Why is Indranee Rajah suddenly the govt’s leading voice on the 38 Oxley Road saga?

At first glance, she looks like a total outlier to this saga.

By Jeanette Tan | June 28, 2017

If you’ve been following the ongoing Korean-esque drama conflict between the three children of the late Lee Kuan Yew, you might have noticed a new participant near the end of last week.

It’s none other than Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah, a People’s Action Party Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, which is led by Minister and labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

Screenshot from PAP website

But before we get into why Indranee is suddenly involved in this saga, let’s recap the non-members of the Lee family who are either named or have waded into the debate:

1) Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean

He outed himself as being the founder and leader of the Ministerial Committee that’s looking into the available options for the government with respect to the house on number 38, Oxley Road.

He was also named by PM Lee Hsien Loong as being a buddy he confided in about the dispute he was having with Hsien Yang and Wei Ling over LKY’s will.

2) Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam

Photo by Ng Yi Shu

Named as one of the members of the Ministerial Committee, Shanmugam was also accused by Hsien Yang of taking on roles in the issue that presented a conflict of interest because he was also extensively consulted by Hsien Yang and Wei Ling on matters pertaining to LKY’s will, estate and the demolition of the house.

Hsien Yang and Wei Ling also featured Shanmugam as being the recipient of several emails from Wei Ling and Suet Fern in the process of negotiating details of LKY’s will.

He denied the accusations of that his roles presented a conflict of interest, though, in a sharply-worded rebuttal, but apart from that, and sharing Ho Ching’s comment on a post by Hsien Yang about her taking items from the house, he hasn’t spoken much on the saga.

3) National Development Minister Lawrence Wong

Wong was the first minister identified by Hsien Yang and Wei Ling as being involved in the Ministerial Committee deliberating on the Oxley Road house. The two Lee siblings said that they first learned about the committee’s existence through Wong’s correspondence with them.

Wong spoke up on the issue for the first time on Friday evening (June 23), where chiefly, he focused on saying that PM Lee would have had the right to obtain the Deed of Gift for one of the ongoing museum exhibitions for LKY’s items donated by his siblings, both in his public and private capacities.

He also pointed out that the second half of the now-well-known demolition clause from LKY’s last will was not included in the required-to-show portion that was displayed prominently at the exhibition with his stuff, and questioned why it was omitted. That was the only thing he’s said in this debate, though.

4) Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu

Photo by Lim Weixiang for Mothership.sg

Named as being part of the four-member Ministerial Committee to look into options regarding 38 Oxley Road, but hasn’t said anything in the saga yet.

5) DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Source: Toggle

Not technically named as an involved party in the saga yet, but he waded in with a post encouraging Singaporeans to have confidence in our leadership and its professionalism.

Apart from dwelling on the topic of ministerial committees, though, he avoided getting into the details of what’s been going on unlike some of the others.

Nonetheless, with Tharman’s remarks, both of PM’s deputies have commented on the issue, in a show of support for the government’s stance.

So why is Indranee so kaypoh?

Now here’s where we get to SMS Indranee.

Having not been named by any party in the dispute, and also not a member of the Ministerial Committee, it would at first glance be quite puzzling to see her getting involved in this dispute.

But since last Friday (June 23), she has been systematically pushing out lengthy “listicles” on the Oxley Road saga.

Her third post, for instance, went out on her Facebook page on Monday night (June 26), and she published another rejoinder on Tuesday (June 27), a response to Lee Hsien Yang who said her question about him wanting the house to be demolished now was wrong.

That’s four posts in five days — including two public holidays, where she would otherwise certainly be busy fulfilling MP duties at Hari Raya celebrations — plenty of commitment for a busy Senior Minister of State with two portfolios to manage, who otherwise really doesn’t seem to have a real need to tangle herself in all this nonsense.

So what’s the deal here? To get a few clues, we decided to check out Indranee’s background and curriculum vitae, and found a few possibly-relevant facts:

1. She’s an established dispute resolution lawyer.

Indranee is an appointed Senior Counsel (an elite lawyer in Singapore) having risen to the role in 2003. In her previous legal career, she was also a deputy-head of the Dispute Resolution department at Drew & Napier — one of Singapore’s largest law firms — and handled cross-border disputes and international arbitration.

2. She’s a Tanjong Pagar GRC MP.

She entered politics in 2001 and was one of the late LKY’s running mates in Tanjong Pagar GRC since that year. She therefore worked with him in the constituency for 14 years, and also took over Meet-the-People Sessions for him when he was ailing, according to a 2015 Channel NewsAsia story and this undated flyer that appeared in a July 2011 online post:

Photo via singaporege2011.wordpress.com

She also remembers LKY fondly, and appears to have learned a lot from him in her early years as an MP.

Also, we should add, the house on 38 Oxley Road, does come under Tanjong Pagar GRC, although it specifically is served by newer MP Joan Pereira.

3. Her portfolio as Senior Minister of State for Law might be relevant too.

Photos via K Shanmugam’s Facebook page, file

Much of the nitty-gritty details that have emerged in this saga pertain to tricky legal documents and processes, which have largely flown over our heads, but that’s where the lawyers in the house can help break it down for us.

From the government’s perspective, the best candidates to do this would be a) Law Minister K Shanmugam, or b) Attorney-General Lucien Wong.

Unfortunately, right now, it appears that these guys are both already entangled in this saga, with Shanmugam accused by Hsien Yang of being in conflict by sitting on the Ministerial Committee, and Wong having been named several times by Hsien Yang as PM Lee’s personal lawyer who is now the Attorney-General.

But anyway, given the state of affairs, it looks as if both of them are trying to stay out of the fray for a while.

With the above in mind, perhaps it was determined that Indranee is a good qualified candidate to enter the debate, being a third party from the sidelines who appears to be “untouched” by any of the goings-on so far, and someone who can see with a clear legal eye what the crux of the matter should be.

What does all this mean?

Indranee’s involvement leaves us with a couple of questions: is this wave of posts she has been putting out of her own volition, and in her own personal capacity? Or is she writing wearing the hat of a Tanjong Pagar GRC MP or that of Senior Minister of State for Law?

Presently, Indranee is the most junior office-holder to have spoken out on the Oxley Road saga. As SMS, she has taken up the mantle of voicing the Cabinet and government’s collective and unified stance on this issue.

From the looks of her posts, she has entrenched herself pretty firmly in the saga, and is clearly taking root as close to the centre of the conflict as she can.

 

Read about her previous posts and responses from the younger Lee siblings in these articles:

Indranee Rajah issues Lee Hsien Yang a ‘Gotcha’ in latest Facebook post

Lee Hsien Yang offered to build memorial garden if 38 Oxley Road demolished

Lee Hsien Yang: Don’t insult my father by saying he didn’t know what went into his last will

Indranee Rajah: Demolition of 38 Oxley Road house was not only option LKY contemplated

 

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Top photo via Indranee Rajah’s Facebook page

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About Jeanette Tan

Jeanette takes pride in her ability to sing the complete lyrics to Hakuna Matata and a host of other Disney songs. She holds out hope to someday be talent-spotted to do voice-overs for documentaries, lifts and automated telephone answering systems.

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