Sixth Pofma order for Kenneth Jeyaretnam over false claims on Ridout Road rentals, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Sixth Pofma order for Kenneth Jeyaretnam over false claims on Ridout Road rentals

Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam and two alternative news websites have been ordered to put up correction notices under the law against fake news, over false statements claiming that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) had mismanaged state properties.

Mr Jeyaretnam had on Feb 16 posted on his website, The Ricebowl Singapore, claiming that the SLA had charged Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan rents below market value for their respective residences at 26 and 31 Ridout Road, implying that they had been given preferential tenancy terms.

The article was also shared on Facebook, LinkedIn and X, formerly known as Twitter, the Ministry of Law said on Feb 18.

Alternative news sites Gutzy Asia and The Online Citizen Asia were also instructed to publish corrections for posts on this issue on the former’s website and X account, and on both their Facebook accounts.

The correction notices will have to state that the posts contain a false statement of fact and provide a link to the Government’s clarification.

The correction order was issued by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office under the instruction of Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong.

In his Feb 16 post, Mr Jeyaretnam said that he had “evidence which suggests... the rentals for 26 and 31 (Ridout Road) were unusually low”.

He cited the monthly rentals paid by Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan – $26,500 and $20,000 respectively – for their residences, and compared them with the highest recent rental bid of $22,242 for a residence at 41 Malcolm Road.

Mr Jeyaretnam said that the monthly rents of the Ridout Road properties should be “at least double if not more given their more prestigious location, higher total GFAs (gross floor areas) and vast gardens”.

“What appears to be mismanagement of our precious land reserves and failure to secure the best possible rental for the Ridout Road properties is purely the result of incompetence on the part of the SLA management,” he said.

A statement on government fact-checking website Factually said that Mr Jeyaretnam’s claims were untrue and misleading, and that he had omitted facts pertaining to the review of the matter by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The statement said that the review found that the SLA had rented out the two Ridout Road properties – which had been vacant for years – at fair market value and not below market valuation.

“The market conditions were weak and generally on a downward trajectory,” the statement added.

The SLA then renewed the tenancies of 26 and 31 Ridout Road in 2021 and 2022, after initial three-year terms. These were also done at market rates, with a revaluation of the rentals by professional valuers to peg the amounts to the prevailing market rate.

Mr Shanmugam had also recused himself in respect of the rental transaction for 26 Ridout Road, and the professional valuer did not know who the prospective tenant was at that time, the statement said.

The facts are public, and were established in SM Teo’s report on his review of the matter, and covered in Parliament on July 3, 2023. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau did not find any evidence that the ministers were given favourable rental rates because of their positions.

In relation to the comparison between the Ridout Road properties and 41 Malcolm Road, the statement said: “It is misleading for Mr Jeyaretnam to suggest that the properties are directly comparable, without making any attempt to refer to the established facts relating to the rentals of 26 and 31 Ridout Road, or to account for the fact that property market conditions do not remain static.

“Market conditions today are stronger than they were when the Ridout Road properties were initially rented out and subsequently renewed.”

It also noted that the SLA grants tenancies of heritage bungalows on two- or three-year terms, and up to 3+3+3 years depending on several factors, including the costs that the tenant would incur to live in the property.

“The ministers had incurred substantial costs to improve the state properties, the benefit of which will accrue to the state when the tenancies eventually come to an end,” the statement said, noting that both rentals kept within the 3+3+3 maximum tenancy period.

These facts are also public, and made clear in the review’s findings and in Parliament on July 3, 2023, the statement said.

It added that Mr Jeyaretnam “has a track record of publishing false statements” regarding the Ridout Road properties, pointing out that he was issued with Pofma correction directions on this matter five times between July and November 2023.

“His latest article shows that he chooses to persist in making false statements on the matter, even though he clearly knows the true facts,” the statement said.

“The Government takes a serious view of Mr Jeyaretnam’s conduct and will consider if any further action should be taken against him.”

Mr Jeyaretnam has since put up the Pofma correction notice on his website and social media accounts. Gutzy Asia has also put up the correction notice on its website and Facebook post. The Online Citizen Asia has done likewise on its Facebook account.

Pofma correctionKenneth JeyaretnamK ShanmugamVivian Balakrishnan