38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

Basement dining room 'holds significance for country, not just PAP'

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament that 38 Oxley Road holds special historical significance because of the events that took place there in the 1950s.

The events that unfolded in the basement dining room of 38, Oxley Road during the early days of Singapore's history hold a special significance for the country, and not just the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

This was the reason why Cabinet members did not want the house demolished.

They conveyed this view to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at a Cabinet meeting in July 2011.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat recounted this meeting in Parliament yesterday, adding that Cabinet members were unanimously against demolishing the house because of its historical significance.

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The basement dining room was the site of many historic meetings between Mr Lee and his team of pioneer leaders.

"Those years marked a pivotal moment in our nation's history - in fact, they were the start of a series of events that led to independence," said Mr Heng.

 

"It is therefore right and proper that we consider this history in any decision to demolish or preserve the house, or parts of it."

Mr Heng said he was surprised that Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) "took such a narrow and partisan view" of the history of the house.

On Monday, Mr Png had described 38, Oxley Road as "just an old house", and noted that its basement dining room was the site of the founding of the PAP, and not modern Singapore.

Mr Heng said yesterday: "What happened in the basement dining room and at Oxley Road is relevant not just for the history of the PAP."

He pointed out that the house was not just where the PAP began in 1954, but also where its leaders made the "difficult decisions" to contest elections in 1955 and 1959.

Mr Heng also said Mr Lee was convinced that Singapore needed a sense of history.

"Not just in knowing what happened in the past, but why it happened - that would help to anchor and guide us for the future," he said.

He said that five months after the meeting, Mr Lee wrote to Cabinet to say that if the house was preserved, its foundations needed to be reinforced. It showed he had taken "other views on board", said Mr Heng.

Yesterday, other MPs also spoke about the historical significance of 38, Oxley Road, with one - Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) - calling for the house to be preserved.

"It is a part of Singapore's history. It has meaning for all Singaporeans, past, present and future. This is my view and that of many of my residents," she said.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said all options for the property should be considered. "Once demolished, part of our history would be gone forever," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said that demolishing the house but preserving its basement dining room would be a good intermediate solution to the dispute surrounding the fate of the house.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'Basement dining room 'holds significance for country, not just PAP''. Print Edition | Subscribe