38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

MPs ask: What is the dispute about?

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling's concerns over the ministerial committee that they have attacked appear to have been triggered by its questions on their late father's will, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

In a series of pointed questions to the younger Lee siblings, she asked: "Why are they so concerned?"

The Lee siblings accused the ministerial committee studying options on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road house of doing the bidding of their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to block the house from being demolished.

But yesterday, Ms Indranee and other MPs in Parliament said they were unclear over what the dispute was really about.

She questioned why Mr Lee Hsien Yang disputed the existence of the ministerial committee.

Ms Indranee pointed out that both he and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the committee, held the same position - that they did not want the house to be completely preserved.

Nor did they want it to be redeveloped into a commercial site.

DISCERNING SINGAPOREANS

The Singapore public is a rational and discerning one. To suppose that they will vote based on a "halo effect" bestowed upon the Prime Minister by the simple act of him moving into a house is an insult to the intelligence of Singapore voters.

MP SUN XUELING (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), on the accusation that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wants to preserve the house to further his political interest.

CLARIFY STATUTORY DECLARATION

As probate has been granted and there is no challenge, the will should be taken as valid and proper.

You had, however, in your statutory declaration submitted to the ministerial committee, alluded to certain questionable circumstances upon which the will was executed. This may appear to be a "back-door" approach in challenging the validity of the will.

Could you therefore clarify the circumstances which led to you to affirming the statutory declaration and your intentions for doing so?

MP RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC), on the statutory declaration Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made.

SET UP SELECT COMMITTEE

This merely builds on that institutional recipe of multi-partisanship that the PM himself positively alluded to, but extends it to include a process of fact-finding involving public hearings and cross-examination of the individuals who have laid these issues before the nation, together with other persons of interest.

The truth would (come) out. If the claims are baseless, the accusers will lose credibility. If there is a basis to their claims, that can be acknowledged and followed-up on.

NON-CONSTITUENCY MP LEON PERERA, suggesting the formation of a parliamentary select committee.

IMPORTANCE OF RULE OF LAW

If the allegations are true, the accused must be held to account. If the allegations are false, the accuser must be equally held to account... In our culture shaped by social media, where words are allowed to flow fast and free, it has become all too easy to forget why things like statutory declarations and Hansards matter. They remind us that for society to be strong, for a democracy to be resilient, we must all allow the law to call us to account for our words.

NOMINATED MP KUIK SHIAO-YIN, on the need for accountability.

GOOD GOVERNANCE ISSUES

No mission of an organ of state in Singapore should lie subservient to a personality. More so this House - its mission to serve the electorate must never be compromised or seen to be compromised.

It must be so, for this system of governance must last for generations to come, and must be held in high regard by Singaporeans through that course. That is why these allegations must be aired, debated, answered to.

Such rigour brings accountability, such accountability brings trust, such trust ensures productive leadership, and such productive leadership brings about a working, functional Singapore.

MP CHRISTOPHER DE SOUZA (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), on the importance of looking into allegations of misuse of power.

"If that is the case and if (Mr Lee Hsien Yang) is saying exactly the same thing as DPM Teo, where is the dispute?" said Ms Indranee.

Given that both parties agree that the extreme options are out, there was nothing wrong with studying other options for the Oxley Road house, she added. "Nothing has been decided. How can studying these options be an abuse (of power)?" asked Ms Indranee.

The junior minister went on to say that the Lee siblings' concerns appeared to have been triggered by the committee's questions on the late Mr Lee's will.

In a statement a fortnight ago, PM Lee publicly raised concerns over the circumstances in which his father's final will was made.

He asked what role his sister-in- law Lee Suet Fern and her law firm played, and whether they had a conflict of interest, as her husband Lee Hsien Yang was a beneficiary of the estate. The sixth will had given Dr Lee an extra share, but the last will reverted to the original equal division.

Ms Indranee said that under Singapore's laws, the lawyer drafting a will is required to be independent.

Quoting a 2009 Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Low Ah Cheow and Others v Ng Hock Guan, she said: "The preparation of a will involves serious professional responsibilities which solicitors must uncompromisingly observe and discharge."

The issue was not whether the late Mr Lee knew what he was signing, but "whether he received independent advice as the law uncompromisingly requires", she said.

She noted that the late Mr Lee had consistently taken independent legal advice for his lawsuits and his first six wills.

But it is not for the committee to decide whose claim on how the will was drafted is valid, as it is simply trying to understand Mr Lee's wishes on the house, she said.

Other MPs also directed questions at the two siblings about the circumstances of Mr Lee's will.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) asked who actually drafted the late Mr Lee's final will, pointing out Mr Lee Hsien Yang said his cousin Kwa Kim Li did. But Ms Kwa denied doing so.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted that since their statement on June 14, "there has been no clarification by the siblings on who drafted the last will and the circumstances in which it was prepared".

Ms Indranee said that the younger Lee siblings "have made plenty of allegations, but we have not seen any substance and no evidence".

She added: "(Workers' Party chief) Mr Low (Thia Khiang) himself had said the siblings provided no evidence.

"And to me that is most significant, that these allegations are just that - allegations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'MPs ask: What is the dispute about?'. Print Edition | Subscribe