SINGAPORE - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Tuesday (July 4) stressed that he has "full confidence" in the integrity of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking in Parliament on allegations of abuse of power by PM Lee in relation to the house at 38, Oxley Road, Mr Goh said the debate must end with a clear conclusion - PM Lee must either be cleared of the allegation, or be censured.
"After so much has been said by both sides and the Government, it is clear that the allegations are baseless," he said, calling on MPs, including Workers' Party MPs and nominated MPs, to state their position on PM's integrity and that of the Government.
In reaffirming his confidence in PM Lee, Mr Goh said: "I have known and worked closely with him for more than 30 years. I brought him into politics in 1984, and I should add, it was not at Lee Kuan Yew's behest. He was my Deputy Prime Minister for 14 years. He has been Prime Minister for some 13 years."
Mr Goh, who was Singapore's prime minister from 1990 to 2004, noted that he had called for a similar debate in Parliament in 1996, to investigate then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over their purchase of apartment units in Nassim Jade.
"My judgement and integrity were at stake then as today, when I state my conclusion on the PM's character and integrity," he said.
Mr Goh said the dispute between PM Lee and his siblings, which erupted into the public sphere on June 14 when Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling issued a statement making many accusations against their brother, has been "blown out of proportion".
But their allegations are given weight as they are PM Lee's siblings, he said.
"The public is confused and concerned, even as Singaporeans continue to trust PM and the Government. There is thus urgency to explain, restore trust and get back on track. It is our duty and responsibility to do this, to account to our voters," said Mr Goh.
"Are they whistleblowing in a noble effort to save Singapore, or waging a personal vendetta without any care for the damage done to Singapore? I have kept my ears open. From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the Government and Singaporeans," he said.
Mr Goh noted that the Prime Minister is central in upholding the incorruptibility of Government, which is what distinguishes Singapore. This is why he must be of impeccable character.
"When trust in the Prime Minister disappears, his moral authority and political capital shrivel. Therefore, the constant self-policing, restraint and care of the Prime Minister in wielding the immense power at his disposal, is paramount. There is no hiding from public scrutiny. One's entire character is laid bare and there is only total dedication to the job. This is the standard we want to uphold," he said.
"My view remains that when a Minister thinks that an allegation made against him is without basis, he has to sue. PM has explained in his speech why he would prefer not to sue. I can well understand his dilemma. Being the eldest in the family, he must harbour hopes of reconciliation, however remote it seems now, even at a cost to his own political standing," he said.
Mr Goh said he reached his own conclusion on the matter after hearing PM Lee and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's statements, following the online posts by PM Lee's brother Lee Hsien Yang, and hearing the views and questions of MPs, especially those from the Workers' Party and Nominated MPs.
He also stated his belief in the character of Mr Teo and the Cabinet ministers in the ministerial committee looking into options for the house.
Mr Goh said he brought Mr Teo into politics after he distinguished himself in the Singapore Navy, and they stood together in the 1992 by-election in Marine Parade GRC.
"He went on to serve key appointments with distinction. Today, he is Minister in charge of the Civil Service and Coordinating Minister for National Security. To suggest that he would do PM's bidding blindly is to insult the Civil Service and Singapore Armed Forces, never mind the PAP and DPM.
"Many of the other Ministers served under Lee Kuan Yew too. And they have stood up to him. Lee Kuan Yew told them that he wanted to have his house demolished after his death. They said 'no'. They are not yes-men," he said.
It is imperative that the issue is settled so that trust can be restored and further damage to Singapore's reputation can be prevented, he added.
Mr Goh also chided WP MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) for reading out quotes from the first statement by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling in his speech during the debate on Monday (July 3). In doing so, he was "spreading rumour", when he should have instead stated his position on what was read, he said.
He also urged the Lee siblings to settle their dispute quickly, sort out any misunderstandings and reconcile, or at least prevent the situation from worsening.
"If reason fails, I appeal to the emotions and sensibility of the Lees to stop trying to drag each other down and move on... Keep the quarrel private and seek mediation or arbitration to resolve your differences," he said.
"No one doubts your deep filial piety. Hsien Loong is here, I hope Wei Ling, Hsien Yang outside will hear me, your parents were proud of you. This is what your father said during the debate on the Nassim Jade episode: 'The proudest thing (for your mother) are her three children - upright, well-behaved and honourable... They were brought up straight, they are likely to stay straight. It is like, as I have said, a code of honour. If you break that code, you have brought shame ... upon yourself and family.'"