MINISTERIAL STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
ON “ALLEGED ABUSE OF POWER ON 38 OXLEY ROAD”
AT PARLIAMENTARY SITTING ON JULY 3 2017
Madam Speaker, I am making this statement today because my siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, have made serious allegations of abuse of power against me and my Government.
The allegations seem to concern primarily three matters. One, the setting up of the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road. Two, the Deed of Gift for some artefacts from the house that were to be displayed in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board (NHB). And three, accusations of nepotism over my wife and son, and accusations that I want my father’s house kept standing to bolster my power.
Their allegations are entirely baseless. But they have already damaged Singapore’s reputation. Unrebutted, they can affect Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government. I therefore have no choice but to address them promptly and publicly. I also have to do so in Parliament. Under the Constitution, the Prime Minister is the person who commands the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament. As the PM, I have a duty to explain myself to MPs, and to rebut in Parliament the allegations against me and my Government.
I know many Singaporeans are upset by this issue. They are tired of the subject, and wish it would end. I too am upset that things have reached this state. As your Prime Minister, I deeply regret that this has happened and apologise to Singaporeans for this. As a son, I am pained at the anguish that this strife would have caused my parents to feel if they were still alive.
I intend to clear the air today, to explain the matter fully and to answer all questions about the matter. I am not here to make a case against my siblings. Parliament is not the place for that. What is private, I will try to resolve privately. But what is public, I have to explain and render account.
I stand by what I will say in this Chamber. I shall be separately issuing whatever I say in this debate as a statement by me outside the House which will not be covered by Parliamentary privilege.
To respond to these allegations of abuse of power, I will have to go into some background about 38 Oxley Road and the family discussions on the house so that Members can make sense of the allegations.
My account will inevitably be from my perspective. So I will try my best to be objective and factual.
I will cover the discussions on 38 Oxley Road when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was alive, what happened after Mr Lee passed away, and then, where the matter stands today.
38 Oxley Road
Madam Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 1 to Members.
My father’s wish, held for many years, is well-known to all Singaporeans. He wanted the house at 38 Oxley Road to be demolished. After my mother died in 2010, my father wrote to Cabinet to put his position on the record. This is the first note you have in the bundle, which is dated, 27 October 2010. It is a letter from Mr Lee to Cabinet. And it reads,
“38 Oxley Road. I have discussed this with my family many a time. They agreed with me that 38 Oxley Road should not be kept as a kind of relic for people to tramp through. Take photos of it or whatever else they want, but demolish it after I am gone.
“I have seen too many places which are kept frozen in time. My most vivid memory is that of Nehru’s final home, that of the British Naval Commander of the Indian Ocean fleet in New Delhi.”
Actually it was another British General’s home, but you get the point.
“It was once a grand building. Kept as a monument with people tramping in and out, it became shabby. It is not worth the restoration, unless they restore it just for people to look at.
“38 Oxley Road has no merit as architecture. So please respect my wish to have it demolished when I am no longer around.”
Cabinet noted his letter. A few months later, in January 2011, my father published a book, “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”. In the book, the question of preserving his house came up. He said “I’ve told the Cabinet, when I’m dead, demolish it”. He explained again that he did not want the house to become a shambles. The cost of preservation would be high because the house was built over a hundred years ago and had no foundation. If the house was demolished and planning rules could change, the value of the land, as well as the surrounding plots, would go up
However, after “Hard Truths” was published, there was a strong public pushback. Many Singaporeans did not agree with Mr Lee. They wanted the house to be preserved. This was after all the house of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, where important political decisions were made that shaped the future of Singapore. We are a young nation, and what the house represents is of particular significance to our history and nationhood. So in March 2011, my father asked some newspaper editors for their views. All the editors replied that they would like it to be kept, given its historical importance and heritage value.
Mohd Guntor Sadali, then editor of Berita Harian, wrote to my father:
“I was personally shocked and sad, when I first read about you saying that you wanted the house demolished after you are gone.
“the historical value of the house is priceless…if we demolish it, our next generations will regret it. We should avoid making this mistake.”
