No abuse of power by me or Government, says PM Lee
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean responded to 30 MPs who spoke during the parliamentary debate on the Oxley Road house dispute, saying the allegations have been aired, answered to and rebutted. Here are extracts of their closing speeches.
Some MPs still asked why I am not taking legal action against my siblings. For example, Mr Low Thia Khiang advocates my suing my siblings for defamation. This background which I have narrated to you explains why I have hesitated to do so. As I said yesterday, I have been advised that I have a strong legal case. And in normal circumstances, I would surely sue because the accusations of abuse of power are so grave. But suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents' names. Mr Low may think that does not count and is neither here nor there. I take a different view. Mr Low argued that we should "do whatever it takes to bring the issue to a quick resolution". I agree, but going to court will not achieve this. It would drag out the process for years, cause further distress to Singaporeans, and distract us from the many urgent issues that we must deal with.
Several MPs - Mr Pritam Singh, Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, Mr Louis Ng and Mr Zaqy Mohamad - suggested a Select Committee, or a Commission of Inquiry as an alternative. But what is the basis for this? There are no specifics to the headline charge of abuse of power. What specifically did I do that was wrong? What was wrong with that, whatever "that" may be? Who was involved? When did it happen?
After two days of debate, nobody has stood behind these allegations or offered any evidence, not even opposition MPs. The Workers' Party MPs say that they are not in a position to judge. Indeed, Mr Low criticises my siblings for making "vague allegations… based on scattered evidence centred on family displeasure". If MPs believe that something is wrong, it is MPs' job to pursue the facts and make these allegations in their own name. Decide whether something seems to be wrong, and if you think something is wrong, even if you are not fully sure, then come to this House, confront the Government, ask for explanations and answers. If having heard the Government, you are not satisfied, then by all means demand a Select Committee or a Commission of Inquiry (COI). But do not just repeat allegations and attribute them to others, or ask for a Select Committee or COI because accusations are around - don't know what but therefore we must have a COI to find out what.
The accusers may not be in Parliament but that should not stop MPs from talking to them to get their story, nor would it stop the accusers from getting in touch with MPs, including opposition MPs, to tell their story so that the MPs can raise it on their behalf in Parliament. That is, in fact, how the MP system is meant to work. Those are the MP's duties. That is one reason why Parliamentary Privilege exists. So that MPs who have heard troubling allegations or news, can make these allegations and raise the matters in the House even if they are not completely proven and may be defamatory, without fear of being sued for defamation.
But none of this has happened over the last two days. No one says there is evidence of abuse of power. Even the Opposition is not accusing the Government of abuse of power. So it is not a case of "oneself defend oneself". Why do we need, in these circumstances, a Select Committee or COI, and drag this out for months? It would be another Korean drama, full-scale serial. Should we set up Select Committees to investigate every unsubstantiated allegation, every wild rumour? It is as Mr Low Thia Khiang says, "vague allegations… based on scattered evidence centred on family displeasure". That's not a basis. But if there is evidence of wrongdoing that emerges or alleged evidence of wrongdoing which emerges, then I and the Government will consider what further steps to take. We can have a Select Committee, we can have a Commission of Inquiry, I may decide to sue for defamation or take some other legal action but, until then, let's get back to more important things that we should be working on.
Where do we go from here? The ministerial statements and the debate have been important and valuable. Facts and explanations have been put on the record. Singaporeans have received a full account of how the Government works, and what the Government has done, in the case of 38, Oxley Road. The allegations have been aired, have been answered and rebutted. People can see that there has been no abuse of power, by me or the Government. I hope that this two-day debate has cleared the air and will calm things down.
It would be unrealistic to hope that the matter is now completely put to rest. I do not know what further statements or allegations my siblings may make. But with the benefit of the statements and debate in Parliament, Singaporeans are now in a better position to judge the facts, and see this issue in perspective. And we can all go back to what we should be focused on and not be distracted from national priorities and responsibilities.
I thank ESM Goh Chok Tong, Ms Chia Yong Yong, Mr Charles Chong and many others for your good wishes for reconciliation within the family. I, too, would like to think this is possible. It will be a difficult and a long road but I hope that one day, there will be rapprochement.
DPM Teo reminded us about the national week of mourning when Mr Lee died. It was an emotional week for everybody. For Singaporeans, who lost their founding father, for my family and for me. For me, the most difficult and emotional moment in that whole week came when I was reading the eulogy at the state funeral service, when I recounted how when I was about 13, my father had told me: "If anything happens to me, please take care of your mother, and your younger sister and brother". Singapore was then part of Malaysia. We were in a fierce fight with the Central Government and the communalists. My father did not tell me, but he knew his life was in danger. Fortunately, nothing happened to my father then. He brought up the family and I thought we had a happy family and he lived a long and full life. Little did I expect that after my parents died, these tensions would erupt with such grievous consequences and, after so many years, I would be unable to fulfil the role which my father had hoped I would. So I hope one day, these passions will subside, and we can begin to reconcile. At the very least, I hope that my siblings will not visit their resentments and grievances with one generation upon the next generation and further, that they do not transmit their enmities and feuds to our children.
I am sad that this episode has happened. I regret that in addressing public accusations against me, I have had to talk about private family matters in Parliament. My purpose has not been to pursue a family fight, but to clear the air, and to restore public confidence in our system. This is how the system is supposed to work. When there are questions and doubts about the Government, we bring them out, deal with them openly, and clear the doubts. If anything is wrong, we must put it right. If nothing is wrong, we must say so.
Ms Chia Yong Yong spoke eloquently yesterday of the many issues she felt passionately about, the many challenges we face as a nation, and why we should be focusing on them and not be distracted by this controversy. Mr Low Thia Khiang called on everyone to "focus on rallying Singaporeans to be united in facing the challenges, and not be participating in a divisive dispute". I fully agree with them. We must all get back to work. This is not a soap opera. Come together, tackle the challenges before us. My team and I will do our best to continue building this Singapore, keeping it safe, and making it prosper. Thank you very much.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'No abuse of power by me or Government, says PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.