38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

Emotional aspects matter in Oxley decisions, says NMP

NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin speaking in parliament, on July 3, 2017.
NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin speaking in parliament, on July 3, 2017. PHOTO: GOV.SG

When it comes to decisions about 38, Oxley Road, more emotional aspects of heritage and memory will also have to be taken into account by the ministerial committee, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said yesterday.

"The loss of our national heritage, whether the National Library, National Theatre, dragon playground or the Bukit Brown cemetery can be very emotional, affecting not just the minds, but the heart and soul of the people involved," said Mr Kok, noting that past decisions had often favoured pragmatism over idealism, and society simply had to accept them and move on.

Thus, he was "very glad" to hear Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's acknowledgement, in his statement on the ministerial committee, that the Government may have been overzealous in demolishing buildings and carrying out development works in the past.

But unlike public spaces like the National Library and Bukit Brown, 38, Oxley Road poses a different question, Mr Kok told Parliament.

"Now we have a private estate which the community believes to hold a lot of historical value. How do we then balance the needs of the individual as well as the state?" he asked, calling for a decision on its fate to be made with "wisdom and clarity".

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan added that as the issue is one of public interest, the Government should give Singaporeans a chance to have their say through a public consultation process.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir SMC) noted that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the founding prime minister of a country post-independence, not unlike India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, or Mao Zedong. His place in the nation's history should not be forgotten, he said.

The values that the late Mr Lee stood for - including multiculturalism, meritocracy, good governance, and rule of law - are representative of Singapore's values, and should be passed on to younger generations, said Mr Sitoh.

While preserving the Oxley Road estate is not the only, or best, way of doing so, he argued that it is "reasonable, logical and legal" for the Government to set up a ministerial committee to consider the possibility of preserving his home.

But Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin said that Singapore is "bigger than Mr Lee Kuan Yew's values", and suggested that decisions on the Oxley estate can take their cue from the findings of the 15-member Founders' Memorial Committee, on which she has been serving since 2015.

The committee gathered views from thousands of Singaporeans about what kind of memorial would best honour the legacy of Mr Lee and the first generation of political leaders.

Incidentally, the Oxley house never came up as a major suggestion, she said.

Singaporeans talked of "far more public" spaces like Fort Canning Park or the Singapore River.

"What we learnt is that many Singaporeans wanted a memorial that would go beyond mere recollection of the past... I imagine whatever Singaporeans wanted for the Founders' Memorial, they would want for the Oxley house as well," she said.

"So whether Oxley stays or goes or becomes a memorial garden with a basement, I hope that there will be some compromise that will enable it to not go down in history as a memorial born in bitterness."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Emotional aspects matter in Oxley decisions, says NMP'. Print Edition | Subscribe