SINGAPORE: Following the emergence of significant information regarding a notable alteration in the professional trajectory of Akilan Shanmugaratnam, the son of the presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam, there has been a substantial online discussion.
In response, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Public Service Division (PSC) Secretariat have promptly issued an official statement to comprehensively address this matter.
Notably, the Singapore Government Directory website has been duly updated to accurately reflect Akilan’s new and pivotal job assignment.
The statement also emphasized that there exists “no conflict of interest” between Akilan’s current position and his father’s presidential candidacy.
“Akilan was previously working in the Reserves and Investment Directorate at MOF. No conflict of interest occurred in his previous work at the Directorate, ” the statement wrote.
“The decision was made in July to rotate him and preempt any possible potential for conflict of interest situations in the presidential election. Akilan was treated like all other Overseas Merit Scholars, according to prevailing policies.”
Addressing the media shortly after the MOF’s statement released on Wednesday, Mr Tharman, a former senior minister of the People’s Action Party (PAP), emphasized that the statement should be accepted “at face value” and “there’s nothing for me to answer”.
According to the Straits Times, he was asked about his thoughts on the statement, as well as online suggestions that Mr Akilan’s job description was changed hastily on Wednesday after it received public attention.
“These are stray bullets, ” he said, “Are you suggesting that MOF and the PSC were inventing facts? Can’t be, right? So I think it speaks for itself. ”
Ravi Philemon, Secretary-General of Red Dot United, commented on the matter, shedding light on how Mr Tharman characterized these inquiries as “stray bullets,” possibly intended to convey the message that such queries are ‘below-the-belt’.
Nevertheless, Philemon firmly asserted that these questions hold substantial significance. He argued that they penetrate the very core of accountability and transparency in governance.
While Mr Tharman has often been recognized for his composed demeanor, Philemon pointed out that even he appears perturbed by the ongoing inquiries—a sentiment that is understandable, given that the questions centre around his own family.
However, Mr Philemon said Mr Tharman could have demonstrated his commitment to transparency by dispelling the perception of any possible conflict of interests earlier.
“This is precisely what people were calling for even in the Ridout saga, right?”
“In the Ridout saga, while investigations found no evidence of corruption, questions remain about conflicts of interest beyond the narrow scope prescribed by law and the disconnect between the political elite and everyday citizens.”
As MOF and the PSC Secretariat has clarified on the matter, Mr Philemon pointed out that these facts remain: Akilan disrupted his National Service (NS) after completing his post-secondary education in 2010 to pursue a degree from 2011 to 2015, and only returned to serve his NS after completing his four-year degree.
He emphasized the significant disparity, noting that the deferment of NS could indeed be considered a “privilege not accorded to (I would dare say) 99.99% of Singaporeans”.
Another pertinent fact is that at the time of Mr. Tharman’s entry into the Presidential contest, Akilan held a position within MOF. This situation sparked concerns about potential conflicts of interest should his father assume the presidency.
“Even now, no one has any clue as to how Mr Tharman’s potential election to the Office of Elected President might intersect with his son’s responsibilities within MOF.”
Hence, he stressed that questions he raised earlier are not ‘below-the-belt,’ but they are fair and aimed at fostering a fairer, accountable, and transparent society.
“It’s essential for voters to bear this in mind when they head to the polls on September 1, 2023.”