Heritage value of Oxley Road home of public interest: DPM Teo

The top view of 38 Oxley Road, the home of the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on June 14, 2017.
The top view of 38 Oxley Road, the home of the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on June 14, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Nothing 'secret' about ministerial committee studying options for the late Mr Lee's house

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday made public the composition of a ministerial committee studying options for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road, and refuted Mr Lee Hsien Yang's claims that it was "secret", as the feud over Mr Lee's will continues.

"There is nothing 'secret' about this committee. It is a committee like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to consider specific issues," said DPM Teo of the committee he both set up and chairs.

DPM Teo chairs Cabinet when there are any deliberations on 38, Oxley Road, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had recused himself from all government decisions to be taken on the house after Mr Lee died in March 2015.

Also in the committee are Cabinet ministers responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning - Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

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Mr Teo's statement comes after Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling made multiple statements criticising their brother, PM Lee, over the "secret committee", which they said was set up to challenge the validity of Mr Lee's will after probate had been granted.

In explaining the committee's role, Mr Teo said 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.

DPM Teo Chee Hean on...

PUBLIC INTEREST

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.

DR LEE'S RIGHT TO LIVE IN HOUSE

As provided for in Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will, Dr Lee Wei Ling can stay in it for as long as she wishes. The Government has already stated on several occasions that it will not do anything to affect Dr Lee's right to continue living at 38, Oxley Road.

"Many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders. 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."

Mr Teo added: "Mr Lee Hsien Yang now owns the property. As provided for in Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will, Dr Lee Wei Ling can stay in it for as long as she wishes. The Government has already stated on several occasions that it will not do anything to affect Dr Lee's right to continue living at 38, Oxley Road."

On why the committee was established when no immediate decision has to be made on the house since Dr Lee is still living there, Mr Teo said: "Due process is needed to consider the various options before making any decision on the house. This can take some time."

He also cited other factors, including the fact that soon after their father died, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee, as executors of his will, wanted the Government to commit itself immediately to demolishing the house.

 
 
 

He said the ministerial committee wrote to all three siblings to ask for their views, to get a clearer sense of Mr Lee's thinking on the house.

The committee sought further clarifications when the siblings provided differing accounts of their father's wishes, he added.

"The committee's interest in Mr Lee's will is confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house," Mr Teo said.

Mr Teo said he personally would not support preserving the house as it is, for visitors to enter and see, as that would be totally against the wishes of the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

But he also was not in favour of having the house demolished and the property put on the market for new private residences either.

He added: "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."

His approach in handling the matter drew support from Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. In a post on his MParader Facebook page last night, he said it was right to explore options beyond the binary demolish-preserve decision.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang is still not convinced. In a Facebook post yesterday evening, he said the committee is "fundamentally flawed" as it is made up of subordinates "sitting, arbitrating an issue related to their boss".

He also called Mr Shanmugam's inclusion in the committee a "clear conflict of interest", as he had advised the Lee family on the will. This drew a swift rebuke from the Law Minister, who called the suggestion "ridiculous".

Separately, PM Lee, who had been away on leave, returned to Singapore yesterday and will be back at work tomorrow.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Heritage value of Oxley home of public interest: DPM Teo'. Print Edition | Subscribe