PM Lee given deed of gift in official capacity: Minister

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was given a deed of gift relating to his late father's items in his official capacity, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

The deed for the donation and public exhibition of items belonging to the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has become a point of contention in a dispute between his children over the future of his house at 38, Oxley Road.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Wong said the items were for a major exhibition on Singapore's founding fathers - a matter the Government has to deliberate on. "It would therefore be normal and in order that the Prime Minister be kept informed about the contents and presentation of the exhibition," he said.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have accused their brother, PM Lee, of abusing his power to obtain the deed of gift directly from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

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In a Facebook post on Monday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said it is a "clear abuse of authority" if PM Lee acquired the deed in his public capacity. And if it was in his private capacity, he asked how other private citizens could go about acquiring confidential deeds of gift from NHB.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said PM Lee would also have been entitled to know of the exhibition and items from the estate if he asked in his private capacity, being Mr Lee's eldest son and a beneficiary of the estate.

Mr Wong added that the deed from the Lee siblings came with "several unusual conditions", unlike most donated items covered by NHB's standard agreement.

First, it stated that the executors of the estate could buy back all the items for $1, so long as the house at 38, Oxley Road was not demolished.

It also required NHB to prominently display the first part of the demolition clause from Mr Lee's will throughout the exhibition and its publicity materials. The first part of the will sets out Mr Lee's wish for the house to be demolished.

The siblings did not ask for the second part of the clause, in which the late Mr Lee asks for the house to remain off-limits to the public if it could not be demolished due to any changes in the law, rules or regulations, Mr Wong noted.

He said that after discussing the issue with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, "we were concerned about the partial quote of the demolition clause from Mr Lee's will".

But they eventually decided not to pursue the matter and let NHB proceed with the exhibition, which opened in September 2015 and has been extended until now, he said.

Mr Wong, who was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the time, said he put out some facts yesterday to address the "misperceptions circulating around" and will give a fuller explanation on the issue when Parliament sits on July 3.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang responded to Mr Wong last night, saying the latter was "not telling the whole truth" and omitted to mention the deed was signed with then NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel on June 8, 2015.

NHB accepted the "unusual" conditions, and lorries came to collect the items on June 9, he said. But the next morning, he said, Mrs Daniel notified him that Mr Wong had "changed his mind".

"This was an important gift to the people of Singapore. Someone clearly did not want them reminded of Lee Kuan Yew's wish to demolish his house," he said. He included a copy of an e-mail he sent to Mrs Daniel summarising the events surrounding the deed of gift and the sibling's disappointment over the outcome.

Royston Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee given deed of gift in official capacity: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe