All you need to know about PM Lee’s ministerial statement on Oxley Road saga in 2 minutes
Forget about all the news alerts from MSM.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the long awaited ministerial statement in Parliament on Jul 3, refuting serious allegations made by his siblings Lee Wei Ling (LWL) and Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) since June 14.
As there is no live telecast, let’s summarise the 13 key points of PM Lee’s speech:
On the house at 38 Oxley Road
1. Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) wrote to the cabinet three times, with Ministers (minus PM Lee) unanimous in expressing their opposition to knocking the house down.
First time on October 27, 2010: After the passing of his wife Kwa Geok Choo, LKY wrote to put on record his wish to demolished the house after his death.
Second time on July 20, 2011: After stepping down from cabinet, he wrote to Cabinet to reiterate his wish to knock down the house.
Ministers were unanimous in expressing their opposition to knocking the house down. PM Lee did not express a view, because he was both the son and PM.
Third time on December 7, 2011: He wrote to Cabinet and accepted that Oxley Road may be preserved.
This was what LKY said:
“Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”
2. LKY had earlier approved plans to demolish Oxley’s private living spaces but keep the basement dining room for historical purposes in 2012, and no family members had objected.
PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had proceeded along his wish stated in the third letter to the Cabinet.
Family members, including LKY, LWL, LHY and Lim Suet Fern were kept informed, with no one objecting to the plan.
LKY met the architect and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house. The development application to URA was submitted and later approved by URA on April 17, 2012.
3. LHY objected for the first time to the renovation plans that LKY had approved during the reading of his will.
In other words, LHY wanted the house to be knocked down immediately, which came as a “complete surprise to PM Lee”.
4. PM Lee took two major steps to remove himself from the discussions and decision-making related to the house.
First, PM Lee recused himself from all Government decisions relating to house and placed DPM Teo Chee Hean in charge. He was also not present whenever the Cabinet deliberates on the house.
Two, PM Lee divested himself off the house after learning that his siblings were unhappy that he got the house.
PM Lee wanted to transfer the house to LWL for a nominal sum of $1, on condition that if the property is sold later, or acquired by the Government, all proceeds would go to charity, but the deal fell through.
Subsequently, PM Lee reached agreement in December 2015 with LHY to sell the house to him at fair market value. They donated one and a half times the value of the house to charity, so that the Lee family will not be seen as benefitting financially from the house.
5. PM Lee’s differences with his siblings is down to one question: what did LKY think about the house, apart from demolition?
Siblings’ view: LKY absolutely wanted to demolish the house, with no compromise.
PM Lee’s views: While LKY wanted the house demolished, he was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise.
6. PM Lee thinks there is no need for argument. Yet.
PM Lee said that the Ministerial Committee will only list options for the house, and will not make any decisions on the house. It will not even recommend any decisions on the house to the Cabinet.
Hence, PM Lee felt that there is no reason at all for anybody to feel “pushed into a corner”:
(Quote translated from Chinese text)
“I thought that having sold the house, my siblings would be satisfied as I no longer have any interest in the house. I did not expect that they would disregard the family’s reputation and air this matter in public, by making baseless allegations against me and the government
As the elder brother, I really don’t know what else I should or can do.”
Addressing allegations on the “abuse of power”
7. Ministerial Committee: To say it is not independent as Minsters are his subordinates “cannot be right”
PM Lee said that the standard practice for the person facing a potential conflict of interest to recuse himself from the matter.
He added that his only dealing with the Committee has been to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence. This is no different from his siblings’ dealings with the Committee.
8. Deed of Gift: “It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity as PM, I could not raise the matter with a family member.”
PM Lee argued that he had every right to see it as PM.
Moreover, he was entitled to be consulted by his siblings before they signed the deed as he was one of the beneficiaries of the estate.
PM Lee noted that the deed contained onerous and unreasonable terms which include displaying donated items together with the first half of the Demolition Clause. Furthermore, he felt that his siblings had misled the public by announcing publicly that it was a gift but had set conditions in the fine print.
9. Nepotism: Ho Ching does not report to him and his son Li Hongyi is not interested in politics.
PM Lee also have this quote about the house:
“Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state”
Bringing to Parliament
10. Parliament may not be a court of law, but it is the highest body in the land.
PM Lee said that the the Government and PM are accountable to Members of Parliament and to the people of Singapore.
He wanted to raise the matter in parliament so that Singaporeans can understand what it is all about and put the matter to rest, once and for all.
11. PM Lee will separately issue whatever he says in this debate as a statement outside the House which will not be covered by Parliamentary privilege.
12. PM Lee prefers not to sue his siblings.
In normal circumstances, he would surely sue the accusers as the accusation of the abuse of power is a very grave one.
However, PM Lee said that suing them in court would further besmirch his parents’ names. He added that “at the end of the day, we are brothers and sister, and we are all our father’s children”. He also said that the process would drag out for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans, hence it is not his “preferred choice”
13. In Singapore, everyone is equal before the law.
PM Lee concluded that even Lee Kuan Yew’s house and his wishes are subject to the rule of law in Singapore.
He said that Singapore “is the ‘house’ that Mr Lee built, not 38 Oxley Road”.
Top photo from PMO YouTube