5 things to look out for in the July 3 Parliament debate on the Oxley Road dispute

PM Lee Hsien Loong will be delivering a ministerial statement in Parliament on July 3, 2017.
PM Lee Hsien Loong will be delivering a ministerial statement in Parliament on July 3, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver a ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday (July 3) to respond to allegations by his siblings that he misused his power.

MPs, elected and nominated and from both sides of the House, have filed questions on the issue and have indicated that they will speak during the session.

The ongoing feud involving PM Lee and his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, over their late father's house at 38, Oxley Road, has gone beyond a family dispute, raising issues such as abuse of power and the integrity of the Government.

Here are some issues to look out for in the debate.

1. What is the scope of a ministerial committee set up to study options for the house?

This question has been answered by several ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who chairs it.

The committee was set up to look into options for the house and its implications for Singapore.

Despite this, the two younger Lee siblings have charged that the committee's formation and its work have been "shrouded in secrecy".

 

MPs have saidthey will ask for greater clarity on the committee and its terms of reference.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari also wants to know how the committee can ensure it is not being influenced by the Prime Minister.

He added: "I'd like to ask why didn't we appoint an independent panel, and what are the checks and balances that they can assure us of."

Non-constituency MP Leon Perera also wants to hear if the committee will tap on independent heritage experts and gauge public opinion before deciding the fate of the house.

DPM Teo will deliver a statement on the committee on Monday (July 3).

2. Was there a misuse of power relating to the handling of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's items?

According to the younger Lee siblings PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had misused their position in loaning items belonging to their late father to the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Mr Lee Hsien Yang said Ms Ho had taken his father's belongings without permission, and arranged through the Prime Minister's Office for these to be lent to NHB.

This will come up at the debate, with WP MPs, for one, questioning if there are rules to prevent family members of political appointees from influencing civil servants.

These has also been questions raised about how PM Lee obtained a deed of gift given to the NHB by the estate of the late Mr Lee.

This deed has to do with the donation and public exhibition of items belonging to the late Mr Lee for an NHB exhibition.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth when the exhibition was planned, has said PM Lee was given the deed in his official capacity.

MPs plan to scrutinise this issue further. Non-constituency MP Daniel Goh, for instance, wants to ask why the deed was released to PM Lee, and whether deeds of gifts executed with the NHB may be shared with third persons.

3. Was there a conflict of interest?

Mr Lee Hsien Yang has alleged conflicts of interest in the formation of a ministerial committee on the house.

First, the committee is made up of subordinates of PM Lee, he said.

Next, including Mr Shanmugam - who had advised his family on options to help achieve his father's wishes - in the ministerial committee also presented a conflict.

Mr Shanmugam has called this charge "ridiculous", saying he was already a minister when the family approached him for advice.

For Monday's parliamentary session, WP MP Sylvia Lim has filed a question about the rules in place to ensure that political leaders who may have an interest in the subject of government decisions do not influence or take part in the process of deliberation.

She also wants to know what conflicts and potential conflicts the Government identified among Cabinet members and with regard to Attorney-General Lucien Wong on decisions relating to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's assets and estates.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee have pointed out that Mr Wong had been their older brother's personal lawyer. He was made Singapore's Attorney-General in January.

4. Has the episode cast a pall on Singapore and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy?

The public feud has only grown more acrid over the weeks, and some Singaporeans fear the explosive falling out between the children of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew will tarnish his legacy and memory.

Others worry that it may hurt the reputation of Singapore.

Some MPs, like Jurong GRC's Tan Wu Meng, will take on the "emotional aspect" of the dispute.

"For Clementi which is an estate with older, Pioneer Generation Singaporeans, many of whom grew up with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and saw Singapore's journey, the emotion I get often is sadness - sadness that this has happened," says Dr Tan, who oversees Clementi ward. "I think they would also want to see that reflected in discussions."

5. Will MPs ask difficult questions with the whip lifted?

Observers point out that the debate in Parliament will serve as a gruelling test for all MPs.

Now that PM Lee has called for the party whip to be lifted, MPs must prove they are able to "ask good questions in the interest of Singaporeans, since they no longer have to speak along party lines", said Dr Norshahril Saat, a research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Indeed, notes Dr Felix Tan from SIM Global Education, if the debate turns out to be a lacklustre one, with MPs toeing the party line instead of making serious efforts to to clarify and examine the allegations, "many Singaporeans may feel that any decision made is already a fait accompli".

So says Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, who points out that the debate could backfire on the ruling party if PAP MPs do not step up to the plate to reflect their constituents' concerns, raise legitimate questions, and "dissect evidence without fear or favour".

"It boils down to what MPs make of the forum," said Assoc Prof Tan. "Much is expected of them and they need to rise to the occasion."