Did the Government fail to provide former President Ong Teng Cheong with sufficient information to protect the Past Reserves?
A misperception that crops up from time to time is that former President Ong had been denied the information needed for him to perform an effective role in protecting the Past Reserves. In fact, President Ong was given all the information required for the purpose. This information included the value of all the Governments financial assets, as well as a listing of physical assets, such as buildings and land.
At his 16 July 1999 press conference, President Ong spoke of how he had been informed by the Accountant-General that it would take "52 man-years" to produce the value of the full list of physical assets of the Government.
The facts of the case were explained by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in Parliament on 17 August 1999, as summarised below:
The President's Office had requested a listing of physical assets from the Accountant-General on 18 Jun 1996. At a meeting with the President on 14 Aug 1996 (i.e. less than two months later), the Accountant-General provided a listing of State buildings, while the Commissioner of Lands provided a listing of State lands.
Updates were subsequently sent to the President's Office.
It was at this meeting that the President remarked that to protect the Past Reserves, the reserves should ideally be denominated in dollar value. To this, the Accountant-General said that it would take 56 man-years  to conduct a complete valuation of the physical assets, even though he had already produced the listing (without valuation figures).
The Attorney-General's Chambers subsequently advised that there was no need to revalue all State properties at each changeover of the term of Government, as the question of whether Past Reserves were being drawn did not arise unless a piece of land was actually about to be sold off or alienated. At the point of sale, land is valued, and the Reserves protection framework requires only that the land be sold at fair market value.
Furthermore, the proposed revaluation would be a waste of resources. First, the reality was that much of State land would remain as State land, i.e. unsold. Second, the value of each piece of land depended on planning and zoning restrictions, which the Government could change.
Click here for the Parliamentary speeches by former Prime Minister and former Minister for Finance Dr Richard Hu (17 August 1999)
Click here for the subsequent Parliamentary Q&As (17 August 1999)
 "56 man-years" does not mean it takes 56 years to complete the task. A man-year is a measure of the amount of work to be done, and not of the time it will take to do it.
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