SINGAPORE: MPs from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) rose to speak during the Parliament debate on Monday (Jul 3), with questions surrounding the formation of the ministerial committee and the Government’s perceived role in the dispute over the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s home at 38 Oxley Road.
Monday’s debate in Parliament was called by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to address a series of claims and accusations made by his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, over the past month.
The Lee siblings in a six-page statement on Jun 14 said that they "felt threatened" by PM Lee’s use of his position and influence over the Singapore Government and its agencies to "drive his personal agenda” since their father died on Mar 23, 2015. They also accused him of wanting to preserve the family’s bungalow against the wishes of their father.
In his ministerial statement on Monday, PM Lee asked for “Members to raise all questions, suspicions or doubts directly in this Chamber, with me and my team”. “My ministers and I will deal with all their questions and give comprehensive answers because we have nothing to hide,” he added. PM Lee had earlier asked for the whip to be lifted for PAP MPs, allowing them to speak freely instead of toeing the party line.
ON THE CREATION OF A MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE
Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad was one of those who questioned the setup of a ministerial committee to consider the future of 38 Oxley Road.
While he said he understood that the formation of ministerial committees was "common", Mr Zaqy asked why was the case of 38 Oxley Road “such an important issue that it required assembling a ministerial committee”.
He also asked whether it would have been sufficient “to have URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), NHB (National Heritage Board) or other relevant Government agency assess the matter and give its recommendations to the Cabinet instead”.
If the formation of a ministerial committee was deemed necessary, then Singaporeans deserve to know if the committee was independent, Mr Zaqy added.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng also wanted to know the circumstances under which ministerial committees are convened, and whether there are written rules and procedures governing the setup and functions of these committees.
“Can the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister clarify whether the same emphasis was placed on other important buildings like the National Library?” Mr Ng asked. “There has been much talk on social media about this and I suppose the question really is how do we decide what to preserve or conserve and when do we set up ministerial committees for such decisions?”
Meanwhile many MPs, including Mr Zaqy, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, Nee Soon GRC MP Henry Kwek and Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng, raised questions on the need to set up a ministerial committee now.
Mr Kwek said: “Mr Lee Hsien Yang shared that Dr Lee Wei Ling will probably stay in the house for many decades. The Government also confirms that this is the case… therefore both sides agree that the decision could be decades away. So why disagree now?”
Mr Ng raised a similar argument, noting that factors that the ministerial committee is looking at, such as public sentiment and views of family members, will likely change overtime. “What then is the point of setting up this committee now and making recommendations now?”
On that, Dr Tan from Jurong GRC said the future of 38 Oxley Road should not be decided in haste.
“Just as we have thought very carefully of our fiscal reserves… there is an issue of intergenerational heritage equity that we have to think about as well. Because once that house is smashed and gone, it’s lost forever... We should take our time. Don’t rush to decide. Don’t rush to tear down what cannot be rebuilt.”
ON THE DEED OF GIFT FOR LKY ITEMS
Regarding the deed of gift related to the late Mr Lee's belongings, Mr Zaqy questioned the NHB why it signed on to take over the items given that there were “onerous contractual obligations” and a “potential conflict of interest”.
Mrs Lee Suet Fern, wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, was a director of NHB then and her law firm, Morgan Lewis Stamford, had helped draft the deed of gift to NHB. Therefore, Mr Zaqy questioned whether the NHB was "under any pressure to do so”.
This point was echoed by Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah.
Singling out the requirement that only the first part of the demolition clause be prominently displayed, Dr Lee questioned whether it was acceptable for Mrs Lee to ask NHB to accept terms in the deed that were “bad for NHB” and “misleading the public”.
ON THE VALIDITY OF THE LAST WILL
Dr Lee also raised the question of who drafted the final will for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. “We don’t even know who drafted the will. Was it Suet Fern? If so, why not just come out and admit it? What is he (Mr Lee Hsien Yang) afraid of? Why does he try and deny that his wife drafted it when emails seem clear?”
Mr Zaqy also posed a question about the last will, noting concerns from many Singaporeans who wonder “why is it necessary for the Government to be involved in ascertaining the accuracy of the will”.
