It is ironic that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's act of following the proper process, such as letting a ministerial committee consider options for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house, has now been labelled an abuse of power, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
"If PM Lee had not recused himself, and had simply, as PM, ordered the government agencies to demolish the house without due process, that would truly have been an abuse of authority and power," said Mr Teo.
He also refuted claims by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling that their brother, PM Lee, had abused his power by setting up the committee.
It was proper for the Prime Minister to recuse himself, as there is a conflict of interest between his public role as the head of government and his private role as son of the late Mr Lee, and someone who had originally been bequeathed the property, he said.
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Nor did he bypass the due process to get the house demolished.
"Instead, PM Lee did the proper thing, recused himself and let the Cabinet without him, chaired by me, decide on how to proceed with the matter. It is ironic that following the proper process is now being labelled, by some, as an abuse of power," said Mr Teo.
"Perhaps it is because they feel that their demand for a particular outcome should simply be carried out. But simply doing this would be an abuse of power."
PM Lee did the proper thing, recused himself and let the Cabinet without him, chaired by me, decide on how to proceed with the matter. It is ironic that following the proper process is now being labelled, by some, as an abuse of power.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN
Mr Teo yesterday gave more details on the committee, which comprises himself, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.
The younger Lee siblings have charged that the "secret" committee was set up to bypass the courts and has not been transparent.
Mr Teo said that the Government got involved in the matter of 38, Oxley Road as it has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of properties with historical and heritage significance.
He said the late Mr Lee's house is a key marker of the "turning point in our history" and deliberations have to be made now, before irreversible steps such as demolition and redevelopment are taken.
The Government has a range of powers to gazette and acquire such property, Mr Teo noted, adding: "Government cannot outsource decision-making on this. Ultimately, the government of the day has to decide and carry the decision."
He said public interests and considerations apply to the house at 38, Oxley Road, as it was home to Singapore's founding prime minister, and its dining room was the site where critical decisions on the country's future were made.
Mr Teo also gave an insight into the committee's formation.
The Cabinet approved the proposal by Mr Wong to set up a committee to draw up the range of possible options for 38, Oxley Road on June 1 last year, after PM Lee in 2015 recused himself from decisions relating to the house.
Mr Teo said the committee could provide useful inputs to a future government deciding on the house as it comprised ministers who had personally discussed this matter with the late Mr Lee.
After all, neither the Cabinet nor the committee would be making a decision on the house now, said Mr Teo.
"There is no decision required so long as Dr Lee continues staying in the house. This is what Mr Lee wanted and expressed in his will," he said.
The committee, said Mr Teo, is merely preparing "drawer plans of various options and their implications" so that a future government can refer to them and make an informed decision.
He also said that the committee has been paying particular attention to respecting the late Mr Lee's wishes for his house as it considers the range of possible options.
For this reason, the committee sought views from all three of the late Mr Lee's children.
Mr Teo pointed out that Mr Lee Hsien Yang has made various "baseless" allegations, including that he and Dr Lee have been kept in the dark about the committee.
He said that the siblings were informed about the committee shortly after it was formed and had made representations.
"Indeed, if this were a secret committee and they were not aware of its existence, how could they be making representations?" he said, adding that questions must be asked about whether the siblings were truthful and honest in their allegations.
"Just because Mr Lee Hsien Yang may have some questions that he found inconvenient to answer, that does not mean that the committee was abusing its power or doing something wrong," said Mr Teo.