SINGAPORE - ESM Goh Chok Tong said in Parliament on Tuesday that the dispute among the children of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew over 38 Oxley Road has been blown out of proportion and has tarnished the reputation of Singapore.
He said that the dispute over the Lee family home is only a fig leaf for the deep cracks within the family, He asked: "What then is the agenda of PM’s accusers? Are they whistleblowing in a noble effort to save Singapore, or waging a personal vendetta without any care for the damage done to Singapore? I have kept my ears open. From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the Government and Singaporeans."
This is the transcript of ESM Goh's speech.
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This sad public squabble between the Lee siblings is blown out of proportion. But it has embroiled all of us. It has tarnished the reputation of Singapore and distracted the Government from far more important work.
Because the allegations against PM have been made by members of the Lee family, they are given weight. The public is confused and concerned, even as Singaporeans continue to trust PM and the Government. There is thus urgency to explain, restore trust and get back on track. It is our duty and responsibility to do this, to account to our voters.
My main concern is neither the fate of 38 Oxley Road nor the family feud. They are far removed from the daily concerns of Singaporeans. It is the wilful attack on the integrity of our leaders and the insidious corrosion of public faith in our institutions that I want to address. The nub of the issue for us in Parliament is integrity and trust – in the Prime Minister and our system of government. Absent these, Singapore will descend to a Third World country.
Incorruptibility of our Government is what distinguishes Singapore. The Prime Minister is central in upholding that incorruptibility. He holds the key levers of state power, entrusted by the people. When trust in the Prime Minister disappears, his moral authority and political capital shrivel. Therefore, the constant self-policing, restraint and care of the Prime Minister in wielding the immense power at his disposal, is paramount. There is no hiding from public scrutiny. One’s entire character is laid bare and there is only total dedication to the job. This is the standard we want to uphold.
My view remains that when a Minister thinks that an allegation made against him is without basis, he has to sue. PM has explained in his speech why he would prefer not to sue. I can well understand his dilemma. Being the eldest in the family, he must harbour hopes of reconciliation, however remote it seems now, even at a cost to his own political standing. Indeed, I have urged him as well as Lee Hsien Yang to sort out their differences, misunderstanding, and reconcile. It is surely not worth the feud being passed on to the next generation.
Given the immediacy of the issue, I commend PM for his courage in opening himself and his Ministers to scrutiny in Parliament.
Is the Ministerial Committee shrouded with secrecy? Are DPM Teo Chee Hean and the Ministers PM’s puppets? You have listened to DPM Teo Chee Hean’s explanation yesterday. I brought him into politics, after he distinguished himself in the Singapore Navy. He stood with me in the 1992 by-election in Marine Parade GRC. He went on to serve key appointments with distinction. Today, he is Minister in charge of the Civil Service and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security. To suggest that he would do PM’s bidding blindly is to insult the Civil Service and Singapore Armed Forces, never mind the PAP and DPM.
Many of the other Ministers served under Lee Kuan Yew too. And they have stood up to him. Lee Kuan Yew told them that he wanted to have his house demolished after his death. They said “no”. They are not yes-men.
I have come to the conclusion that neither money nor the house is the real issue. The dispute over 38 Oxley Road is only a fig leaf for the deep cracks within the family, cracks which perhaps started decades ago. What then is the agenda of PM’s accusers?
Are they whistleblowing in a noble effort to save Singapore, or waging a personal vendetta without any care for the damage done to Singapore? I have kept my ears open. From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the Government and Singaporeans.
It is now no more a cynical parlour game. If the Lee siblings choose to squander the good name and legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, and tear their relationship apart, it is tragic but a private family affair. But if in the process of their self-destruction, they destroy Singapore too, that is a public affair.
Unsubstantiated accusations have been dished out on Facebook and the media, ad nauseam. Singaporeans are getting sick and tired of all this. We cannot, and will not, allow ourselves to be manipulated as pawns.
There must be a clear conclusion at the end of this debate. Either we clear PM over the allegation on his abuse of power or we censure him.
I have heard PM’s and DPM’s statements. I have also been following closely the lengthy postings that Lee Hsien Yang has shared online. I have heard the views and questions of MPs, and paid close attention to those from Workers Party and the Nominated MPs. I reaffirm my full confidence in the integrity of the Prime Minister. I have known and worked closely with him for more than 30 years. I brought him into politics in 1984, and I should add, it was not at Lee Kuan Yew’s behest. He was my Deputy Prime Minister for 14 years. He has been Prime Minister for some 13 years.
This episode, in fact, reveals PM’s political sensitivity and integrity. He gave the proceeds from the sale of 38 Oxley Road away so that no one could accuse him that he would benefit should the Government acquire the land. He had put country before self and family interest.
I still keep a close eye on government matters. This is an occupational hazard for former Prime Ministers. On this case, PM’s and DPM’s accounts accord with my knowledge of how the Government and Ministers operate. I am also fully satisfied that DPM Teo acted independently as chairman of the Ministerial Committee. I met Teo Chee Hean in June 2016 to understand his thinking of a possible range of options for 38 Oxley Road. PM had recused himself a year earlier. I was trying to mediate between him and Lee Hsien Yang. I conveyed DPM’s thinking to Hsien Yang on 23 June 2016. I told Hsien Yang that the dispute over the demolition of the house was actually between him and the Government. It was not with Hsien Loong, as PM has no say over the fate of the house. I emphasised this point to him.
I agree with Low Thia Khiang that we should end this sad saga and move on. But how, he asked? I will tell him how.
I have stated clearly my position on the integrity of the PM and the Government. As Prime Minister, I investigated Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong in 1996 over their purchase of apartment units in Nassim Jade. My judgment and integrity were at stake then as today, when I state my conclusion on the PM’s character and integrity.
After so much has been said by both sides and the Government, it is clear that the allegations are baseless. There is enough distortion out there. I invite Low Thia Khiang and the other WP MPs, as well as the NMPs to also state their position clearly on PM’s and the Government’s integrity.
Low Thia Khiang said in his speech that “Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling should not make vague allegations in the public domain against the Prime Minister based on scattered evidence centred on family displeasure. Making allegations that appear to be calculated to undermine the Prime Minister’s authority does not make for constructive politics.” Well-said. Follow up with a clear statement of your own that you have come to the conclusion that the allegations are baseless.
His colleague Png Eng Huat read out quotes from Wei Ling’s and Hsien Yang’s 14 June Facebook statement. Anyone can simply read. That is akin to spreading rumour. As an Honourable Member of Parliament, he should state his position on what he has read. That is what we are elected as MPs for. In 1996, at the end of the debate, Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong stated their positions unambiguously.
Lastly, if reason fails, I appeal to the emotions and sensibility of the Lees to stop trying to drag each other down and move on. Stop your family quarrel, sort out any misunderstandings and reconcile, and if that is not immediately possible, at least stop making things worse. Keep the quarrel private and seek mediation or arbitration to resolve your differences. No one doubts your deep filial piety. Hsien Loong, Wei Ling, Hsien Yang, your parents were proud of you. This is what your father said during the debate on the Nassim Jade episode: “The proudest thing (for your mother) are her three children – upright, well-behaved and honourable... They were brought up straight, they are likely to stay straight. It is like, as I have said, a code of honour. If you break that code, you have brought shame... upon yourself and family."