Mr Lim Jim Koon, then editor of Lianhe Zaobao, suggested that the house be conserved and turned into a museum, like the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. These were not the answers my father hoped to get. My father then wanted to leave the decision to his children. But we told him that only he could decide. He then said his decision was to knock it down. I told him that in that case he should tell the editors, and put it on the record. And so he did.
After the General Election in May 2011, Mr Lee retired from Cabinet. He then decided to put his views on the record again. And that is the second letter in the bundle you have, 20 July 2011, he wrote to Cabinet to reiterate that he wanted the house knocked down. I read, it says,
“I have previously written to Cabinet that the house should be demolished. It has no foundations and it is in poor condition. It is difficult to maintain when people start trampling through the house. Whenever there is piling at Killiney Road for new homes, hairline cracks begin to appear in the walls. So keeping the house is too hazardous and costly. I therefore repeat my wish to have the house demolished when I’m no longer alive.”
This is a letter that I referred to when I addressed the Parliament on the 13 April 2015. I said he expressed his wish that the house be knocked down. But I misquote, I said December 2011. In fact he wrote this on 20 July 2011.
When I saw this letter the next morning, that means 21 July 2011, I immediately invited him to make his case in person to Cabinet. I thought that with his force of personality and conviction, meeting the Ministers would give him the best chance to convince Cabinet, as he had done so many times before. My father agreed to come. He met Cabinet that very afternoon. But the Ministers were unanimous in expressing their opposition to knocking the house down. I was the only one who did not express a view, because I was both the son and the PM and therefore, conflicted.
After the meeting, my father continued to ponder over how to deal with the house. In fact, even before the Cabinet meeting, he had been discussing with the family how to go about demolishing the house and redeveloping the site. We explored, in the family, all kinds of permutations to demolish the house and redevelop the site – maximise value. We discussed who to inherit the property, whether it should be one or several of the children; whether to demolish the house before or after my father died; whether to donate the proceeds to charity after the site was redeveloped, and if so which children would share in the donation, and which charities to donate to.
At one point, my brother suggested that my father gift the property to Singapore, subject to the condition that the house be demolished and a small public park be built in its place. I said that I thought this was worth considering, but I offered another option: to demolish the house and redevelop the site as my father wanted, but then to sell off the property and donate the proceeds to charity.
I asked my father between the two which he preferred, and he replied the latter. In other words, demolish the house, redevelop and sell off, and donate the proceeds to charity. He even had some ideas which charities he wanted. He was a practical-minded man.
In August 2011, about a month after the Cabinet meeting, my father decided to will 38 Oxley Road to me as part of my share of the estate, and he told the family so.
Ho Ching and I knew my father’s wishes and also my mother’s feelings. We also knew how Cabinet and the public viewed the matter. We started discussing alternatives with my father, to see how best we could fulfil his wishes, in the event that the house could not be demolished. My father’s concern was that the house should not become run-down and dilapidated, and that it should not be an expensive burden to maintain.
My late mother had a different concern: privacy. She felt strongly that her private living spaces should always remain private. She had been most distressed at the thought of people tramping through her personal spaces after she and my father passed away, to gawk at how they had lived. Even when not so familiar people came into the house for one reason or another to meet her or my father, she would complain afterwards, “you could see them looking around, eyes opened, to try and find out how we lived”. She resented it.
So Ho Ching and I came up with a proposal to renovate the house to change the inside completely: Demolish the private living spaces to preserve the privacy of the family; keep the basement dining room, which was of historical significance; strengthen the structure which was decaying, and create a new and separate living area, so that the house could be lived in.
My father accepted this proposal. In December 2011, he told the family that it was “best to redevelop 38 Oxley Road straightaway”, after he died, and do what we proposed. By redevelopment, he means remove the private spaces, renovate the house without knocking it down. At around the same time, on 27 December 2011, he wrote to Cabinet a third time and you have the letter with you.
“Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”
Ho Ching and I therefore proceeded along these lines. We kept the family fully informed of our considerations and our intentions. We emailed everyone, including my father, my sister, my brother and his wife. No one raised any objections to the plan.
