Oxley Road: No evidence to support abuse of power allegations, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrapped up the debate on the alleged abuse of power on day two of Parliament. Here are seven highlights from the session.

Parliament wrapped up two days of debate on allegations of abuse of power over 38, Oxley Road, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying there was no evidence to back claims that led to the sitting.

Singaporeans have been given a full account of how the Government works and what it has done in the case of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house, and ministers have dealt with questions raised, he said.

PM Lee admitted it was unrealistic to hope the matter - which has gained international attention and affected the country's reputation - would be put to rest.

But he hoped that following the statements made by him and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as well as the debate, Singaporeans would be in a better position to judge the facts and see the issue in perspective.

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No MPs had produced additional charges or substantiated the claims made by his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, in the past three weeks, he said, stressing a point several speakers had also made. This showed he and the Government had acted properly and with due process, he said, hoping the session would clear the air over the accusations and calm things down. "People can see that there has been no abuse of power, by me or my Government," he said.

Even before yesterday's sitting began, PM Lee's siblings issued a statement accusing him of misleading their father over the status of the family home.

PM Lee had on Monday disclosed in Parliament that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had signed off on plans to redevelop the house, an indication that even as he wished for it to be demolished when he died, he was prepared to consider other options.

 

But Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang claimed PM Lee gave their father the impression its gazetting was either "inevitable" or that it was already gazetted.

In response, PM Lee yesterday distributed two family e-mails to MPs showing their father approved the plans for the bungalow and how they were done "honestly, transparently, not on false pretences".

The family quarrel came into the open three weeks ago when PM Lee's siblings issued a statement accusing him of misusing his power to set up a ministerial committee to block demolition and use organs of state against them.

Since then, various claims have been made by the siblings against their brother and government officials, drawing a series of rebuttals almost daily in the lead-up to this week's debate.

Call to siblings to reconcile, think of larger house – Singapore

A total of 36 ministers and MPs spoke in the House over two days, with many noting that the allegations of abuse were not backed up.

While Monday's sitting had calls by MPs to investigate and resolve the issue thoroughly, yesterday's session had one particularly strong theme: a call to the siblings to reconcile and think of the larger house - Singapore - that their father built.

Said Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East): "Mr Lee Kuan Yew would not wish to see his family affairs demolish the standing and reputation of Singapore that he spent his lifetime building."

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that 38, Oxley Road holds special significance because what happened in its basement - where the founding of the People's Action Party was discussed - is a relevant part of the nation's history.

Mr Heng, once Mr Lee's principal private secretary, spoke of Mr Lee's willingness to consider alternative views on the matter of redeveloping his house. Mr Lee, he added, observed a strict separation between his private wish and the duty of government, and was committed to a sense of history, the rule of law and good governance.

PM Lee, too, had recused himself from deliberations on the house, and kept a strict separation between his private duty as a son and his public responsibilities as head of Government.

"As several MPs have pointed out, the irony is that if PM were to do what Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling wanted, to impose his private wishes as a son and have the house demolished, we would not have this disagreement made public, but he would have abused his power," Mr Heng said.

Weighing in on the allegations, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he had "full confidence in the integrity of the Prime Minister", whom he had known and worked closely with for over 30 years.

Mr Goh said the statements by PM Lee and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean accord with his knowledge of how the Government and ministers operate, saying he was fully satisfied that DPM Teo acted independently as chairman of the ministerial committee.

Mr Goh also revealed that he was trying to mediate between PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang in their dispute over the demolition of the house, and emphasised to Mr Lee Hsien Yang that the dispute was between him and the Government - as PM Lee had no say over the fate of the house.

Mr Goh also challenged Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) to follow up on his censure of the siblings, by making a clear statement that his party has concluded the claims are baseless.

Mr Low said he could not come to such a conclusion. "We keep our minds open, we are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the PM. Personally, I will not be convinced until the entire allegation is given a convincing or conclusive airing," he said.

Speaking before PM Lee, DPM Teo said there is no reason for dispute over the house as both Mr Lee Hsien Yang and the Government recognise no decision needs to be made now as Dr Lee continues to live in it. He said the ministerial committee would "continue doing the work that is needed, calmly and objectively", to study possible options for when a decision has to be made.

"I hope that these unfounded allegations will stop. They have no basis, and undermine confidence in our system of governance, and unfairly tar our public officers who are trying their best to do their duty."

In closing the debate, PM Lee said he agreed on the need to resolve the issue quickly, but going to court would "drag out the process for years, cause further distress to Singaporeans, and distract us from many urgent issues".

Addressing calls by several MPs for a select committee or Commission of Inquiry (COI) as a platform to hear the allegations, Mr Lee said there were no specifics to the headline charge of abuse of power.

But if alleged evidence of wrongdoing emerges, he and the Government will consider what further steps need to be taken.

"We can have a select committee, we can have a COI, I may decide to sue for defamation or take some other legal action," he said.

"But until then, let's get back to more important things that we should be working on."

Thanking MPs for their wishes for his family, PM Lee, who looked emotional, said he hoped there would one day be rapprochement.

"My purpose has not been to pursue a family fight, but to clear the air and to restore public confidence in our system. This is how the system is supposed to work," he added. "When there are questions and doubts about the Government, we bring them out, deal with them openly, and clear the doubts. If anything is wrong, we must put it right. If nothing is wrong, we must say so."

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'No evidence of abuse raised in House: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe