SINGAPORE: The Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance - and this includes the home of the late Lee Kuan Yew at 38 Oxley Road, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Sunday (Jun 17).
In a statement, DPM Teo refuted claims that there had been anything "secret"about the ministerial committee set up to consider the future of the house, adding that he had set up the committee, as well as chairs it.
The Oxley Road house has been at the centre of a dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, with PM Lee raising "grave concerns" over about how his father's last will had been prepared, and his younger brother Mr Lee Hsien Yang claiming that the "secret committee" was focused "solely on challenging the validity" of a clause in the will stating that the Oxley Road house be demolished upon their father's death.
"There is nothing 'secret' about this committee," DPM Teo said in a statement on Saturday, adding that it was a committee "like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to consider specific issues".
DPM Teo added that the committee includes Cabinet members responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning, namely Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law K Shanmugam, and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
PM Lee has recused himself from all Government decisions to be taken on 38 Oxley Road, DPM Teo said. He added: "I chair Cabinet, should any deliberations take place on this property."
Mr Teo added that the Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance, and this applies to 38 Oxley Road.
"Many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders," said Mr Teo. "The Committee has thus been looking at the options available for 38 Oxley Road while paying particular attention to respecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes for his house."
COMMITTEE'S INTEREST CONFINED TO THE LIGHT IT SHEDS ON MR LEE'S WISHES FOR THE HOUSE: DPM TEO
DPM Teo also addressed questions as to why a ministerial committee had to be established if it was not necessary to take any immediate decision on the Oxley Road house.
He noted that the late Mr Lee's youngest son, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, now owns the property, and that his will allows his daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling to stay in it for as long as she wishes.
However, due process was needed to consider the various options before making any decision on the house, Mr Teo said, adding that this can take some time.
He cited several other factors: "First, if Dr Lee chooses to move out of the house in the near future, a decision on what to do about the house might have to be taken at that point.
"Second, soon after Mr Lee’s passing, the Executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will (Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling) themselves wanted the Government to commit itself immediately to demolishing the house, though Dr Lee Wei Ling might continue to live in the House for many more years.
"Three, some of us in Cabinet, including me, felt it would be useful if a future Government deciding on the house had a set of options that came from ministers who had personally discussed this matter with Mr Lee Kuan Yew," said Mr Teo.
Mr Teo added that, to get a clearer sense of Mr Lee’s thinking on the house, the ministerial committee wrote to all the siblings to ask them for their views.
"When the siblings provided us with differing accounts of their father’s wishes, we asked them for further clarifications. The committee’s interest in Mr Lee’s will is confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house."
OPTIONS FOR OXLEY ROAD HOUSE
The committee has tasked the relevant agencies to study a range of options for the Oxley Road house, DPM Teo added.
"I have shared some of these options with the siblings," he said. "For instance, they know that I would personally not support the options at either end of the range: At one end, preserving the House as it is for visitors to enter and see would be totally against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew; and at the other, demolishing the house and putting the property on the market for new private residences.
He added that the Committee has also been studying various intermediate options such as demolishing the house but keeping the basement dining room where many important historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached.
These studies are ongoing, he said.
COMMITTEE IS "FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED": LEE HSIEN YANG
In response to DPM Teo's statement, Mr Lee Hsien Yang posted a Facebook note saying he and his sister Dr Lee Wei Ling had asked for information on the ministerial committee repeatedly for almost a year "and been denied".
"It is clear that a committee of one's subordinates, should not be sitting arbitrating an issue related to their boss. That is why the Committee is fundamentally flawed. As the subordinates of the PM, how can they possibly be in a position to deal in this private disagreement? This is the wrong forum."
He also said they expressed specific concerns on the possible inclusion of Minister Shanmugam on the committee, and "his conflict of interest having advised Lee Kuan Yew and us on options to help achieve Lee Kuan Yew's wishes, and the drafting of the demolition wish".
"This represents a clear conflict of interest."
Mr Shanmugam hit back at the suggestion, saying it was "ridiculous" and that he was "well aware of the rules of conflict".
"I am sure most Singaporeans are sick and tired about these endless allegations, which are quite baseless," Mr Shanmugam said in a Facebook post.
"The government has serious business to attend to relating to the welfare of Singaporeans."