Officials deny foot-dragging in privatising state firms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2002, 12:00am

The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to cut its stake in business, contradicting claims that the process may be frustrated by leading citizens with positions or shares in government-linked companies.

The allegation was made in an online document claiming to catalogue commercial links between ministers, civil servants, military officers and the companies. Copies have been circulated to foreign media in the city state.

The commentary said some of these individuals may oppose the continued divestment of state-linked assets as such sales may 'hurt [their] employment, income and ownership interests'.

A Ministry of Finance spokesman said: 'The Government has stated all along its willingness to divest its shareholdings but will do so only if the market conditions are favourable and the price [is] right.'

The online document carried the name Tan Boon Seng but efforts to trace him have been unsuccessful. The ministry said it did not know the writer.

The ministry spokesman said government-linked companies were run on commercial lines, with appointments to boards or employment based on merit.

'The Government does not influence the operational decision of these companies,' the spokesman said.

'However, the Government expects that all companies in which it has shareholdings to be well-run and competitive on a commercial basis.'

The companies accounted for about 13 per cent of gross domestic product last year, according to an official estimate. In recent years, this proportion has shrunk as some have been privatised.

At present, the fate of the remaining companies is being debated by the Economic Review Committee. The ad hoc body was set up last year to create a fresh blueprint for the country's economic strategy.

The document may be an attempt to influence the course of the Economic Review Committee's recommendations, which will be released in two batches. A first set of proposals will come with the Budget in May; another set will follow in August or September.

The document has attracted interest in Singapore because of the in-depth information it claims to carry. Some of its content is common knowledge but much of the rest is more obscure and would require significant research to collate.

It lists, for example, more than 50 senior government officials who hold what it describes as 'key appointments in [government-linked companies] while still in government'.

There are equally extensive lists of the interests allegedly held by present and former cabinet ministers and their relatives; active and retired senior military personnel; and serving and former members of Parliament for the ruling People's Action Party in the companies.

The document concludes: 'Given that state involvement in business could be benefitting the Government and the people closely connected to it, it is appreciable that even greater resolve would be needed this time for a policy revision'.