SINGAPORE - There is "no mystery" to why a committee of ministers was set up to look into options for the house of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Thursday (June 22).
In his first comments on the issue, Mr Tharman said ministerial committees are often set up and is a practice started many years ago.
"It's how we ensure that important issues are given in-depth attention, and the options are weighed up by the ministers closer to the issue, before Cabinet makes its decisions and takes collective responsibility," he said in a Facebook post.
The future of the house has come into focus, after the siblings of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang - accused him of misusing his powers to prevent the demolition of the house at 38, Oxley Road.
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Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang also charged that a “secret” ministerial committee had been set up to deliberate on the house, citing it as an example of how organs of the state have been used to further what they deemed as PM Lee’s personal agenda.
Here is Mr Tharman’s Facebook post on the ministerial committee and the practice of setting up such committees:
Have confidence, folks.
I have to say there is no mystery as to why a Ministerial committee was set up to look into the options for 38 Oxley Road. DPM Teo, who chairs Cabinet on matters to do with the house, has explained straightforwardly why he set it up.
We in fact do this often - setting up special committees comprising a group of Ministers. We started the practice many years ago, and it has evolved. It's how we ensure that important issues are given in-depth attention, and the options are weighed up by the Ministers closer to the issue, before Cabinet makes its decisions and takes collective responsibility. And it's how we ensure that we are not a Government that operates in silos, that the national interest prevails even when there are valid sectoral or private interests, and that the long view prevails over the short view wherever possible.
That's a challenge in governance that will never disappear, and is a challenge everywhere in the world. We have never got it perfect in Singapore, and let's be frank, we've had our share of policies that have turned out quite wrong at different points in our history.
But we have a system of preserving the rule of law, and of policy-making that balances public against private interests, and the long term against the short term, that's still a rarity in the world - and is at the core of how Singapore has succeeded. Starting with the foundation that Lee Kuan Yew and his team built. And continuing through government under Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong and their teams.
We have Ministerial committees on a whole range of issues. They help us think through difficult choices in Government before they come to Cabinet, and to canvas views outside when appropriate. I chair several of them, especially when they concern social or economic issues; in the last month alone I met with five Ministerial committees that we had set up to develop policies on key issues.
Some Ministerial committees may sit for just a few months, because the problems can be sorted out quickly. But there are also committees that have to stay engaged for years - sometimes with new Ministers coming in - such as on foreign worker policies, and funding healthcare and retirement needs.
To give an example, since 2014 we have had a Ministerial Committee on Changi East Developments, to coordinate plans for the airport expansion, its manpower and security needs, the relocation of Paya Lebar airbase, industrial opportunities, land transport provisions, and housing development. It brings several Ministers together, supported by their civil servants, to find the best balance between different demands and plan our options for 10, 30 and 50 years ahead. That's how long-term our planning has to be.
So have confidence, no matter today's sad dispute. We have a system of governance that Lee Kuan Yew and his team built, and it isn't going away. You can count on PM Lee Hsien Loong and all of us in his team for that. You can count on the fourth generation leaders to keep to a system that upholds the laws of the land, prioritises the common good and looks to the long term. Never thinking Government has got everything right, but always wanting to do right for Singapore. And count on Singaporeans to ensure Government sticks to those principles - and to play our part collectively to keep Singapore united and inclusive.