SINGAPORE - The ministerial committee studying options for 38, Oxley Road concluded that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew preferred that the house be demolished.
However, it also noted in its report released on Monday (April 2) that the founding prime minister was aware Cabinet ministers and others were opposed to demolition, given the property's historical and heritage value, as well as their reading of public sentiments.
In view of this, the late Mr Lee was prepared to accept other options besides demolition, the committee said - provided the property was refurbished and kept in a habitable state, and the family's privacy was protected.
To come to its conclusion, the committee said it relied on objective evidence to understand Mr Lee's thinking and wishes on the property, and found three to be particularly useful:
- Mr Lee's letter to the Cabinet in December 2011,
- The renovation/redevelopment plans for the property which he submitted to the Urban Redevelopment Authority in March 2012
- The demolition clause in his last will in December 2013.
Dec 27, 2011
Mr Lee wrote a letter to the Cabinet on Dec 27, following a meeting in July where he presented his views about the property and listened to the views of some Cabinet members.
This letter acknowledged that Cabinet members were unanimous that 38, Oxley Road should not be demolished.
Mr Lee wrote: "I have reflected on this and decided that if 38, Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay."
This was Mr Lee's last formal communication to the Cabinet on the property, and was written less than a week after he executed his second will on Dec 21, 2011, which also includes the demolition clause.
The ministerial committee noted that this letter acknowledges that the property may be preserved, and what Mr Lee's views were if that were to happen.
January to May 2012
In January 2012, Mr Lee approved detailed plans to entirely overhaul the interior living areas while retaining the external structure and the basement dining room.
The ministerial committee said that based on an e-mail sent by Madam Ho Ching to the rest of the family on Jan 2, the renovation plans appear to have been specifically prepared with conservation requirements in mind.
In the e-mail sent on Jan 2, 2012, Madam Ho said the architect she had consulted with, on Mr Lee Hsien Yang's introduction, had explained that "conservation requirements typically do not mean preserving the house in its entirety - the interior layouts are often changed to reflect new family usage needs. So we have the option for Oxley of redoing the entire interior layout to remove any linkages back to the private family space".
The detailed architectural plans were then approved by Mr Lee for submission to the URA in March 2012.
He subsequently affirmed these plans in April and May 2012 after URA gave its approval, the committee said.
Dec 17, 2013
The demolition clause in Mr Lee's last will comprised two parts, the committee noted.
The first part states his wish that the house at 38, Oxley Road be demolished immediately after his death, or - if his daughter Lee Wei Ling would prefer to continue living there - immediately after she moves out.
The second part then specifies his wishes in the event demolition was not possible, it said.
"If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants."
The committee noted this clause acknowledges the possibility that demolition may not take place, and how he did not want the house to be open to the public in such an event.
This clause was also included in several earlier versions of the will. It appeared in the first four of Mr Lee’s seven wills made from Aug 20, 2011, onwards, but was removed on the late Mr Lee’s instruction from the fifth and sixth wills. It was re-inserted in the final will made on Dec 17, 2013.