38, Oxley Road: Lee Hsien Yang says ministerial committee's report does not accurately represent Lee Kuan Yew's wishes

The ministerial committee set up to consider the future of 38, Oxley Road laid out three options for the house, and says the decision on which to take will be left to a future government.
The ministerial committee set up to consider the future of 38, Oxley Road laid out three options for the house, and says the decision on which to take will be left to a future government.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A report by the Ministerial Committee on 38, Oxley Road does not accurately represent the wishes of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, his son Lee Hsien Yang said on Tuesday (April 3).

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the younger Mr Lee noted that the committee pointed to certain statements made by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew as evidence that he was prepared to accept options other than demolition of his house.

"That claim is misleading," Mr Lee Hsien Yang said.

"In context, it is clear that our father was not endorsing alternatives to demolition, but was forced to consider them because of Loong's and Ho Ching's insistence that the government would not respect our father's dying wish," he added, referring to his older brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and sister-in-law Ho Ching.

"Our father had never 'accepted' these options, he merely set out what he wanted if the government prevented his house from being demolished."

His response comes a day after the ministerial committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean released its report on 38, Oxley Road.

The committee had set out three broad options for the house - to preserve it entirely by gazetting it for conservation or as a national monument, retaining only the basement dining room and demolishing the rest of the property, or demolishing the property entirely.

 
 

The decision on which to take will be left to a future government, it said.

In coming to its conclusion on the late Mr Lee's wishes, the committee said it had relied on objective evidence - the founding prime minister's letter to the Cabinet in December 2011, plans for the property which he submitted to the Urban Redevelopment Authority in March 2012, and the demolition clause in his last will in December 2013.

In his post, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said his late father wanted demolition "unwaveringly", because he did not want his home made into a shrine. "His legacy is Singapore itself and not his old house".

He added that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was forced to consider options other than demolition, as "(PM Lee) insisted that the gazetting of 38, Oxley Road was 'inevitable'."

He cited an e-mail the late Mr Lee sent to his children on Oct 3, 2011, which said: "Loong as PM has indicated that he will declare it a heritage site".

On the renovation plans submitted to the URA in 2012, Mr Lee Hsien Yang wrote: "Our father reluctantly went along only because he believed the government already intended to thwart his hopes."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's daughter Lee Wei Ling also weighed in on the ministerial committee report on Facebook.

"Papa was as direct as me. He made absolutely clear what he wanted done with the house," she wrote on Tuesday.

"He and Mama had long decided they wanted it demolished after they were gone. It would require unbelievable lack of intelligence or determined denial to not understand what Pa and Ma so unambiguously wanted. It seems to me my big brother and his committee have achieved that distinction with amazing ease."

Mr Lee Hsien Yang also pointed to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's last will, where the late Mr Lee wrote: "I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. 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 alternative options set out by the committee violate what Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted if the house were not demolished, said Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

He also claimed that the committee had "relied extensively" on submissions by PM Lee, "even though he claimed to recuse himself from any discussions on 38 Oxley Road".

Mr Lee Hsien Yang added that the court granted probate for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will in October 2015, so "it is the full, final, and legally binding statement of his wishes for the house".

"Combined with Lee Kuan Yew's numerous and unwavering public statements on the matter, there is more than enough documentary evidence for a future government to understand - and hopefully grant - our father's last wish," he said.

This is the full text of Mr Lee Hsien Yang's response:  

Our father, Lee Kuan Yew, wanted his home at 38 Oxley Road to be demolished. He wanted demolition unwaveringly, and stated his wish repeatedly in private and in public. He wanted demolition, not only out of a desire for privacy, but because he believed that it would be better for Singapore's future. He did not want his home made into a shrine. His legacy is Singapore itself and not his old house.

Before our father's death, Loong insisted that the gazetting of 38 Oxley Road was "inevitable". Lee Kuan Yew wrote to all his children, "Loong as PM has indicated that he will declare it a heritage site." [email of 3 October 2011] In light of this false impression given by Loong, Lee Kuan Yew was forced to consider options other than demolition.

Lee Kuan Yew wrote to Cabinet on 3 Dec 2011, "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." 

In March 2012, Ho Ching submitted renovation plans to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Our father reluctantly went along only because he believed the government already intended to thwart his hopes. Discussions on redevelopment have never been on our agenda; we seek only to fulfill our father's last wish. He reiterated and affirmed his wish for demolition in his last will of Dec 2013.

In his last will and testament, where he made only the 2 of us the executors and trustees of his estate, Lee Kuan Yew wrote,

"I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 ("the House') be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. 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 alternative "options" set out by the committee violate what he wanted if the house were not demolished.

The Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road now claims that these statements are evidence that Lee Kuan Yew "prepared to accept options other than demolition". That claim is misleading. In context, it is clear that our father was not endorsing alternatives to demolition, but was forced to consider them because of Loong's and Ho Ching's insistence that the government would not respect our father's dying wish.

Our father had never 'accepted' these options, he merely set out what he wanted if the government prevented his house from being demolished.

In writing its report, the committee has relied extensively on submissions by Loong, even though he claimed to recuse himself from any discussions on 38 Oxley Road. Indeed in our settlement in Dec 2015, Loong declined to join us in making any submissions on demolition. He claimed "It would also be improper for me to lend my support". He nonetheless subsequently saw fit to make a statutory declaration to the Cabinet committee of his subordinates, where he claimed that Lee Kuan Yew "came to accept Cabinet's position" that the house should be preserved. This contrasts starkly with Loong's public admission that "Mr Lee's position on 38 Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and fully consistent with his lifelong values." (Speech to Parliament, April 2015)

In light of these facts, the Committee's statement does not accurately represent Lee Kuan Yew's wishes. After our father's passing, Loong urged us to obtain probate for Lee Kuan Yew's will, with full knowledge of its contents. The court granted probate for Lee Kuan Yew's will in October 2015, so it is the full, final, and legally binding statement of his wishes for the house. Combined with Lee Kuan Yew's numerous and unwavering public statements on the matter, there is more than enough documentary evidence for a future government to understand - and hopefully grant - our father's last wish.