Lee siblings' conflict of interest charge ridiculous: Shanmugam

LAW AND HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM
LAW AND HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam last night hit back at a suggestion that his inclusion in a ministerial committee considering options for 38, Oxley Road was a conflict of interest, calling the notion "ridiculous".

He was responding on Facebook to Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who said in an earlier post that he and his sister Lee Wei Ling expressed specific concerns about Mr Shanmugam's possible involvement in the committee.

Mr Shanmugam also said in his rebuttal that most Singaporeans were "sick and tired about these endless allegations, which are quite baseless" put out by Mr Lee and Dr Lee.

"The Government has serious business to attend to relating to the welfare of Singaporeans," he said.

In the Facebook post that prompted the minister's response, Mr Lee disclosed that Mr Shanmugam advised his family on options to help achieve Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes, as well as the drafting of a clause stating that the late Mr Lee wanted the Oxley Road house demolished after his death.

Mr Shanmugam's inclusion on the committee "represents a clear conflict of interest", Mr Lee Hsien Yang wrote. "He is an experienced Senior Counsel and Minister for Law who should well understand the problem of conflicts of interest."

BASELESS ALLEGATIONS

I am sure most Singaporeans are sick and tired about these endless allegations, which are quite baseless. The Government has serious business to attend to relating to the welfare of Singaporeans.

LAW AND HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM

The allegation brought a swift rebuttal from Mr Shanmugam.

Having been in practice for more than 22 years, he said he is "well aware" of the rules of conflict.

"The suggestion that I am in conflict is ridiculous. If Mr Lee Hsien Yang seriously believes that I was in conflict, he can get a lawyer to write to me and I will respond," he added.

He said he was already a Cabinet minister when he spoke to some Lee family members - at their behest - and gave them his views.

"They were not my clients. Nothing that I said then precludes me from serving in this committee."

 
 
 

Mr Shanmugam also noted that there are dozens of Cabinet committees - both temporary and permanent - on a variety of matters.

Their composition is not public, and they report to the Cabinet.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang had said that he and Dr Lee were denied information on the composition of the "shadowy committee members" for almost a year, despite repeated requests.

It was only yesterday that they found out Mr Shanmugam was also on it, from a statement that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean issued laying out the committee's composition and responsibilities.

"We had expressed specific concerns on the possible membership of Shanmugam and his conflict of interest having advised Lee Kuan Yew and us on options to help achieve Lee Kuan Yew's wishes, and the drafting of the demolition wish," Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in his post.

He said that when they raised their concerns about Mr Shanmugam's possible involvement in writing, they were "brushed off" by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

According to Mr Lee Hsien Yang's post, Mr Wong said: "Nothing you have stated precludes any member of the Cabinet from taking part in the Committee's work or its deliberations, with the exception of the Prime Minister."

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee have, over the past week, criticised their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over the formation of a "secret committee" dealing with options for the Oxley Road house.

Yesterday, DPM Teo said its members include Cabinet ministers responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning: Mr Shanmugam, Mr Wong and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

But Mr Lee Hsien Yang, in his Facebook post, said the committee was "fundamentally flawed" .

"It is clear that a committee of one's subordinates, should not be sitting arbitrating an issue related to their boss," he said. "That is why the Committee is fundamentally flawed. As the subordinates of the PM, how can they possibly be in a position to deal in this private disagreement? This is the wrong forum."

 

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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 'Lee siblings' conflict of interest charge ridiculous: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe