigate. And whichever way the facts follow, it will be taken to the logical conclusion,” said PM Lee.
“This is the foundation not just for the people’s trust in the PAP Government, but for the integrity and good functioning of our political system,” he added.
“And this is my commitment and the PAP Government’s unwavering commitment to Singaporeans.”