Oxley Road: Could more have been done to prevent public dispute, ask MPs

From left: Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir SMC). PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS

SINGAPORE - Accusations by the siblings of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that he had abused his power do not appear to have gained traction on the ground, said Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) in Parliament on Monday (July 3). She was referring to the siblings' claims that Mr Lee had abused his power so as to fulfil ambitions of establishing a dynasty and to secure political capital.

"The Singapore public is a rational and discerning one. To suppose that they will vote based on a 'halo effect' bestowed upon the Prime Minister by the simple act of him moving into a house, is an insult to the intelligence of Singapore voters," she said.

It was assuring to note that since the issue broke, "our stock markets have not tanked, asset prices remain stable, and the Singapore dollar actually rose in the same period", she added. "This shows that confidence and trust in our system and in our leaders remain strong."

But she asked if PM Lee could have done anything better to prevent the public dispute over the fate of his late father's house at 38, Oxley Road.

For instance, she questioned PM Lee's act of offering the house for the nominal sum of $1 to Dr Lee Wei Ling, and when this was declined, subsequently selling the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang for full market value. This lends scope to the idea that PM Lee had sought to play Mr Lee Hsien Yang out by making him pay 150 per cent of market value for the house, and then subsequently blocking him with the ministerial committee, Ms Sun said.

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Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said there are more important work to be done and she hoped that Singapore political leaders can "get on with it".

The late Mr Lee had bequeathed the house to PM Lee who sold it to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at market price in 2015. PM Lee donated the full value to charity, while his brother donated half the value to charity.

Another question that Ms Sun raised is why PM Lee did not challenge the last will when he got to know its contents.

"The PM obviously believes that the circumstances around the drafting of the last will are suspect and had actually gone to the extent of doing a statutory declaration which has very serious implications if he is subsequently found out to have lied," said Ms Sun.

This issue needs to be clarified, as it can potentially help to establish why the current situation is being faced, Ms Sun said, adding that there has still been no clarification by the siblings on who drafted the last will, and the circumstances under which it was prepared. While Mr Lee Hsien Yang claimed that lawyer Kwa Kim Li had drafted the will, Ms Kwa later denied her role in it.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) also asked for clarification over the last will. He questioned why it was necessary for the ministerial committee to be concerned about the validity of the will, pointing out that many Singaporeans have said that such an issue should be a private family matter.

Given that PM Lee had come out to say that he had "grave concerns" over how the last will was prepared, some may see the Government as taking a role in the matter, he added. It may be useful for PM Lee to clarify the capacity in which he had made this comment, he said.

Mr Zaqy added that while he understood that it was common practice to set up ministerial committees, he questioned why the case of 38, Oxley Road, was deemed so important that it required a ministerial committee.

"Wouldn't it have sufficed to have URA, NHB (National Heritage Board) or any other relevant government agency assess the matter and give its recommendations for Cabinet to consider?," he asked.

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Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asks if it was necessary to set up the Ministerial Committee now since Dr Lee Wei Ling is still living at 38 Oxley Road.

If such a ministerial committee was indeed necessary, he added, Singaporeans should be given assurance of the steps that the committee took to ensure that it remained independent despite PM Lee's recusal from it.

Mr Zaqy also asked about the deed of gift given to PM Lee, relating to his late father's items. Knowing that there were onerous contractual obligations and a potential conflict of interest, he questioned why the NHB still signed on to take over the items, and if it had been under any pressure to do so.

Such obligations involved conditions that the executors of the estate could buy back all the items for $1, so long as the house at 38, Oxley Road, was not demolished.

It also required NHB to prominently display the first part of the demolition clause from Mr Lee's will throughout the exhibition and its publicity materials.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang's wife Lee Suet Fern, who was then a director of NHB, was also involved in the discussions between NHB and the executors. Her law firm, Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, also helped in the process of finalising the deed.

"Given that many of our top talent in Singapore wear multiple hats, how can we enhance the governance of our government agencies to avoid conflict of interest?" he asked.

Mr Zaqy also said that some have asked if a ministerial statement in Parliament was the right platform to address this issue, and asked how the Government plans to handle communications and further clarifications from the Lee family if there are further queries beyond those explained in Parliament.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir SMC) defended the Government's decision of setting up the ministerial committee, noting that "it would be a great dereliction of duty" of any Singapore government of the day not to even consider the possibility of preserving 38, Oxley Road, given it is one way of passing down ideals associated with Mr Lee Kuan Yew such as meritocracy and good governance.

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