Three days ago, New Nation, a local satire website, published this article.
It turns out that this joke, like many of the comments we heard from the Lee siblings this week, is actually much closer to the truth than we all might have thought.
On Saturday, the Lee family saga introduced to us a new character: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
As head of the Ministerial Committee to think about what could/will/should happen to 38 Oxley Road, Teo proposed the above as one of the options as a compromise for the Lee siblings — demolishing the above-ground section of the house, while preserving the basement where the late Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party’s pioneer founding leaders gathered.
And here’s a quick summary of his statement:
1. The members of the committee are:
– K Shanmugam, Minister for home affairs and law
– Grace Fu, Minister for community, culture and youth
– Lawrence Wong, Minister for national development, and it’s chaired by
– DPM Teo, Coordinating minister for national security and head of the civil service.
2. DPM Teo said the committee is looking at options available while paying particular attention to Mr Lee’s wishes for the house.
These, he says, include demolishing the above-ground section of the house while preserving the basement where the late Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party’s pioneer founding leaders gathered.
3. This was stated in a couple of other instances, but Lee Hsien Yang now owns the house.
We recall that he struck an agreement with PM Lee to buy it over from him (the entire house was bequeathed to PM Lee initially) at market value, and then fork out an additional half of the house’s value to charity, something it appears PM Lee also resolved to do.
4. The committee exists now, as opposed to after Lee Wei Ling moves out of the house, because it will take some time to arrive at a decision on which option to take regarding it.
He explains it’s because:
a) Lee Wei Ling may move out anytime and they don’t know when;
b) because initially Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang wanted to demolish the house right away in March 2015 even though Lee Wei Ling wanted to continue living in it, and
c) because DPM Teo feels it’s better for a group of ministers who have talked about LKY’s house with the man himself to have a few options for “the government of the day” to choose between when Wei Ling moves out.
5. The reason his committee asked for further clarification is the three Lee siblings gave differing takes on what their dad wanted to do with his house.
He does not say what they each said, although we do now know that it appears to be that Wei Ling and Hsien Yang want the house to be demolished after Wei Ling moves out, while Hsien Loong is unsure demolishing is the only option their dad was open to considering — since he’s now questioning the circumstances behind the execution of LKY’s last will.
This is his full statement:
Following the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee Hsien Loong had recused himself from all Government decisions to be taken on 38 Oxley Road. I chair Cabinet should any deliberations take place on this property.
I set up a Ministerial Committee to consider the options for 38 Oxley Road and the implications of these options. This was explained in the statement by the Cabinet Secretary of 14 June 2017.
There is nothing “secret” about this committee. It is a committee like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to consider specific issues.
I chair this particular committee, and included cabinet members responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning, i.e. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law K Shanmugam, and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
The Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance, and this applies to 38 Oxley Road.
Many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders. The Committee has thus been looking at the options available for 38 Oxley Road while paying particular attention to respecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes for his house.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang now owns the property. As provided for in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will, Dr Lee Wei Ling can stay in it for as long as she wishes. The government has already stated on several occasions that it will not do anything to affect Dr Lee’s right to continue living at 38 Oxley Rd.
Some have asked why then a ministerial committee was established if no immediate decision was necessary? Due process is needed to consider the various options before making any decision on the house. This can take some time. I also considered several other factors.
First, if Dr Lee chooses to move out of the house in the near future, a decision on what to do about the house might have to be taken at that point.
Second, soon after Mr Lee’s passing, the Executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will (Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling) themselves wanted the Government to commit itself immediately to demolishing the house, though Dr Lee Wei Ling might continue to live in the House for many more years.
Three, some of us in Cabinet, including me, felt it would be useful if a future Government deciding on the house had a set of options that came from ministers who had personally discussed this matter with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
To get a clearer sense of Mr Lee’s thinking on the house, the ministerial committee wrote to all the siblings to ask them for their views. When the siblings provided us with differing accounts of their father’s wishes, we asked them for further clarifications. The committee’s interest in Mr Lee’s will is confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house.
The Committee has tasked the relevant agencies to study a range of options for the property. I have shared some of these options with the siblings. For instance, they know that I would personally not support the options at either end of the range: at one end, preserving the House as it is for visitors to enter and see would be totally against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew; and at the other, demolishing the house and putting the property on the market for new private residences. The Committee has also been studying various intermediate options such as demolishing the House but keeping the basement dining room where many important historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached. These studies are ongoing.
We do have two follow-up questions from the above, actually, that haven’t been answered:
– When was the committee formed?
– While we now at least know who is involved, we wonder about its terms of reference and unclear mandate. Could some light be shed on that, please, for complete transparency?
Kudos to DPM Teo, though, for finding a political compromise between the siblings that appears rather reasonable.
Need to get up to speed on the saga happening on 38 Oxley Road? Click here:
Top photo: Screenshot from Parliament video feed