Home of former PM Lee Kuan Yew at centre of dispute

The house of Singapore's late founding father Lee Kuan Yew at Oxley Rise in Singapore on April 11, 2016.
The house of Singapore's late founding father Lee Kuan Yew at Oxley Rise in Singapore on April 11, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

A long-running question over what to do with the home of the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38, Oxley Road has come into focus again after two of his children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, issued a statement on the matter yesterday.

In their statement, they reiterated their father's wish that the house be demolished upon his death.

The two siblings, who are joint executors and trustees of their father's estate, also said that their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his wife Ho Ching had opposed this wish as "the preservation of the house would enhance his political capital".

The issue of the house made the news back in 2015, several weeks after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died at the age of 91 on March 23 that year.

On April 12, 2015, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang stated publicly that the late Mr Lee had asked for his house to be demolished after his death, and asked Singaporeans to respect this wish.

In his will, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that the house should either be demolished immediately after his death or after Dr Lee moves out of it.

If demolition is made impossible owing to changes in the law, rules or regulations, it was the late Mr Lee's wish that the house should not be open to anyone except his children, their families and descendants.

There had been calls after his death to turn the pre-war bungalow, which he had lived in since the 1940s, into a museum or heritage site.

PM Lee told Parliament at a sitting on April 13, 2015 that Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew about calls from the public to turn his Oxley Road home into a museum and a memorial to him, but was adamant that the house should be demolished after his death.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had written formally to the Cabinet at least twice to put his wishes on record, PM Lee said.

The first time was soon after his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in October 2010, and the second time was after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011.

In his statement delivered in Parliament, PM Lee said that his father's position on 38, Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and added that Singaporeans should respect his wishes.

PM Lee explained that his father was averse to the idea of preserving his home as he had seen too many houses of famous people "kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out", and they invariably "become shabby".

The Prime Minister also said that a decision on the fate of the house was not required yet as his sister, Dr Lee, continued to live there.

Three MPs had tabled questions on ways to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew during that Parliament sitting in April.

PM Lee replied that decisions on how best to honour the late Mr Lee should not be rushed into so soon after his death.

He also told Parliament that he had asked Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang to head a committee to conceptualise a Founders' Memorial that honours not just Mr Lee but also his core team, including Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San.

The 15-member Founders' Memorial committee began work on how to honour Singapore's first generation of political leaders in June 2015.

Since then, it has made recommendations on two possible sites for the memorial: Fort Canning Park and Bay East Garden at Gardens by the Bay. A final decision on the site has not been made.

In December 2015, PM Lee and his two siblings said in a joint statement that they hoped the state would honour their late father's wishes regarding the house.

It also announced that PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had each agreed to donate half the value of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road house to eight charities, in honour of their father.

The December 2015 statement also stated that PM Lee has recused himself from all government decisions involving the Oxley Road house.

In their statement issued yesterday, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang revealed that the house was bequeathed to PM Lee, but he sold it to Mr Lee Hsien Yang in late 2015. The brothers also agreed on the donations to charities.

In the statement, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang said they were disappointed when National Development Minister Lawrence Wong wrote to them in July last year to inform them that a ministerial committee had been set up to consider options for 38, Oxley Road and their implications.

An online poll released in December 2015 by Hong Kong- based market research firm YouGov had found that a majority of those surveyed supported demolishing the house.

Of the 1,000 people it polled, 77 per cent said they backed Mr Lee's wish, while 15 per cent wanted the house preserved.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2017, with the headline 'Home of former PM Lee Kuan Yew at centre of dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe