SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Jul 3) in Parliament tackled allegations of abuse of office made by his younger siblings Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling in mid-June.
The duo have accused their brother of standing in the way of demolishing the family home at 38 Oxley Road, as last willed by their father and founding Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
PM Lee has denied the allegations and publicly apologised to Singaporeans. On Monday he opened a ministerial statement in Parliament noting that in 2011 his father had approved a proposal to renovate rather than demolish the property. He also 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.
“There are few specifics” in the charges made by his siblings, said PM Lee. But because their father is Mr Lee Kuan Yew, "their accusations gain some credibility, and I have to take their charges seriously. Which is why I am here addressing them in Parliament.”
For the first allegation of abuse of power, Mr Lee Hsien Yang had cited as a “prime example” the setting up of the Ministerial Committee to handle 38 Oxley Road’s future.
“I have already explained that I have recused myself,” said PM Lee. “My only dealing with the Committee has been to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence, no different from my siblings’ dealings with the Committee.”
“This is the right and proper way to handle a conflict of interest.”
He added: “My siblings argue that even though I have recused myself, the Ministers are my subordinates and therefore, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent from me. In fact, they say this of Parliament itself.”
“This cannot be right,” PM Lee stated.
“It is the standard practice for a person facing a potential conflict of interest. He takes himself out from handling the matter… He lets somebody else deal with it, for example his deputy, or some other senior colleague.”
“This is exactly what I have done in the case of 38 Oxley Road.”
“Suppose instead that I had decided as PM to knock the house down, and had pushed that decision through without allowing the Government to consider the alternatives, weigh the considerations, and go through due process, just because it was what my father wanted,” PM Lee said.
“That would have been a real abuse of power. That would have gone against the whole system of rules and values that Mr Lee Kuan Yew spent his whole life upholding and building up.”
MY SIBLINGS “MISLED THE PUBLIC”: PM LEE
The second issue relates to a Deed of Gift of artefacts from 38 Oxley Road to the National Heritage Board (NHB).
PM Lee’s siblings have claimed their brother improperly obtained this Deed in his official capacity, when it was between them and the NHB.
“But I disagree,” said PM Lee. “The Deed was signed by my sister and brother, who were acting for my father’s estate. I was one of the beneficiaries of the estate. I was entitled to be consulted by my siblings before they did this, but I was not consulted.”
The Deed was given to PM Lee by Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong in June 2015
“As Prime Minister, I had every right to see it,” he said. “After reading the Deed, I became very concerned over what NHB had agreed to. The terms were onerous and unreasonable to NHB.”
“For example whenever NHB displayed the items, it also had to display them together with the first half of the Demolition Clause - but only the first half, which said Mr Lee wanted the house knocked down, and not the second half of the Clause, which stated what Mr Lee wanted done if the house could not be knocked down.”
“And this partial, selective disclosure would mislead the public on Mr Lee’s intentions.”
“Furthermore, my siblings had announced publicly that this was a gift. But in fact, they had set conditions in the fine print: if any time the terms of the Deed were breached, my siblings could immediately take back all the items for S$1.”
“Therefore, this was not a gift at all. They had misled the public.”
Added PM Lee: “Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew had gifted many items to NHB during their lives, and they had never imposed any conditions on their gifts remotely like these. What Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang had imposed on NHB was wrong.”
“Discovering all this, as Prime Minister, I had to act. Otherwise people might wrongly think that I was party to this.”
“It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity, I could not raise the matter with a family member. If I come across anyone doing something wrong, even family, maybe especially family, it is my duty to put a stop to it and set them right if I can,” he declared.
“I therefore wrote to my siblings through lawyers to object to what they had done. On the Government’s side, I told Lawrence Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo Chee Hean on this matter.”
“I believe this was the correct and proper way for me to handle the Deed of Gift.”
Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling have also alleged nepotism concerning PM Lee’s wife and son Hongyi, and claimed their brother’s desire to keep 38 Oxley Road standing to “inherit his father’s credibility”.
“Hongyi, my son, has publicly said he is not interested in politics. Nor have I pushed him to enter politics,” said PM Lee.
“My wife, Ho Ching, is CEO of Temasek Holdings. As CEO, she reports to the Board, chaired by Mr Lim Boon Heng. As a company, Temasek Holdings answers to its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, under Minister Heng Swee Keat,” he explained.
“I have every confidence that both Mr Lim Boon Heng and Minister Heng Swee Keat understand the meaning of good proper corporate governance. It is the Temasek Board which appoints the CEO, and the appointment has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA).”
“If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and the CPA know what their duty is”
“Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my standing, even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state,” said PM Lee.
“And if Singaporeans believe that such magic works in Singapore, I think Singapore will be in an even sadder state.”