My father met the architect, went through the proposal, and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house. Madam Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 2, which contains the relevant correspondence. You see the first page is my father’s authorisation letter to the architect to submit the development application. He signed it on the 28th of March 2012.
“I hereby authorise you to act as my agent to submit on my behalf an application to the Competent Authority under the Planning Act 1998 for a written permission to develop Lots 99909X, TS20 at 38 Oxley Road for a Proposed Additions and Alterations To Existing 2-Storey Detached Dwelling House (River Valley Planning Area)...
“I hereby also authorise you to pay on my behalf to the Competent Auhority all processing fees or charges payable by me in connection with the application.”
URA approved it, two weeks later, on 17 April 2012. I have just given you the first page of the grant of return permission, the rest is the fine print. But the first page puts the key points, name of the address of developer – Lee Kuan Yew, 38 Oxley Road, date of application received and so on. Particulars of Decision:
“Planning permission is granted under Section 14(4) of the Planning Act ... for the application referred to…
“Details ... are set out in Part III ...
“... subject to conditions ... in Part IV ...
“... additional notes ... in Part V ...”
As far as I knew, that was how the family had settled the matter – rationally, amicably while Mr Lee was still alive, which was what he had hoped to achieve and strived very hard to achieve. I heard nothing to the contrary until after my father died.
After Mr Lee’s passing
My father passed away on 23 March 2015. On 12 April 2015, three weeks later, his last will was formally read to me and my two siblings. 38 Oxley Road was given to me. The Demolition Clause was in the will.
Madam Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 3 on the Demolition Clause to Members. The Demolition Clause was in two main parts with a third minor part at the end. I read it out in full:
“I further declare that it is my wish and the wish of my late Wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (“The House”) be demolished immediately after my death, or if my daughter Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private.”
The following day, I had to speak in Parliament on how we would honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The question of 38 Oxley Road was bound to come up. There were already suggestions from the public on what to do with the house, including turning it into a museum and a memorial. I was personally in a difficult position, because I was both Mr Lee’s son and the Prime Minister.
So at the reading of the will, I discussed with my siblings what I could say about the house in Parliament. There was a difference of views. Hsien Yang for the first time objected to the renovation plans that my father had approved. He wanted the house to be knocked down immediately, which was a complete surprise to me. I pointed out that his position now was different from what the family had discussed and agreed upon. But it was not possible to knock down the House immediately, anyway, because my sister, Wei Ling, then said she intended to continue to stay in the house and in his will, my father had expressed his wish that Wei Ling be allowed to stay there for as long as she wished.
So I said we should honour that, and that I would say in Parliament the next day that the Government would not make any decision, until such time as my sister was no longer staying there. We also discussed what I should say in Parliament regarding my father’s wishes. I wanted to read out Mr Lee’s 27 December 2011 letter to Cabinet, stating his view on what to do with the house if it is to be preserved. I also wanted to read out the Demolition Clause in his will, in full. 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. Later that evening, I discovered that my siblings had issued a statement which contained the full Demolition Clause.
In Parliament the next day, I made a statement which I had cleared with my key Cabinet colleagues because I was speaking as Prime Minister. I read out both the letter to Cabinet and the whole Demolition Clause. I said that “we should not rush into making decisions on this matter, especially so soon after Mr Lee has passed away. We should allow some time to pass, consider the ideas carefully, and make calm, considered decisions which will stand the test of time. We want to honour Mr Lee, but we must do so in the right way.” I stated that my father’s position on 38 Oxley Road had been unwavering all these years, that he wanted the house knocked down, and that as a son I wanted to see my father’s wishes carried out. I told Parliament that since my sister was going to continue living in 38 Oxley Road, there was no immediate issue of demolition and no need for Government to make any decision now. As and when my sister was no longer living there, the Government of the day would consider the matter.
