SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (July 3) delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament, addressing his younger siblings' allegations that he has abused his power on matters relating to the fate of their father and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road.
The dispute between PM Lee and his two siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, over the residence of their late father and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was made public by the younger Lee siblings last month after they released a statement on the issue. They accused PM Lee of abusing his power in a bid to prevent the demolition of their father’s house. Both younger siblings want the house demolished which they say is in accordance with their father’s wishes. Since the release of the statement on Facebook last month, there has been an exchange between the siblings and some ministers on social media over various issues including the ministerial committee tasked to look at options for the house.
In his statement, PM Lee said the "baseless" allegations appeared to concern primarily three matters:
- the setting up of a ministerial committee on the Oxley Road house;
- the deed of gift for some artefacts from the house that were to be displayed in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board (NHB);
- accusations of nepotism over PM Lee's wife, Madam Ho Ching, and son, Mr Li Hongyi, as well as Mr Lee wanting to retain the house to bolster his political power.
Here are nine key points from his statement.
1. PM Lee's apology
PM Lee said he knows many Singaporeans are upset by the issue and "are tired of the subject, and wish it would end".
Apologising to Singaporeans, he said as the Prime Minister, he deeply regrets that the dispute had happened.
As a son, he expressed his pain at the anguish the strife would have caused his parents if they were still alive.
2. Why issue a statement in Parliament?
Evoking the Constitution, PM Lee said he is the person who commands the confidence of the majority of Members of Parliament (MP).
He added that he has a duty to explain himself to MPs, and rebut in Parliament the allegations against him and his Government.
While he said his siblings' allegations are entirely baseless, they have already damaged Singapore's reputation and if unrebutted, can affect Singaporeans' confidence in the Government.
3. Plans for the house
When Mr Lee Kuan Yew willed the house to PM Lee in August 2011, PM Lee said he was aware of his father's steadfast desire to demolish 38, Oxley Road.
Taking into account the public and Cabinet's opposition to that view, as well as his parents' concerns, PM Lee - along with Madam Ho - came up with a proposal to renovate the house to change the inside completely.
This included demolishing the private living spaces and strengthening the building's structure while creating a new and separate living area.
At the same time, the basement dining room, which was of historical significance, would be kept intact.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew accepted this proposal, and met with the architect and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house. He also signed the authorisation to submit the development application to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on March 28, 2012, which URA approved on April 17 that year.
PM Lee and Madam Ho kept the family fully informed of their intentions, e-mailing everyone, including his father, Dr Lee, and Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern.
No objections were raised to the plan.
4. Difference in views
At the reading of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will however, PM Lee learnt that a demolition clause had been inserted into the will.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang for the first time objected to the renovation plans, and wanted the house knocked down immediately.
PM Lee, who was surprised, pointed out that it could not be done as Dr Lee was intending to stay in the house.
PM Lee also wanted to read out in Parliament their father's Dec 27, 2011, letter to Cabinet, which stated Mr Lee Kuan Yew's view on what to do with the house if it is to be preserved, as well as both parts of the will's demolition clause in full.
This was "objected strenuously" by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, but PM Lee went ahead with his decision.
However, PM Lee discovered later that evening that his siblings had released a statement which contained the full demolition clause.
5. Ministerial committee
After the Parliament sitting when he read out his father's letter and the entire demolition clause, PM Lee recused himself from all Government decisions relating to the house.
He also divested himself of the house, reaching an agreement to sell the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and donating the proceeds to charity.
He placed Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in charge, and was kept out of the loop whenever matters concerning the house were handled.
PM Lee revealed that he had nothing to do with the decision to set up the ministerial committee, and did not give any instructions to the committee or its members.
His only dealings with the committee were to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence, no different from his siblings' dealings with it.
Addressing his siblings' allegations that the committee was made up of his subordinates and therefore cannot be independent of him, PM Lee said it is standard practice to recuse oneself from the matter in this way and let somebody else - in this case his deputy - to deal with it.
6. Deed of gift dispute
PM Lee disagreed with his siblings' accusation that he had improperly obtained a deed of gift involving some artefacts from 38, Oxley Road, that they gifted to NHB.
As one of the beneficiaries of their father's estate, PM Lee said he was entitled to be consulted by them, but was not.
After Minister Lawrence Wong updated him on a major SG50 exhibition, PM Lee was informed of conditions attached to his siblings' gifts, which he expressed concern over.
Mr Wong also gave the deed to PM Lee, which as Prime Minister, he said he had every right to see.
Calling the terms of the gift onerous and unreasonable, PM Lee said NHB had to display the items with the first half of the demolition clause and not the second, which stated what Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted done if the house could not be knocked down.
He said this would mislead the public on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's intentions.
The siblings had also set conditions in the fine print that if at any time the terms of the deed were breached, they could immediately take back all the items for $1, said PM Lee. This was misleading as the condition meant that the gift was not a gift.
"Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew had gifted many items to NHB during their lives, and they had never imposed any conditions on their gifts remotely like these. What Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang had done was wrong," PM Lee said.
As the Prime Minister, he said he had to act and wrote to his siblings through lawyers to object to what they had done, and told Mr Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo on this matter.
Responding to allegations made by his siblings about nepotism concerning Madam Ho and his son Li Hongyi, PM Lee said his son has publicly said he is not interested in politics. He has also not pushed him to enter politics.
And if Madam Ho, who is CEO of Temasek Holdings, ever behaves improperly, he expressed his confidence that the Temasek Board, the President and Council of Presidential Advisors would act accordingly.
As for allegations that the house's continued existence would "enhance his aura as PM", he said: "If I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state.
"And if such magic can work, Singapore must be in an even sadder state."
8. No legal action to be taken
PM Lee said under normal circumstance, he would surely sue as the accusation of abuse of power "is a very grave one, however baseless it may be".
Suing his own brother and sister in court, however, would further besmirch his parents' name, and at the end of the day, "we are brothers and sister, and we are all our father's children".
PM Lee pointed out that the dispute would drag on for years, causing more distraction and distress to Singaporeans.
He also stressed that he had done his best to deal with the dispute out of the public eye.
9. Defending Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy
Describing his father's legacy as much more than an old house, PM Lee said the legacy is in fact Singapore and the values its people uphold.
He reiterated that in Singapore, everyone is equal before the law, and after the dust has settled on this "unhappy episode", people must know that the Government operates "transparently, impartially, and properly".
"That in Singapore, even Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house and his wishes are subject to the rule of law," he added.
"That the Government he built is able to withstand intense and sustained attacks on its reputation and integrity, and emerge not just untainted but in fact strengthened.
"This is the 'house' that Mr Lee Kuan Yew built, not 38, Oxley Road."PM Lee said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had cited family and country as the most important things to him in life, and it has pained him to see the episode put family and country under a cloud. He expressed hope that the unhappiness within his family would be resolved one day.
"But today I stand here before you to answer your questions, clear any doubts, and show you that you have every reason to maintain your trust in me and my Government," he said.
"My colleagues and I will continue to serve you and work with you, as we have always done, to the best of our ability."