SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday (Jun 21) defended his decision to set up a ministerial committee to look into the options for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's family home on 38 Oxley Road, saying that the Government of the day "has to be responsible for making a decision on the property".
Mr Teo, who chairs the committee, was responding to a commentary by The Straits Times' editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, who questioned the need for Cabinet ministers to get involved in the dispute among Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings over their late father's will.
PM Lee had expressed "grave concern" over how the will was prepared, in particular, the removal and subsequent re-insertion of a clause stating his late father's wish that the Oxley Road house be demolished after his death.
The ministerial committee to consider the future of the house includes Cabinet members who are responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning: Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law K Shanmugam, and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
In his commentary, Mr Han wrote that, in retrospect, Cabinet ministers "should have stayed clear of the dispute over the will".
Instead, the committee "now finds itself embroiled in an unwieldy dispute over Mr Lee's actions and wishes", Mr Han wrote, noting that "with fresh revelations and allegations every passing day, Cabinet ministers find themselves more and more deeply involved in the saga".
Mr Han suggested reconsidering the necessity of the committee and its remit, saying that the Lee siblings should make another attempt to resolve their disagreements privately.
He also suggested that the Founders' Memorial Committee, which had already been formed to look into how best to commemorate Singapore's pioneer leaders, should decide on the fate of the house. "Why leave out the most important decision from this group of distinguished Singaporeans who were selected to look into the building of an appropriate memorial?" he said.
"(The) Cabinet cannot outsource decision-making," Mr Teo said in response, pointing out that setting up a ministerial committee to study or work on issues was part of normal Cabinet working processes.
"Ultimately, it is the Government of the day which has to be responsible for making a decision on the property as this is where the powers reside under the law, specifically the Preservation of Monuments Act and the Planning Act in this case.
"Mr Han himself acknowledges this."
The Deputy Prime Minister added that this did not preclude public consultations or the involvement of a memorial committee at an appropriate time. Indeed, members of the public have already written in offering suggestions, he said.
LEE KUAN YEW WOULD HAVE EXPECTED GOVT TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: DPM TEO
Mr Teo noted that PM Lee has recused himself from Government decisions on the property, and that no immediate decision is required as Dr Lee Wei Ling continues to live in the house.
He noted, however, that when the Cabinet eventually makes a decision, however, the founding Prime Minister's thinking "is an important factor which we would all want to take into account".
The ministerial committee had sought the views of the siblings on Mr Lee's thinking, as they had different views and challenged each other's interpretations of Mr Lee's wishes, Mr Teo said.
He added that all views were given voluntarily, including those in the form of statutory declarations, and where there were different views, clarifications were sought, including the offer for them to be made as statutory declarations.
"We should be clear that the difference of views did not arise because there was a ministerial committee. We still hope that differences of views on private matters can be resolved within the family," he said.
"But ultimately, the Cabinet of the day and its ministers cannot avoid taking responsibility for making the required decisions on matters where the public interest is involved, and due process is required.
"Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself understood this and would have expected the Government to do so," he said.