After the Parliament Sitting, I took two major steps. One, I recused myself from all Government decisions relating to 38 Oxley Road. 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. So at the next Cabinet meeting, two days after the Parliament Sitting, I recused myself from all discussions and decisions relating to the house, and placed DPM Teo Chee Hean in charge and this was formally recorded in the Cabinet minutes. From that point on, I have been out of the loop whenever the Government handles matters concerning the house. I play no part in any of the discussions or decisions. Whenever the Cabinet deliberates on the house, for example when it set up a Ministerial Committee, I absent myself, and DPM Teo chairs the meeting.
My second major action after my father died, was to divest myself of the house. Soon after the Parliament Sitting, I learned that my siblings were unhappy that I was getting the house. I was not sure why, but I thought the best way to resolve the matter was to transfer the house to them. I first offered to transfer the house to my sister for a nominal sum of $1, on condition that if the property is sold later, or acquired by the Government, all proceeds or compensation would go to charity. Unfortunately, that deal fell through. Subsequently, I made a fresh proposal to sell the house to my brother at fair market value. This time we reached agreement, this was in December 2015 and we also agreed that my brother and I would each donate half the value of the house to charity. We both did so, and in addition I topped up another half myself. In other words, I myself gave away the full value of the house that I had inherited and together, my brother and I have donated one and a half times the value of the house to charity.
So if you understand that properly: the house comes to me, I sell it to my brother for market value. He gives me the value of the house - so many dollars. I gave half of that dollars to charity. He gets the house. In addition, he gives half the value of the house to charity. On top of that, I separately gave half value of the house to charity. So, I gave one times the value, he gave away one half times the value. The house is with him.
That complicated arrangement substantially addressed a major concern of mine: that was that our family be seen not to be benefitting financially from 38 Oxley Road, either through receiving compensation from the State for acquisition or resisting acquisition or preservation or conservation to profit by re-developing and selling the property.
On house, no longer any substance to dispute
I have given you the background to 38 Oxley Road, our discussions when my father was alive what happened after my father passed away.
Where does the matter stand today? There is, in substance, no longer anything for my siblings and me 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. I no longer have any interest in the house. My brother owns it. I do not take part in in any Government decisions on the house. So why is there still an argument.
I really am not sure, but one possible factor may be a difference in views between me and my siblings and the difference is over this question: what did my father think about the house, apart from demolition? 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?
My siblings’ view is that my father absolutely wanted to demolish the house, with no compromise and they point to the first half of the Demolition Clause as evidence – that’s the first section you have in the handout. They say that if he considered any alternatives, such as the next section of the handout that was only because he was under duress because the Government had the power to prevent him or his heirs from knocking it down.
My view is that while my father wanted the house to be demolished, he was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise. Indeed, he put it in writing, and approved alternative architectural plans which were submitted to URA, as I explained earlier and approved by the URA. Next, we have to look at the full Demolition Clause, and not just the first half, and the full clause shows that my father did accept alternatives. Further, I have pointed out some unusual circumstances surrounding how the last will was prepared, which are relevant because of the weight that my siblings put on the Demolition Clause in the last will.
Despite this difference in views, I still see no need for argument. I have submitted my views to the Ministerial Committee. My siblings have submitted theirs. We have commented on each other’s views. I will leave it in the good hands of the Committee. In any case, the Government has stated that the Committee will not make any decisions on the house, and will not even recommend any decisions on the house to Cabinet. The Committee will only list options for the house, so that when a decision does become necessary one day, perhaps decades from now, the Cabinet of the day, most likely by then under a different Prime Minister, will have these options available to consider. There is therefore no reason at all for anybody to feel “pushed into a corner” by the committee, as my brother has claimed to be.
Allegations against Integrity of System
Regrettably, my siblings have now gone public, and accused me of abusing my office. There are very few specifics in their charges. But because their father is Mr Lee Kuan Yew, their accusations gained some credibility, and I have to take their charges seriously. Which is why I am here addressing them in Parliament. What are their allegations?
