38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

Mr Lee signed off on plans to rebuild Oxley Road house

Mr Kuan Yew had approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

He approved plans in March 2012 to renovate it, but keep basement dining room: PM Lee

Mr Lee Kuan Yew accepted a proposal for 38, Oxley Road to be redeveloped instead of demolished after his death, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The proposal would involve removing the private living spaces and renovating the house without knocking it down, PM Lee told Parliament.

The entire family was kept updated about these plans, but his brother Lee Hsien Yang opposed them for the first time only when their father's will was read, said PM Lee.

He was addressing allegations by his younger siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, of misusing his power and of not honouring their father's wish to demolish the family home.

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PM Lee recounted discussions over the family home with his father when he was still alive, and what led his father to change his mind on outright demolition.

Although Singapore's founding prime minister wanted the house to be demolished after his death, the public, newspaper editors and Cabinet ministers disagreed with his view on the matter.

His position was set out in his book, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, published in January 2011, but there was a "strong public pushback" to it, said PM Lee.

 
  • Dr Lee responds on renovation plans

  • Dr Lee Wei Ling responded on Facebook last night to a statement made by her brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Parliament.

    PM Lee said that their father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, had approved a proposal by him and his wife Ho Ching to renovate the family home without demolishing it.

    Here is her unedited post:

    "Pa was never happy with Ho Ching's so-called plans to renovate Oxley. He continued to ponder how he could hv Oxley demolished. As for what the SPH editor think. I observed the email exchange in person. It was my habit to check my email every time I woke up in the middle of the night, so I saw the emails flying fast & furious & I went to Pa's study room. He was distress & eventually got up & walked off to bed looking disturbed. I scolded the SPH Editors via email for distressing Pa & told them to leave Pa alone. If they wanted to see Oxley, I would show them around but they were not to raise this issue w Pa again."

Many Singaporeans wanted the house to be preserved as it was a place where important political decisions were made that shaped Singapore's future, he added.

Similarly, newspaper editors told the late Mr Lee in a meeting in March 2011 that they would like the house to be kept, given its historical importance and heritage value.

And in July 2011, after he stepped down from the Cabinet following the General Election two months earlier, he met the new Cabinet to express his view on the matter.

But the ministers were unanimous in saying that they were opposed to knocking the house down, said PM Lee. He added that he himself was the only one to not give his opinion at the meeting because he was "both a son and the PM, and hence conflicted".

OPTIONS EXPLORED

Even before the Cabinet meeting, Mr Lee had been exploring all kinds of permutations with the whole family, said PM Lee.

The issues included: Who to inherit the property, whether to demolish the house before or after he died, and whether to donate the proceeds to charity after the site was redeveloped.

PM Lee said that at one point, his brother Lee Hsien Yang suggested that their father gift the property to Singapore, subject to the condition that the house be demolished and a small public park be built in its place.

But their father agreed with PM Lee's counter-suggestion: to demolish the house and redevelop the site, and then to sell off the property and donate the proceeds to charity.

The late Mr Lee did not want the house to be rundown, dilapidated and expensive to maintain, while his wife, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wanted her private living spaces to always remain private, said PM Lee.

Knowing his parents' wishes, the Prime Minister and his wife Ho Ching began discussing alternatives with his father after the July Cabinet meeting, in the event that the Government would not allow the house to be demolished.

PM Lee and his wife proposed to renovate the house to change the inside completely - to demolish the private living spaces to preserve the privacy of the family.

The historically significant basement dining room would be kept, and the decaying structure of the house would be strengthened.

A new and separate living area would also be created so the house could be lived in.

"My father accepted this proposal," said PM Lee.

In December 2011, Mr Lee told the family that it was "best to redevelop 38, Oxley Road straight away" after he died, and do what PM Lee and Ms Ho proposed.

Mr Lee also wrote to the Cabinet on Dec 27, 2011, expressing the same view, said PM Lee.

FAMILY KEPT FULLY INFORMED

PM Lee said that he and his wife kept the family fully informed of their considerations and intentions.

"We e-mailed everyone, including my father, my sister, my brother and his wife. No one raised any objections to the plan," he said.

The late Mr Lee met the architect, went through the proposal, and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house, PM Lee added.

In March 2012, his father signed the plans and applications to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which approved them.

PM Lee said that as far as he knew, that was how the family had settled the matter, and he heard nothing to the the contrary until after his father died on March 23, 2015, and his will was read in April that year.

It was then that Mr Lee Hsien Yang said that he wanted the house to be knocked down immediately.

PM Lee said this came as a complete surprise to him.

At any rate, the house could not be knocked down immediately as their sister, Dr Lee, intended to continue living in it, he noted.

The late Mr Lee had stated in his will that she should be allowed to live there for as long as she wished.

After the April 2015 Parliament session on how to honour the late Mr Lee, PM Lee recused himself from all discussions and decisions on the house, placing Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in charge.

He also divested himself of the house, by selling it to his brother at fair market value.

There was no longer, in substance, anything for him and his siblings to dispute over on the matter of the house, said PM Lee.

"We all want our father's personal wish to be carried out, which is to knock the house down," he said.

He added that he no longer has any interest in the house as his brother now owns it, and he does not take part in any government decisions on the house.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Mr Lee signed off on plans to rebuild Oxley Road house'. Print Edition | Subscribe