Oxley Road: First time Hsien Yang objected to plans approved by Lee Kuan Yew was at reading of will, says PM Lee

Mr Lee Hsien Yang (left) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang (left) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Lee Hsien Yang objected to plans to redevelop the Oxley Road family home for the first time at the reading of his father's will, even though the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew signed off on the plans, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Instead, his younger brother said at the reading on April 12, 2015, that he wanted the house to be knocked down immediately.

This came as a complete surprise to PM Lee, he said in a lengthy statement in Parliament on Monday (July 3) responding to his siblings' allegations that he was trying to block the demolition of the house.

At any rate, the house could not be knocked down immediately as their sister Wei Ling intended to continue staying in it, he noted.

The late Mr Lee had stated in his will that she should be allowed to stay there for as long as she wished.

Procedures after Lee Kuan Yew's death

PM Lee, who was due to speak in Parliament on April 13, 2015, on how to honour his father - Singapore's founding prime minister - discussed with his siblings what he could say about the house and their father's wishes on it.

PM Lee wanted to read out his father's letter to the Cabinet on Dec 27, 2011, on what to do with the house if it was to be preserved, and also the clause in his will about demolition.

"My brother and his wife objected strenuously. But I decided that I had to do so, and I said so, so that my father's views would be on record and Singaporeans could know accurately what his thinking had been," he said.

He eventually told Parliament that it should not rush into making decisions on the matter, and also that his father had been unwavering in wanting the house knocked down.

PM Lee added that as a son, he wanted to see his father's wishes carried out.


Two steps PM Lee took for propriety

After the Parliament session, he recused himself from all discussions and decisions relating to the house, and placed Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in charge.

"I was conflicted, being my father's son and the inheritor of the house, and also the Head of the Government. It was not proper for me to take part in any decisions on 38 Oxley Road," said PM Lee.

He also divested himself of his share of the house.

After an initial deal to conditionally transfer his share to his sister fell through, he agreed to sell his share to his brother at fair market value.

Each brother donated half the value of the house to charity, and PM Lee also topped up another half. This meant that together, the brothers donated one and a half times the value of the house to charity.

"That complicated arrangement substantially addressed a major concern of mine: that our family be seen not to be benefiting financially from 38 Oxley Road," he said.

PM Lee: 'I see no need for argument' over the house

PM Lee also said that there was no longer, in substance, anything for him and his siblings to dispute over on the matter of the house.

"We all want our father's personal wish to be carried out, which is to knock the house down," he said.

He added that he no longer has any interest in the house as his brother now owns it, and he does not take part in in any Government decisions on the house.

PM Lee said he was unsure why there was still a debate, but said one possible factor may be a difference in views between he and his siblings.

He framed the difference in terms of what his father thought about the house.

Said PM Lee: "Was his view black and white, all or nothing - demolish the house no matter what? Or was he prepared to consider alternatives should demolition not be possible?"

He said that his siblings held the view that their father absolutely wanted to demolish the house, with no compromise.

They based this on the first half of the demolition clause on his will, he said.

"They say that if he considered any alternatives... that was only because he was under duress," added PM Lee.

But PM Lee's view was that while his father wanted the house to be demolished, he was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise.

He cited how his father had approved alternative architectural plans, and had put this opinion in writing. The full demolition clause also showed that the late Mr Lee accepted alternatives.

PM Lee also said that there were unusual circumstances surrounding how the last will was prepared, which he had made public two weeks ago.

He added that he would leave the matter "in the good hands" of the ministerial committee exploring options over the house.

This was so that "one day, perhaps decades from now, the Cabinet of the day, most likely under a different prime minister, will have these options available to consider."

He added: "There is therefore no reason for anybody to feel 'pushed into a corner', as my brother has claimed to be."