38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

PM: I did not deceive my father

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he did not deceive his father but had given him his "honest assessment".
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he did not deceive his father but had given him his "honest assessment".
After meeting the Cabinet on July 21, 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for his view of what the Government would do with 38, Oxley Road after he died.
After meeting the Cabinet on July 21, 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for his view of what the Government would do with 38, Oxley Road after he died. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

He gave Mr Lee his view of what Govt would likely do with house

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday rebutted his siblings' claims that he deceived his father Lee Kuan Yew and made him believe the family home in Oxley Road had been gazetted.

"The simple answer is that I did not deceive my father. I explained to you yesterday how my father's primary wish on the house had always been clear - he always wanted it knocked down.

"Where my siblings and I differ is on whether my father was prepared to consider alternatives should demolition not be possible," he said at the end of a two- day debate in Parliament.

PM Lee was responding in Parliament to allegations by his siblings that he abused his power by blocking the demolition of their late father's house at 38, Oxley Road.

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Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had accused him of misleading Mr Lee that the gazetting of the house was either "inevitable" or had already happened.

PM Lee said that what he told his father was that the house was likely to be gazetted.

He made the remark on July 21, 2011, after his father met the Cabinet to discuss the status of the house.

 

MAKING MOUNTAINS OUT OF MOLEHILLS

We all practise making mountains out of molehills. It is a simple matter of a battleship telegram and three old letters which my wife came across in 38, Oxley Road, and told me about. I thought they were significant and relevant to the exhibition on Mr Lee which NHB was putting up.

And I facilitated and arranged for her to pass it to the PMO, and for the PMO to send it on to the NHB exhibition. That's all. You call that representing the Prime Minister's Office. She didn't have a business card from the PMO.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in response to Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang on allegations that his wife Ho Ching had acted on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office in loaning items from 38, Oxley Road to the National Heritage Board.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MATTERS

If I am a policeman and I know there is an investigation against some family member of mine for drugs or money laundering or something, I have to keep that confidential, I can't go and tell him.

But if it comes to my knowledge that somebody, my wife or my daughter or my son-in-law, went to a government department and roughed up the place and demanded to be given special attention or demanded special terms for their deal, then I would better go and tell them straightaway.

PM LEE, to Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh on the distinction between public and private matters. Mr Goh cited PM Lee sending a letter of objection to his brother over a Deed of Gift which he obtained in his official capacity as Prime Minister.

Ministers at the meeting were unanimous in not wanting the house destroyed, contrary to the late Mr Lee's wishes.

He later asked his son - the only minister who did not give an opinion on the house - for his view of what the Government would do with it after he died.

PM Lee said: "I gave him my honest assessment. I told him, you have met the Cabinet and heard the ministers' views. If I chaired the Cabinet meeting, this being the view of the ministers and the public, I think it would be very hard for me to override them and knock the house down. I would have to agree that the house be gazetted."

He added: "And if I was not the PM or I did not chair the meeting, all the more likely the house would be gazetted."

He said his father understood.

After that, PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching came up with renovation plans for the house in lieu of demolishing it, and his father approved them. His wife kept the entire family informed and updated on the plans, PM Lee said.

He gave MPs copies of two e-mails on the renovation that she sent to the whole family.

He read them out in Parliament.

In the first e-mail addressed to Dr Lee in January 2012, Ms Ho listed detailed possibilities for the house in descending order of preference.

Ms Ho also mentioned the project architect Mok Wei Wei, who is the managing director of W Architects and has worked on the renewal of Victoria Theatre and conservation of private dwellings.

Conservation requirements typically do not mean preserving the house in its entirety and interior layouts are often changed, she said, citing Mr Mok.

In her second e-mail dated April 2012, she told Mr Lee that the Urban Redevelopment Authority had approved the plans.

PM Lee read out a reply from his father to this e-mail, in which he said he had already granted his permission on the plans.

"It is quite clear, it is quite open, it is not very curt," PM Lee said of his father's reply. "The conservation plan was done honestly and openly, and not on false pretences."

He also explained his statement in Parliament on April 13, 2015, a month after his father died.

Then, he said the Government would take no decision on the house, as long as his sister lived in it.

People were still very emotional over the death of Mr Lee, he added.

Some wanted to honour him by keeping the house, while others wanted to honour him by knocking it down.

"Emotions were high. Whichever decision we made, one way or the other, significant numbers of people would be upset, and you are just creating... tensions for nothing.

"Best if we postpone this major decision for a calmer time, let time pass before we come to the matter."

He added: "That is why I said what I did in Parliament. I see it in no way contradicting my father's wishes, or what I had advised my father when he was alive."

 

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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 'PM: I did not deceive my father'. Print Edition | Subscribe