First, the alleged abuse of power. My siblings have given scant details of the charge, but my brother has cited as a “prime example” the setting up of the Ministerial Committee. I have already explained that I have recused myself. DPM Teo is in charge of this matter. I had nothing to do with the decision to set up the Ministerial Committee. I do not give any instructions to the Ministerial Committee or its members. My only dealing with the Committee has been to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence, no different from my siblings’ dealings with the Committee. This is the right and proper way to handle a conflict of interest. My siblings argue that even though I have recused myself, the Ministers are my subordinates and therefore, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent from me. In fact, they say this of Parliament itself. This cannot be right because if the Ministers are subordinate and cannot be independent, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent then the Cabinet minus me cannot be independent, the Government minus me cannot be independent. What is the process for dealing with the matter concerning the PM’s personal matters? But the process which we have embarked on - me recusing myself from Cabinet, minus me dealing with the matter is the standard way, the standard practice for the person facing a potential conflict of interest. He takes himself out from handling the matter. He does not participate in making any decisions about it. He lets somebody else deal with it. It could be his deputy. It could be some other senior colleague. It could be the rest of the Cabinet, as in this case.
This is exactly what I have done in the case of 38 Oxley Road. I myself do not deal with the matter at all. I take no part in discussions or decisions concerning the house.
DPM Teo is in full charge. Ministers and officials report to and take directions from DPM Teo on all 38 Oxley Road matters. Suppose instead that I had decided as PM to knock the house down, and had pushed that decision through without allowing the Government to consider the alternatives, weigh the considerations, and go through due process, just because it was what my father wanted. That would have been a real abuse of power.
That would have gone against the whole system of rules and values that Mr Lee Kuan Yew spent his whole life upholding and building up.
Deed of Gift
The second issue my siblings accuse me of is separate from the house itself.
After my father passed away, my siblings gifted artefacts from 38 Oxley Road to the National Heritage Board. This was formalised in a Deed of Gift.
My siblings have accused me of improperly obtaining this Deed between them and National Heritage Board. They say I obtained the Deed as PM, and gave it to my lawyers, and that was wrong. But I disagree.
The Deed was signed by my sister and brother, who were acting for my father’s estate. I was one of the beneficiaries of the estate. I was entitled to be consulted by my siblings before they did this, but I was not consulted.
In June 2015, Minister Lawrence Wong updated me on a major SG50 exhibition on our founding leaders. He told me the exhibition included artefacts from Oxley Road, and described the conditions attached to the gift. He subsequently gave me the Deed, which I had not seen it before. As Prime Minister, I had every right to see it.
After reading the Deed, I became very concerned over what NHB had agreed to. The terms were onerous and unreasonable to NHB. E.g. whenever NHB displayed the items, it also had to display them together with the first half of the Demolition Clause. But only the first half, which said that Mr Lee wanted the house knocked down, and not the second half of the Clause, which stated what Mr Lee wanted done if the house could not be knocked down. This partial, selective disclosure would mislead the public on Mr Lee’s intentions. Furthermore, my siblings had announced publicly that this was a gift. But in fact they had set conditions in the fine print: if at any time the terms of the Deed were breached, my siblings could immediately take back all the items for $1. Therefore, this was not a gift at all. They had misled the public. 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 imposed on NHB was wrong.
Discovering all this, as Prime Minister, I had to act. Otherwise people might later wrongly think that I was party to this. It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity as PM, I could not raise the matter with a family member. If I come across anyone doing something wrong, even family, especially family, it is my duty to put a stop to it and set them right. In the same way, if any Minister discovers, in the course of his official work, that a family member is dealing improperly with some government agency, or seeking to take advantage of the Government, surely the Minister must take this up with the family member, and get him or her to stop. That is what the Code of Conduct is for. This is expected of anyone in a public position, especially me, the Prime Minister. I therefore wrote to my siblings through lawyers to object to what they had done. On the Government’s side, I told Lawrence Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo Chee Hean on this matter.
I believe this was the correct and proper way for me to handle the Deed of Gift.
