SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Wednesday (June 21) that under the law, it is the Government of the day that has to make a decision on the fate of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s house in Oxley Road.
For this reason, it is “incumbent on the Cabinet to consider and decide on the issues, and I have decided to set up a committee to assist Cabinet to do so”, he said.
“Cabinet cannot outsource decision-making,” he added.
DPM Teo also pointed out that “setting up a ministerial committee to study or work on issues is part of normal Cabinet working processes".
“Even boards of companies set up committees to look into specific issues.”
His latest remarks on the role of the four-member ministerial committee he heads were made in response to a commentary by editor-at-Large Han Fook Kwang in The Straits Times on Wednesday.
Mr Han’s commentary, Three key issues in the Lee v Lee saga, is on the dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings over the fate of the house of their late father.
The siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, are joint executors and trustees of their father’s estate and want the house to be demolished as expressed in the late Mr Lee’s final will.
PM Lee has recused himself from government decisions on the property but has said previously that personally, he would like his father’s wishes to be honoured.
Mr Han suggested disbanding the ministerial committee and leaving the decision on the house to the Founders’ Memorial Committee.
The 15-member Founders’ Memorial Committee was set up in 2015 to come up with the concept for a Founders’ Memorial to honour Singapore’s first generation of political leaders. They include founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and core members of his team, such as Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San.
DPM Teo, in his statement, pointed out that the Government of the day is ultimately responsible for the decision on 38, Oxley Road, because “this is where the powers reside under the law, specifically the Preservation of Monuments Act and the Planning Act in this case’’.
“Mr Han himself acknowledges this,’’ he added.
Mr Han, who is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, had written: “Was it wise or necessary for ministers to be involved in such matters as Mr Lee’s will, which are difficult to ascertain?
“Should they not have confined themselves to deciding only on what to do with the house – demolish, preserve or some intermediate option?”
DPM Teo replied that his committee’s interest in the will is confined to trying to understand Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking on the future of the house.
It is “an important factor which we would all want to take into account”, he said.
Hence, the committee sought the views of PM Lee and his siblings.
“Indeed, the committee had to, since the siblings themselves told us they had different views, and challenged each other’s interpretations of Mr Lee’s wishes,” he said.
“All views were given voluntarily, including those in the form of statutory declarations. Where there were different views, clarifications were sought including the offer for them to be made as statutory declarations.”
All these were done through correspondence and out of the public eye until it was brought out into the open, DPM said, referring to a six-page statement Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang posted on their Facebook pages in the early hours of June 14.
The duo accused PM Lee, among other things, of abusing his power.
Specifically, they pointed to the establishment of what they call a “secret committee” to challenge the demolition clause in Mr Lee’s will.
PM Lee has refuted their allegations.
He will deliver a ministerial statement on July 3 in Parliament on the dispute with his siblings.
DPM Teo stressed in his statement that the difference of views held by the siblings did not arise because of the ministerial committee.
“We still hope that differences of views on private matters can be resolved within the family,” he said. “But ultimately, the Cabinet of the day and its ministers cannot avoid taking responsibility for making the required decisions on matters where the public interest is involved, and due process is required."
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself understood this and would have expected the Government to do so," DPM Teo said.