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Indranee chides NCMP Leong for 'cynical attempt to stoke anxiety' over govt spending on Sports Hub, SPH Media Trust

SINGAPORE — Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance, chided Mr Leong Mun Wai, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), for not understanding expenditure figures or the rationale behind government spending, and for trying to "stoke anxiety and disquiet" among Singaporeans.

Ms Indranee Rajah (left), Second Minister for Finance, responded to opposition party member Leong Mun Wai (right) after he raised an adjournment motion on Oct 3, 2022.

Ms Indranee Rajah (left), Second Minister for Finance, responded to opposition party member Leong Mun Wai (right) after he raised an adjournment motion on Oct 3, 2022.

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  • Mr Leong Mun Wai questioned the rationale behind the Government's spending on the Singapore Sports Hub and SPH Media Trust
  • The opposition party member said in Parliament that the costs incurred could have been used to help Singaporeans who are struggling financially
  • Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance, said that the Government had explained several times its rationale for financial spending on the issues he raised
  • She chided Mr Leong for either not understanding “expenditure figures or rationale” or trying to stoke anxiety among Singaporeans
  • Mr Leong's line of questioning was not useful of the Government's time, she added

SINGAPORE — Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance, chided Mr Leong Mun Wai, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), for not understanding expenditure figures or the rationale behind government spending, and for trying to "stoke anxiety and disquiet" among Singaporeans.

This was on Monday (Oct 3) in Parliament after Mr Leong questioned the reasoning behind the Government’s expenditures on SPH Media Trust and the Singapore Sports Hub in his parliamentary speech.

In turn, Ms Indranee questioned Mr Leong’s motive for repeatedly pursuing his allegations about the Government’s management of public funds despite the Government having explained this several times before.

She said: “A charitable view is that Mr Leong genuinely does not understand the expenditure figures or the rationale that has been explained… And if he does understand them, then there is only one other conclusion — which is that this can only be a deliberate and cynical attempt to stoke anxiety and disquiet, confuse Singaporeans and damage the Government.”

TAXPAYERS’ MONEY

The Leader of the House was responding to Mr Leong’s adjournment motion titled “Ensuring better oversight of public expenditures”.

In his speech, Mr Leong, who is from the opposition Progress Singapore Party, raised the issue of funding for non-profit media entity SPH Media Trust and the termination of the public-private partnership to operate the Sports Hub, claiming that they cost a total of S$2.4 billion in taxpayers’ money.

In the case of SPH Media Trust, Mr Leong questioned the “significant outlay” of taxpayers’ money of up to S$900 million to fund the media operations of SPH Media Trust over the next five years.

The trust was set up in December last year and involved restructuring and transferring the media operations of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), including national daily The Straits Times, to the trust.

Mr Leong said that SPH shareholders should have left behind a larger share of SPH’s property assets to support the print media business under the SPH Media Trust, instead of taxpayers’ money being used to foot the bill.

Referring to past parliamentary replies to him on the issue, Mr Leong called on the Government to explain why it chose to agree to SPH’s restructuring proposal.

In the case of the Sports Hub, Mr Leong questioned the “significant expense” incurred by taxpayers in the form of the S$1.5 billion contract termination cost to be paid to Sports Hub Pte Ltd (SHPL), a private consortium.

The Government had announced in June that it would take over the full running of the Sports Hub from this December, terminating the public-private partnership agreement it had with SHPL 13 years ahead of time.

Mr Leong also said that the cost of S$1.2 billion in outstanding financial liabilities that the Government took over from SHPL for the construction of the Sports Hub was “too high”.

Using figures provided by the Government in the past, Mr Leong said he estimated that SHPL had an outstanding loan of S$920 million and a total accumulated reserve of S$320 million.

This means that the Government should only pay the difference of S$600 million as outstanding financial liabilities to SHPL, he added.

Mr Leong also said that the cost incurred on these two projects could go towards helping Singaporeans who are struggling financially, such as exempting them from two years of additional Goods and Services Tax (GST) or to fund ComCare cash payouts for needy individuals or households.

He asked the Government to address his clarifications and refer the expenditures to the Public Accounts Committee for follow-up after the adjournment motion. This parliamentary committee examines various accounts of the Government to meet public expenditure.

ALLEGATIONS ‘WITHOUT BASIS’

In her response, Ms Indranee said that Mr Leong's “various allegations” about the Sports Hub and SPH Media Trust were “without basis”.

She repeated the Government’s stance on the two projects, pointing out that the contract with SHPL was terminated because the Government believed that Singaporeans would be better served by the Government managing the Sports Hub.

On Mr Leong’s point that the termination sum was too high, Ms Indranee, who is a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the full cost of termination is comparable to the financial obligation the Government would have to pay SHPL if the Government had chosen to continue with the contract.

This means that the Government is not paying SHPL more than what it would otherwise have committed to under the public-private partnership model.

In the case of SPH Media Trust, Ms Indranee repeated the Government’s stance that its support will allow the trust to sustain and develop news media here.

She said that SPH shareholders “could have walked away” if the restructuring involved a higher contribution from them.

Ms Indranee added that Mr Leong’s adjournment motion involved building “a giant edifice of figures” based on publicly available information.

“Then in a giant leap of logic, he then attempts to link the Sports Hub and the SPH Media Trust matters to a completely unrelated issue — the GST and now also to ComCare.”

Ms Indranee also said that Mr Leong’s motion is an attempt to portray the Government as "profligate and heedless of our expenses".

"Nothing could be further from the truth,” she added, noting that in “persisting with these insinuations”, he is doing a disservice to Singapore, the Government and public servants.

“I ask Members of this House and Singaporeans not to be taken in, but to reject these bogus allegations and to support the Government."

NOT USEFUL OF GOVERNMENT’S TIME

Seeking clarifications, Mr Leong said that Ms Indranee had made it seem that the information he had mentioned in his speech was “totally useless”.

He asked: “If the Government didn’t bother to answer the questions I have raised, can the Government allege that the information is not useful and so all my allegations are without basis?”

In response, Ms Indranee said that Mr Leong’s approach is to ask a question whenever the Government explains a set of figures. In turn, the Government will respond with an explanation for the figures provided.

“Mr Leong will then say, ‘Oh, but what about this, or how about we change that, how about we have another scenario A, or how about scenario B, how about scenario B and a half, how about scenario C?’

“And every time, the Government is required, according to Mr Leong, to respond to all of these, which have no bearing to the figures of the original transaction.

“That is not something which is useful of the Government's time to do,” she added.

Related topics

SPH Media Trust Singapore Sports Hub Leong Mun Wai Indranee Rajah Parliament

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