Third, my siblings have made allegations about nepotism, concerning my wife and my son, Hongyi. And that I want 38 Oxley Road kept standing, in order to inherit my father’s credibility and bolster my standing. Hongyi, my son, has publicly said he is not interested in politics. Nor have I pushed him to enter politics. My wife, Ho Ching, is CEO of Temasek Holdings. As CEO, she reports to the Board, chaired by Mr Lim Boon Heng. As a company, Temasek Holdings answers to its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, under Minister Heng Swee Keat. I have every confidence that both Lim Boon Heng and Heng Swee Keat understand the meaning of good corporate governance. It is the Temasek Board which appoints the CEO, and the appointment has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors. If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and CPA know what their duty is. Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, 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 Singaporeans believed such magic works in Singapore, Singapore must be in an even sadder state.
Madam Speaker, may I have your permission to say some words in Mandarin.
TRANSLATION OF CHINESE MINISTERIAL STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
It is with a heavy heart that I speak before you today in Parliament, to explain my position to Members of Parliament (MPs)and Singaporeans on this matter. Over the past two weeks, the dispute between me and my siblings has become public, creating anxiety amongst many Singaporeans.
That my family is in discord is sad. What is even sadder is to see the legacy Mr Lee Kuan Yew painstakingly built throughout his life besmirched overnight. The legacy he left behind is priceless. Everyone hopes that this matter can be resolved and we end this altercation quickly I understand the people’s sentiments. I would also like to see this matter resolved quickly. However, the joint release my siblings made do not pertain to just family matters. My siblings have made allegations against my character and damaged the government’s reputation, affecting people’s trust in the Government. I am therefore compelled to refute these baseless allegations.
I have explained the details in my English speech. After my father passed away, as the eldest son in the family, I naturally wanted to carry out my father’s wishes and I did my best to settle the differences between me and my siblings. But as the Prime Minister, I must also take into account the country’s interest, and allow the government to deal with matters relating to Mr Lee’s house in an impartial manner.
I am caught between these two conflicting roles, so I have done my best to keep my private interest and my public duties separate. As Prime Minister, I have recused myself from all government’s decisions relating to the house. Barely a month after my father’s passing, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was put in charge of this matter. I am not involved and do not interfere.
Whenever the Cabinet deliberates on the house - for example when it set up a Ministerial Committee - I absent myself and do not participate in the discussions.
As the eldest son in the family, it is my duty to protect my parents’ and family’s reputation. My father willed 38 Oxley Road to me. Later, I discovered that my siblings were not pleased about this. To pacify them, I offered to transfer the house to my sister at a nominal sum of $1. Unfortunately, the deal fell through. Later, I sold the house to my brother, and I donated the full value of the house to charity. I did not want any monetary benefit from the house. I thought that having sold the house, my siblings would be satisfied as I no longer have any interest in the house. I did not expect that they would disregard the family’s reputation and air this matter in public, by making baseless allegations against me and the Government.
As the elder brother, I really don’t know what else I should or can do. But as the PM, I am very clear that I cannot leave this matter alone because the allegations have affected the people’s trust in the Government and Singapore’s standing in the world. I must clarify this matter in parliament, set the record straight, and show that my team and I are determined to defend the Government’s integrity and the rule of law.
Parliament is a solemn platform where MPs are free to question and criticise the Government. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was in a similar situation. Many years ago, my father and I purchased some private property which drew criticism, and affected the government’s reputation. Mr Goh Chok Tong was then Prime Minister. He asked us to clarify the issue in Parliament, and be subject to questioning by the MPs.
After that Parliamentary session, we cleared all the doubts that Singaporeans had and restored their trust and confidence in the Government.
Today, I am doing the same. I will open myself to questioning by MPs, including opposition MPs. I want to explain this matter clearly and eliminate all doubts. The family matter is an emotional one, and it is not likely that it can be resolved fully. But still I hope someday there will be a reconciliation among the siblings.
In the meantime, the nation must come first. I must maintain the people’s trust in the government. I must assure them this remains an incorruptible, effective and impartial government – all keys to Singapore’s survival.
Once again, I regret the confusion and trouble my family matter has caused. I hope this Parliamentary session will clear the air. My team and I will continue to do our utmost to serve the people.
