SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Jul 3) rebutted the allegations of abuse of power made by his siblings in his handling of his late father Lee Kuan Yew’s house at 38 Oxley Road.
Delivering his ministerial statement at the start of a two-day debate in Parliament over the dispute between him, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, PM Lee again apologised to Singaporeans for the public spat, and reiterated that his siblings’ allegations are “entirely baseless”.
PM Lee also delved into a timeline of his family’s discussions on the house. He said he and his wife Ho Ching came up with a proposal to renovate the house by demolishing the private living spaces to preserve the family’s privacy, but keep the basement dining room, which was of historical significance.
The proposal was accepted by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he said.
PM Lee said the dispute between the siblings stemmed from a difference in perspective – with his personal view of Mr Lee Kuan Yew being willing to consider alternatives to demolition contrasting with his siblings’ view of a more non-compromising position.
The Prime Minister also addressed his siblings’ charges of abuse relating to a ministerial committee set up to consider options for the house, a Deed of Gift for the house’s artefacts, as well as nepotism.
He reiterated that he has recused himself from all government discussions on 38 Oxley Road, and accused his siblings of misleading the public.
On why he chose to raise the dispute in Parliament instead of suing his siblings, PM Lee said a lawsuit “would further besmirch my parents’ names”.
PM Lee also explained why he lifted the party whip for People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs, and called on all MPs to "examine the issues thoroughly" and question him and his Cabinet colleagues "vigorously".
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is the chair of the ministerial committee, also delivered a statement in Parliament. He said the committee will not decide what to do with the property, but will instead draw up plans of various options so that a future Government can decide when the time comes.
Mr Teo also explained why the committee’s existence was not announced, saying the Cabinet sets up committees from time to time to study specific issues. The formation of such committees rarely need to be announced, as they often relate to internal working processes and coordination within Government, he said.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament that as a property with architectural or heritage merit, the Oxley Road house should follow the due process of conservation or preservation.
This means carrying out a “rigorous assessment process” for all such properties before deciding whether to conserve or preserve them, he said.
Leader of the opposition Low Thia Khiang told Parliament that the dispute over 38 Oxley Road has become an “ugly media circus” that should be settled in court and not over social media.
The secretary-general of the Workers’ Party said the country’s reputation is at stake, and that the saga is distracting the Government from more important issues and damaging the Singapore brand.
MPs from the ruling People's Action Party also rose to speak during the debate, with questions surrounding the formation of the ministerial committee and the Government’s perceived role in the dispute.
Some questioned the formation of the ministerial committee, and whether a ministerial statement in Parliament was the right platform to address the issue. Others asked why PM Lee did not challenge the last will in court, especially if he had “grave concerns” about the circumstances around the drafting of the will.
The dispute between PM Lee and his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, has been ongoing since Jun 14, when the two younger siblings published a statement saying that they "felt threatened" by PM Lee’s use of his position and influence over the Government and its agencies to "drive his personal agenda” since their father died on Mar 23, 2015.