PM Lee Hsien Loong apologises for damage to Singapore caused by family dispute

He will deliver a ministerial statement in Parliament on July 3 to refute accusations

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his statement in a video released yesterday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his statement in a video released yesterday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong apologised to the nation yesterday for the harm caused by a protracted and publicly aired dispute with his siblings, which has affected Singapore's reputation and its citizens' confidence in the Government.

He will deliver a ministerial statement to refute the "baseless accusations" his siblings made against the Government, when Parliament sits on July 3.

PM Lee issued a statement and a video on the matter yesterday, on his first day back at work after a vacation. He expressed deep regret about the harm caused by the dispute with Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang over whether to demolish their late father Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road.

His siblings had released a statement last Wednesday accusing him of misusing his power in a bid to preserve their father's house, among numerous other allegations.

PM Lee yesterday said these "serious allegations" went beyond private and personal matters, extending to the conduct of his office and the integrity of the Government.

"Much as I would like to move on, and end a most unhappy experience for Singaporeans, these baseless accusations against the Government cannot be left unanswered. They must be and will be dealt with openly and refuted," he said.

PM Lee said all MPs will have the opportunity to raise questions after his statement next month, adding that he has instructed that the People's Action Party whip be lifted. This will allow PAP MPs to speak according to their conscience and not be bound by the party position.

PM Lee yesterday urged all MPs, including opposition MPs, to "examine the issues thoroughly and question me and my Cabinet colleagues vigorously" about the matter.

"I hope that this full, public airing in Parliament will dispel any doubts that have been planted and strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government," he said.

When contacted last night, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he needed time to study his brother's statement and would respond later.

In his statement, PM Lee acknowledged that Singaporeans have been disturbed and confused by news of the private dispute between him and his siblings.

A day after his siblings released their statement, PM Lee made known his "grave concerns" and questioned the "troubling circumstances" surrounding the preparation of the late Mr Lee's final will in a statement issued by his lawyers.

His siblings hit back with multiple Facebook posts, disputing his account about the last will and alleging that PM Lee had used his position to influence the ministerial committee into challenging the validity of a clause to demolish the Oxley Road house in the final will.

That prompted Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to reveal the members of the committee and detail their scope of work last Saturday.

PM Lee said he had "done everything possible to avoid this state of affairs". He noted that his siblings were unhappy after their father bequeathed the Oxley Road house to him as part of his equal share of the family estate. He said he tried to deal with their unhappiness privately, first by offering to transfer 38, Oxley Road to Dr Lee for a nominal $1. When that failed, he sold the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at a fair market valuation, and donated all his proceeds to charity.

"I had hoped that this would satisfy them. There should be no reason for any further quarrel, since I no longer own the house and I do not take part in any government decisions on the house," he said.

Besides pledging to refute the allegations, PM Lee assured Singaporeans that the dispute would not distract him and other Cabinet ministers from governing Singapore and dealing with more important national issues, including pressing economic and security challenges.

"As public servants, my ministers and I will always protect the integrity of our institutions, and uphold the strict standards separating private affairs from our public duties," he said. "We are determined to repair the damage that has been done to Singapore. We will continue to lead our nation and serve you to the best of our ability."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline PM Lee Hsien Loong apologises for damage to Singapore caused by family dispute. Subscribe