Manpower Minister takes legal action after 'baseless' corruption claims over COVID-19 community care facilities

Manpower Minister takes legal action after 'baseless' corruption claims over COVID-19 community care facilities

Allegations of profiteering and corruption over the development of COVID-19 community care facilities are "false and malicious", say the Ministry of Health and Ministry of National Development.

EXPO exterior COVID-19 community isolation facility
The exterior of The Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria, where a community care facility (CCF) for COVID-19 patients has been set up.

SINGAPORE: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has instructed her lawyers to issue formal letters of demand to two people who accused her and her husband of profiteering and corruption in relation to COVID-19 community care facilities developed by Surbana Jurong, calling the allegations untrue and "completely baseless".

Mrs Teo's husband, Mr Teo Eng Cheong, is chief executive (International) of Surbana Jurong.

"Some false statements have recently been circulated, accusing me and my spouse of profiteering and corruption in relation to the community care facilities developed by Surbana Jurong," said a statement issued on Wednesday (May 20) by law firm Allen & Gledhill, on behalf of Mrs Teo.

"These claims are untrue, scurrilous and completely baseless.

"On these projects, Surbana Jurong dealt directly with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Development. Neither my spouse nor I have any involvement with the commissioning of these projects or the monetary transactions."

The legal letters demand that the allegations be publicly withdrawn. 

"I understand that I am legally entitled to substantial damages for these serious and baseless allegations. However, I do not intend to pursue the matter further, or to claim damages, if the allegations are publicly withdrawn, and apologies given. This has been made clear in my lawyers’ letters," said the statement.

"The letters also require the two persons to make a donation of S$1,000 each to the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund."

In response to queries from CNA, Allen & Gledhill confirmed that the two people who were issued letters of demand are Jolovan Wham and Donald Liew.

READ: Accusations of 'profiteering and corruption' over COVID-19 community care facilities untrue: Surbana Jurong

Surbana Jurong, a Temasek-owned company, had helped to develop the community care facilities at the Singapore Expo and Changi Exhibition Centre. These facilities house COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms, or recovering patients who have been discharged from hospital. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of National Development (MND) said the allegations of profiteering and corruption over Surbana Jurong's development of the facilities are "false and malicious".

"The Government accepts that legitimate questions can be raised about the spending, and is fully prepared to explain why and how money was spent," said the ministries in a joint press release.

"However, the Government will respond firmly and appropriately to any scurrilous allegation of corruption."

CONVERTING SINGAPORE EXPO INTO A COMMUNITY CARE FACILITY

Detailing the process in which the community care facilities were developed, MOH and MND said those facilities - along with additional government quarantine facilities and community recovery facilities - had to be "built and prepared quickly, in a matter of days".

The Government asked Temasek to help "at short notice", the ministries said.

"Temasek was approached because it had the necessary resources, to be marshalled, at short notice, through its subsidiaries," they added.

"Temasek agreed to assist, and also agreed that the work done by Temasek and its linked companies, would be done at cost recovery basis, and in some cases, below cost. 

"There will be no profit made by Temasek and its linked companies for the work done. The Temasek linked companies agreed with these arrangements."

The Singapore Expo was then identified by Temasek as a suitable venue for a community care facility. It asked Surbana Jurong to convert it into Singapore's first large-scale community care facility.

SAF Medical Corps deployed at Singapore Expo COVID-19 3
A community isolation facility has been set up at the Singapore Expo. (Photo: Ministry of Defence)

READ: Stretched but coping: How Singapore's healthcare system has cranked up efforts to deal with COVID-19

Temasek also asked other companies to help with the Singapore Expo development, including overall project coordinator PSA International, Singapore Technologies Engineering and Sheares Healthcare. 

External vendors such as Parkway Pantai, Resorts World Sentosa and Certis Cisco also contributed to the development of the Singapore Expo community care facility.

MOH worked with Temasek and the other entities on the healthcare requirements and needs for the community care facility site. 

Once these were confirmed, MND liaised with the entities on the payments for the development of the Singapore Expo community care facility.

"This is because MND has also been liaising with other parties to pay for the provision of other facilities, like the dedicated stay-home notice facilities," the press release added.

Temasek did not charge any management fees and has only invoiced MND for expenses paid to third parties, the ministries said.

The Temasek-linked companies, including Surbana Jurong, will only charge for "direct expenditure", at cost.

"Some aspects were charged at below normal cost," the release said. 

The Government was told by Temasek that SingEx Venues, which manages the Expo, will not charge the full capex cost.

"The Ministry of Manpower and the Minister for Manpower were not involved in the selection of Surbana Jurong (or any of the parties) to participate in the development of the Singapore Expo community care facility, and were not involved in the process of managing the costs of the project," said the ministries.

The Community Isolation Facility for Covid-19 patients at the Singapore Expo and Max Atria.
The Community Isolation Facility for COVID-19 patients at the Singapore Expo and Max Atria. (Photo: Ministry of Health)

On Tuesday, Surbana Jurong also refuted "unfounded accusations of profiteering and corruption in some social media posts" about the setting up and running of community care facilities, but did not specify which posts it was referring to.

The company said it would not hesitate to take legal action against "any perpetrator who continues to make scurrilous attacks" against it. 

"Surbana Jurong worked with the other partners to complete the development of the Singapore Expo community care facility in a very short time," MND and MOH said. 

"It was able to leverage its sourcing processes to obtain construction and other needed materials on an urgent basis. 

"Despite the tight timelines and extensive work that was required, Surbana Jurong provided its expertise to develop the Singapore Expo community care facility at cost, without any profit or management fee."

MOH and MND thanked the parties involved in the fight against COVID-19, including Temasek companies, private sector companies, and other Singaporeans.

"We are grateful to all who have worked hard and around the clock to set up the Singapore Expo community care facility under extraordinary circumstances. 

"This is a testament to the whole-of-society effort that has made it possible for us to combat and manage the COVID-19 virus."

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Source: CNA/ic(mi/gs)

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