Josephine Teo takes legal action after 'baseless' corruption claims over COVID-19 community care facilities

A hall at the Singapore EXPO Convention and Exhibition Centre, which has been repurposed into a COVID-19 community care facility. (PHOTO: MOH)

UPDATE ON 21 MAY, 3.45PM: The story has been updated with a statement issued by law firm Allen & Gledhill on behalf of Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

SINGAPORE — Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has requested that her lawyers issue formal letters of demand to two individuals who have posted statements accusing her and her husband of profiteering and corruption in relation to COVID-19 community care facilities developed by Surbana Jurong.

“These claims are untrue, scurrilous and completely baseless,” said a statement issued by law firm Allen & Gledhill on behalf of Teo on Wednesday (20 May).

Teo’s husband is Teo Eng Cheong, the international chief executive in charge of urban and infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong’s Singapore, South-east Asia, and North Asia markets.

The consultancy had dealt directly with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) on these projects, the statement added.

“Neither my spouse nor I have any involvement with the commissioning of these projects or the monetary transactions. In any case, Surbana Jurong has stated that ‘In service of the community, we will continue to provide our expertise to projects related to managing the COVID-19 crisis on a cost-recovery basis’,” the statement said.

“Accusations of profiteering and corruption are unfounded,” it added.

In the statement, Teo also said that she does not intend to pursue the matter further or to claim damages if the allegations are publicly withdrawn and apologies are given, despite being “legally entitled to substantial damages”.

The letters also require the two individuals to make a donation of $1,000 each to the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund, the statement added.

In response to media queries by Yahoo News Singapore, Allen & Gledhill identified the two individuals who were issued the formal letters of demand as civil activist Jolovan Wham and Donald Liew.

Liew has since deleted his post on Facebook and issued an apology on the social media platform.

Joint statement by MOH, MND

This comes on the same day that the authorities debunked the “false and malicious” allegations of profiteering and corruption in the development of the Singapore EXPO community care facility by Surbana Jurong, assuring the public that the project was carried out at or below cost, and that all actions had been above board.

“The government accepts that legitimate questions can be raised about the spending, and is fully prepared to explain why and how money was spent. However, the government will respond firmly and appropriately to any scurrilous allegation of corruption,” said the MOH and the MND in a joint statement.

Both Teo’s and the ministries’ statements come a day after Surbana Jurong issued its own statement to refute the claims, which had been circulating on social media and messaging platforms.

"We absolutely refute the allegations and will not hesitate to take legal action against any perpetrator who continues to make scurrilous attacks against our company,” said the consultancy.

One of the several social media posts had alleged conflicts of interest given the the role of Teo's husband in Surbana Jurong.

Wednesday’s joint statement stressed that both the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and its minister were not involved in the selection of the consultancy – or any of the parties – to participate in the development of the community care facility at the EXPO. Both were also not involved in the process of managing the costs of the project.

It noted that the consultancy worked with the other partners to complete the development of the EXPO community care facility in a very short time, and 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,” the joint statement added.

In the same statement, the authorities also detailed their process behind working with Temasek Holdings – and through the state investment firm, Surbana Jurong – to help build and prepare the necessarily facilities required for the needs of COVID-19 patients.

As the facilities needed to be built and prepared “quickly in a matter of days”, the government approached Temasek as it had the necessary resources to be marshalled, at short notice, through its subsidiaries, said the MOH and MND.

‘Cost-recovery basis’

The authorities added that Temasek had committed to assist as well as agreed that the work done by its linked companies would be done at a “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,” said the statement.

Temasek later identified the EXPO as a suitable venue and had asked Surbana Jurong to convert it into Singapore’s first large-scale community care facility with 8,000 beds.

“Temasek also asked other companies, including PSA International (which was the overall project co-ordinator), Singapore Technologies Engineering and Sheares Healthcare to help. External vendors such as Parkway Pantai, Resorts World Sentosa, and Certis Cisco also played a crucial role in the successful development of the Singapore EXPO community care facility,” the statement added.

The MOH worked with Temasek and the other entities on the healthcare requirements and needs for the site.

“The government worked out a comprehensive strategy to care for COVID-19 patients at different stages of their infection, and based on their need for different types of treatment,” the statement said.

“The majority (of patients) needed accommodation where they can be isolated, until their infectious stage has passed. These were designated community care facilities. Those admitted to (them) are persons with mild or no symptoms, or are recovering patients who have been discharged from hospital.”

Once the requirements and needs of the sites were confirmed, MND liaised with the entities on the payments for the development of the 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,” said the statement.

It added that Temasek did not charge any management fees “for all the work” it had done and only invoiced the MND for expenses paid to third parties.

“Temasek also confirmed that its linked companies, including Surbana Jurong will only charge for direct expenditure, at cost. Some aspects were charged at below normal cost,” said the statement.

One example would be that Temasek had told the government that SingEx Venues, which manages the EXPO, would not charge the full capital expenditure cost, since it was not being used for normal business during the COVID-19 situation.

“Many parties have stepped forward to help in the fight against COVID-19. These include the Temasek companies, private sector companies, as well as thousands of 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,” the statement added.

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