Many explosive allegations have been made by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling in the wee hours of Wednesday morning in their public statement against their older brother, PM Lee Hsien Loong.
One of these things is the matter of a ministerial committee set up to look into their father’s will, with regard to the house.
The details of which became a bit clearer in the later part of Wednesday as more reporters managed to ask Hsien Yang about in separate interviews.
Now, this is all new information to us, and there are a couple of things to explain here:
1) A “Probate” Will, and
2) That Ministerial Committee
The first thing you need to understand is how the younger siblings explained their father’s take on the house and what should happen to it.
Here’s what they wrote:
“Throughout his entire life, Lee Kuan Yew’s sole focus was on Singapore and its future. He was a strong opponent of monuments, particularly of himself. On suggestions that monuments or ‘what-have-yous’ be made for him, he replied “Remember Ozymandias”. He was referring to Percy B Shelley’s sonnet about the Egyptian Pharaoh with a penchant for self-aggrandising monuments. The boast etched in a plaque below his statue commanded lesser mortals to “look on my works”. Only the vastness of desert sands remains: no empire, nor monuments, no great works. Lee Kuan Yew wanted none of these honours as edifices. Much more important to him was that what he had done should last.
It is for this reason that Lee Kuan Yew made clear throughout the years in public and private his wish that his home at 38 Oxley Road be demolished upon his passing. In his last Will and Testament of 17 December 2013, he again reiterated his wish and directed his three children to ensure that it be fulfilled. Indeed, his opposition to monuments was so strong that he had made clear that even if the house were gazetted (against his wishes), it should only be open to his children and their descendants.”
The second thing you need to understand is that Wei Ling and Hsien Yang believe that PM Lee Hsien Loong’s intention is not, as he previously said, for the house standing on 38 Oxley Road to be demolished.
Here’s what PM Lee wrote in his statement posted to Facebook dated December 4, 2015:
“Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang would like to honour the wish of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew that the house at 38 Oxley Road be demolished after Dr Lee Wei Ling ceases to live in it.
Mr Lee Hsien Loong has recused himself from all government decisions involving 38 Oxley Road and, in his personal capacity, would also like to see this wish honoured.
Speaking as the children of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang hope the government will allow the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish for the demolition of the house to be honoured and that all Singaporeans will support their cause.“
And that’s what the public last heard from PM Lee in terms of his views on this.
New details revealed about what happened in private
Hsien Yang and Wei Ling then recounted details we have no way of verifying, really — accusations that PM Lee, through his actions, did not actually mean what he said in public.
Here’s what they accuse him of doing, in point form:
– Even when the late LKY was alive, PM Lee and Ho Ching, his wife, allegedly said they planned to move into his house as soon as he passed away.
– Making their father meet with the Cabinet on July 21, 2011, to discuss the fate of 38 Oxley Road, and making him distressed as a result by the realisation that his oldest son opposed his wishes.
– Giving the late LKY the impression that his intention was to declare the house as a heritage site. The siblings said their father wrote this down on October 3, 2011.
And here’s another big nugget they threw our way:
“Lee Kuan Yew deliberately inserted into his will the wish for 38 Oxley Road to be demolished so as to make it difficult for Hsien Loong to misuse the Cabinet to preserve it. He also removed Hsien Loong as executor of his will.”
But let’s continue with the accusations:
– Threatening Hsien Yang and Wei Ling and demanding their silence on their father’s wish for the house to be demolished, and wanting to tell Parliament that LKY had changed his mind.
– Using his personal lawyer to question the circumstances under which LKY executed his last will. After these accusations and representations were refuted by Hsien Yang’s and Wei Ling’s lawyers, Hsien Loong didn’t raise a legal challenge; instead, they all obtained a grant of Probate in October 2015.
What this means is now, Hsien Yang and Wei Ling have the rights to execute LKY’s will, as it is specified, and they also have a declaration from court that it is the “full, final and legally-binding word on (LKY’s) intentions as to his estate”.
The settlement in 2015
Then, said the younger siblings, Hsien Loong initiated a settlement, which they collectively arrived at in late 2015 —
– Hsien Loong would sell his share of the house to Hsien Yang.
– Hsien Yang would have to pay Hsien Loong the full market value of the house.
– Hsien Yang would additionally have to donate an additional half of that amount to charity.
– All three would declare in a statement that they all wished for the house to be demolished.
– Hsien Loong would recuse himself from all government decisions regarding the house.
And then, they said, they thought this would be settled.
Enter Lawrence Wong, and the Ministerial Committee
But suddenly, Hsien Yang and Wei Ling would in July 2016 hear from Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who informed them of the creation of a Ministerial Committee, “to consider options with respect to 38 Oxley Road and their implications”.
Which, admittedly, is an interesting development considering the following paragraphs spoken by PM Lee in Parliament on April 13, 2015:
“Mr Lee’s position on 38 Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and fully consistent with his lifelong values. We should respect his wishes, as well as those of Mrs Lee.
Dr Lee Wei Ling has informed me that she intends to continue living in the house at 38 Oxley Road. Therefore there is no immediate issue of demolition of the house, and no need for the Government to make any decision now.
If and when Dr Lee Wei Ling no longer lives in the house, Mr Lee has stated his wishes as to what then should be done. At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the Government of the day to consider the matter.”
The two siblings were also unhappy that Hsien Loong made representations to the Committee — a departure, they felt, from his commitment to recuse himself from the decisions the government would make.
Especially so, considering the fact that all the ministers on the ministerial committee eventually still report to him.
The statement from the Ministerial Committee on June 14
And then came this statement from Tan Kee Yong, whom we learned runs the Cabinet Office, which in turn manages the Ministerial Committee mentioned in this saga.
In it, Tan said the committee had pending questions about how the will was drafted and executed, also involving Hsien Yang’s wife, Lee Suet Fern. Tan also added that the siblings would only be able to respond to them later this month.
Responding to that in an interview he gave Today on Wednesday night, Hsien Yang said the committee’s existence was “completely improper”:
“Yes, we had given answers to them last year. They continue to repeat the same questions. Probate has been obtained on the last will. It is final and legally binding. If Lee Hsien Loong had any doubt about the validity of the Last Will, he should have challenged it in court. Frankly it is completely improper to use a cabinet committee to pursue an issue like this when the proper channel was at the court and probate.”
He also spoke of his wife’s involvement in the will, which Tan’s statement could possibly have raised eyebrows over:
“My wife’s role in preparing the Last Will was nothing. The Last Will was going back to a 2011 will — my father said go back to the 2011 will. The 2011 Will was prepared by my cousin, Kwa Kim Li. My wife helped put into words what my father wanted on the demolition wish. He reviewed it carefully and Hsien Loong was in the loop.”
And this is why Hsien Yang and Wei Ling are so angry about this — their journey with Hsien Loong over what the will stated, including obtaining probate for it by end-2015, as well as their settlement, still could not find certainty that the house on number 38 Oxley Road would be demolished.
Hsien Yang also highlighted some of these points in a Facebook post he put up on Thursday afternoon, which you can see on his page.
Top photo via National Archives of Singapore