Madam Speaker, let me now continue in English
Bringing to Parliament
I have brought this matter to Parliament because Singaporeans are entitled to a full answer from me and my Government. Parliament may not be a court of law, but it is the highest body in the land. It is also where my Government and I are accountable to MPs and to the people of Singapore.
Many people have asked me why I am not taking legal action, to challenge the will, or sue for defamation, or take some other legal action to put a stop to this and clear my name. These are valid questions. I took advice and considered my options very carefully. I believe I have a strong case. In normal circumstances, in fact, in any other imaginable circumstance than this, I would sued immediately because the accusation of the abuse of power is a very grave one, however baseless it may be and it is in fact an attack not just on me, but on the integrity of the whole Government. But, suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents’ names. At the end of the day, we are brother and sister, and we are all our parents’ children. It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans. Therefore, fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice.
Every family will understand that family disputes do happen, but they are not something to flaunt in public. That is why I have done my best to deal with this out of the public eye. For example, I kept my submissions to the Ministerial Committee private. My purpose was not to pursue a fight with my siblings, but to assist the Committee in its work. Unfortunately, my siblings made public allegations against me and then I had no choice but to defend myself, and release the statements and facts about the matter. I stand by the statements I have published but I really do not want to go further if I can help it.
Today I am making this statement in Parliament to account to Members and to Singaporeans and to deal with the issue expeditiously so that Singaporeans can understand what it is all about and we can put the matter to rest, I hope, once and for all.
DPM Teo will be making a Ministerial Statement after me. He will explain his and the Government’s actions and decisions in this matter. Other relevant Ministers will speak too. I invite Members to raise all questions, suspicions or doubts directly in this Chamber, with me and my team.
I have seen the questions filed by the Workers’ Party MPs. It is striking that the questions are general and concern broad principles and rules. They contain no specific allegations or facts about any wrongdoing or impropriety. But if I am mistaken and the WP has come across such allegations or facts, please raise them today. My Ministers and I will deal with all their questions and give comprehensive answers because we have nothing to hide.
I have told the PAP MPs that I am lifting the Party Whip. Strictly speaking, there is no Whip to lift, since no vote will be taken. But I said this to emphasise what I expect from this debate – a robust questioning and a full airing and accounting of the public issues and allegations. All MPs, whether you are PAP MPs, opposition MPs, or NMPs, should query me and my Ministers vigorously and without restraint. That is the way to dispel all the doubts, innuendo and tittle tattle that has been planted and circulated.
That is the way to strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government, and refocus our energies on the challenges that we face as a nation.
Legacy which I am defending
The legacy of Mr Lee is much more than an old house. Mr Lee’s legacy is Singapore and the values that we uphold.
We have built something special in Singapore. A cohesive, multi-racial, meritocratic society. A fair and just society, where the same rules apply to everybody. Whether you are a Minister, or an ordinary citizen. Whether you are the Prime Minister, or the children of the founding Prime Minister. You are not above the law.
My colleagues and I are in politics and in government, to fight to uphold this legacy to keep Singapore successful. We have sworn to serve Singapore faithfully. When private interests and public duties clash, we make sure that our private interests do not sway our public decisions. When allegations of impropriety and corruption are made, we take them seriously and investigate them fully. Ministers are bound by a Code of Conduct which is tabled in Parliament. And after every General Election, I issue Rules of Prudence to every PAP MP, so that they know how to conduct themselves to protect their own reputation and to safeguard the integrity of the PAP Government and Singapore system.
In Singapore, everyone is equal before the law. Mr Lee understood this most of all. When the dust has settled on this unhappy episode, people must know that the Government in Singapore operates transparently, impartially, and properly. That in Singapore, even Mr Lee’s house and Mr Lee’s wishes are subject to the rule of law. 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 built, not 38 Oxley Road.
When Mr Lee was asked what were the most important things to him in life, he said “my family and my country”. It pains me that this episode has put both under a cloud, and done damage to Singapore. I hope one day I will be able to resolve the unhappiness within the family. 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. My colleagues and I will continue to serve you and work with you, as we have always done, to the best of our ability.