Ministerial Committee report on 38, Oxley Road

Moves show Lee's wishes

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's letter dated Dec 27, 2011, his last communication to the Cabinet on the property.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew's letter dated Dec 27, 2011, his last communication to the Cabinet on the property.PHOTO: PMO

The Ministerial Committee studying options for 38, Oxley Road concluded that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew preferred the house to be demolished.

However, it also noted in its report released yesterday that the founding prime minister was aware that 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 (URA) 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 had 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 acknowledged that the property may be preserved, and set out Mr Lee's views on what he wanted if that were to happen.

Jan - May, 2012

In January 2012, Mr Lee approved detailed plans to overhaul the interior living areas entirely while retaining the external structure and the basement dining room.

The Ministerial Committee said an e-mail sent by Madam Ho Ching to the rest of the family on Jan 2, which set out the plans in detail, suggested these had been specifically prepared with conservation requirements in mind.

In the e-mail, Madam Ho said the architect she had consulted, at 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".


The detailed architectural plans were then approved by Mr Lee for submission to the URA in March 2012.

He subsequently affirmed them after URA gave its approval, the committee said.

On April 30, Madam Ho updated the family on the approval and asked if Mr Lee needed her to follow up on anything else, to which he said "no", and confirmed that "permission has been granted as I had previously signed in letters to (the URA)".

On May 15, Madam Ho recommended that they work through the structural and other design details for the renovation/redevelopment plan. She volunteered to work with the architect and design team as Mr Lee's representative.

Mr Lee replied: "Noted. Proceed."

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 keep 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 acknowledged the possibility that demolition may not take place, and clarified how he did not want the house to be open to the public, if so.

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.

The committee noted that questions had been raised concerning the preparation of Mr Lee's last will, but said it did not find it was necessary to set out its views on these questions for the purposes of the report.

"Our interest is confined to obtaining as full a picture as possible of Mr Lee's thinking and wishes on the property, and to try and determine this as best as we can," it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2018, with the headline 'Moves show Lee's wishes'. Print Edition | Subscribe