In addition, given that PM Lee had earlier said that he had “grave concerns on the preparation of the last will”, Mr Zaqy noted that it “may be useful for (the) Prime Minister to clarify the capacity in which he had made the comment” to shed light on the Government’s perceived role in this issue.
For Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, the proper forum to challenge a will is in court. She noted that while PM Lee’s decision to not pursue this matter in court is understandable, “there are now questions raised about the appropriateness to raise these issues before the ministerial committee”.
“As a grant of probate has been granted and there is no challenge, the will should be taken as valid and proper. You have, however, in your statutory declaration submitted to the ministerial committee alluding to certain questionable circumstances upon which the will was executed. This may appear to be a backdoor approach in challenging the validity of the will.”
Ms Sun also asked why PM Lee did not challenge the last will when he got to know of its contents, especially if he felt that the circumstances around the drafting of that will “are suspect”. “(He had) actually gone to the extent of doing a statutory declaration which has very serious implications if he is subsequently found out to have lied,” she said.
“Mr Lee Hsien Yang can actually sue the Prime Minister for what he, the Prime Minister, has set out in his statutory declaration, namely that he has grave concerns about the events surrounding the making of the last will and by what appears to be a conflict of interest involving Mrs Lee Suet Fern.”
Ms Sun said this matter should be clarified as it could establish the reasons behind the Oxley Road saga.
Ms Sun also gave her thoughts on concerns of whether it was possible for Mr Lee to thoroughly remove himself from the equation given his status as the Prime Minister.
“But I think that would be akin to saying that the Health Minister should not have family members using Singapore’s health services or that the Minister of National Development should not buy a house,” she said.
On allegations that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s motivation against demolishing the Oxley Road House was for party gains, Ms Sun said Singaporeans are discerning and rational.
“To suppose that they will vote based on a halo effect bestowed upon the Prime Minister by the simple act of him moving into a house is an insult to the intelligence of Singapore voters,” she said.
Still, Ms Sun said she went into the debate with questions for Mr Lee, such as whether he could have done anything to prevent the current situation from occurring. For example, she questioned why Mr Lee offered the house for a dollar to Dr Lee Wei Ling, only to subsequently sell the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang for full market value.
“This lends scope to the idea that the Prime Minister had sought to play Mr Lee Hsien Yang out by making him pay 150 per cent value of the house then subsequently blocking him with the Ministerial Committee.”
Mr Christopher De Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, focused his speech on the allegations that the Lee siblings have made against the organs of state, which he said “have migrated this family issue from the private domain into the sphere of public debate”.
He directed his questions on two areas, with the first being centred on the Government. The questions he asked included "Is it true or false that the organs of the state are being abused to target Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling?" and "Is it true that ensuring the Prime Minister’s power remains unchallenged (if that is at all true), trumps independent political legitimacy?"
Others were focused on the Cabinet and the ministerial committee on which he questioned whether the committee was "merely a facade that the Prime Minister is able to influence in one way or the other" and whether it was true that the committee "never told Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling about options they were exploring".
“These series of questions are questions that are drawn from the multiple allegations thrown at the organs of state, the Prime Minister and his office. In short, the insinuations of Mr Lee’s and Dr Lee’s allegations are that there has been an abuse of power and that the organs of state carry out agendas beyond the scope of their mission,” Mr De Souza said.
“It is my view that no mission of an organ of state in Singapore should lay subservient to a personality. More so this House – its mission to serve the electorate must never be compromised or seen to be compromised… That’s why these allegations must be aired, debated, answered to."
Mr Murali Pillai, MP for Bukit Batok, questioned the role of the Law Minister. “Did the Minister for Law advise the late Mr Lee or any of his family members on matters in connection with the house prior to becoming a member of the committee? If he has, why is he of the view that he’s not in a conflict of interest position in assuming a position in a committee that’s focussed on looking at the options for the house?”
Meanwhile, Mr Zaqy asked whether a ministerial statement in Parliament was the right platform to address this issue, and asked how the Government plans to handle communications and further clarifications from the Lee family beyond the debate on Monday.