Ministerial Committee’s Potential Conflict of Interest?
A lot of things were brought to the public’s eyes when Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean released a statement on Saturday (June 17).
The statement addressed many of the issue that were raised by the Lee siblings, among which was the list of members in the highly disputed Ministerial Committee.
This immediately sparked outrage from Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who claimed that there was a blatant conflict of interest among the members of the committee.
What’s a Conflict of Interest (COI)
This term is not one that you hear everyday, but it is something that is a crucial nuance in the Singapore legal system.
Perspective 1: Why there IS a conflict of interest
We understand that it might be very hard to wrap your heads around the concept of COI, so here’s an absurd analogy that simplifies the concept —
- You need to buy a $200,000 truck for your company, co-owned by Tom and Dick in equal share.
- Tom and Dick can’t decide on the truck to get.
- To be fair to everyone, Tom nominates the most virtuous person in the company to decide which truck to get.
- That person is you.
- You know Tom really loves Truck A and Tom insists Truck A is the best truck ever made.
- Because Tom also happens to be best friends with you and you go way back since secondary school.
- Ideally, you should get something which is best for the company.
- But you may feel pressured to get Truck A because you don’t want to disappoint him and you also believe him to be smarter than Dick as you know Tom better.
- Therefore, there is a conflict of interest as your relationship with your Tom complicates things.
- Even if you acted in complete fairness, people are always going to point out the relationship you have to Tom, as he is not an ‘independent’ decision maker.
- And Dick naturally is going to be very angry when he realises the employee Tom picked was you.
Using this concept, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling argued that the decisions made by the four members of the Ministerial Committee will be in favour of PM Lee.
Since all four ministers are technically subordinates of PM Lee, LHY and LWL persist that there is a COI present, i.e their decisions will be tainted because of their desires to oblige to their boss’s wish (PM Lee).
They also singled out Mr K Shanmugam for being involved in the committee, because they claimed that he had previously advised the late LKY on the matter. Given that he offered LKY his advice on the best path to achieve his wish of demolishing the house, it would be a COI for him to get a seat on the committee.
Perspective 2: Why there is NO Conflict of Interest
In very strongly-worded comebacks from both Mr Shanmugam and DPM Teo, they explained how PM Lee had not been involved in the Cabinet’s discussions on this committee. They reiterated that even PM Lee himself had “recused himself from all Government decisions concerning the House”.
DPM Teo also assured that any opinions from PM Lee were considered views of LKY’s eldest son, and not those of a Prime Minister. He also chairs the committee.
DPM Teo also expressed that this was not a simple case, because the house at 38 Oxley Road bears national significance. He released a statement saying —
“The Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance, and this applies to 38 Oxley Road. Many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders.”
If it is a national matter, it makes sense to have a committee full of elected ministers, who would be qualified to make the best decision.
Mr Shanmugam also crafted a Facebook post where he called the allegations of a COI “ridiculous”.
He explained that any advice that he had given to the members of the Lee family on this issue had been purely by request, and from the standpoint of Cabinet Minister. Since none of them were clients of his, Mr Shanmugam saw no reason for there to be a COI with his position on the committee.
Moreover, if the Ministers remain professional and fair, there is no reason for there to be a COI in this issue.
What Do You Think?
Is there a conflict of interest that precludes the Ministers from having a seat on the committee?
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Featured image from MustShareNews