Oxley Road: Issues of national heritage need to be considered, say MPs

The exterior of 38, Oxley Road.
The exterior of 38, Oxley Road.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - When it comes to decisions about 38, Oxley Road, more emotional aspects of heritage and memory will also have to be taken into account by the ministerial committee, said Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun in Parliament on Monday (July 3).

"The loss of our national heritage, whether the National Library, National Theatre, dragon playground or the Bukit Brown cemetery can be very emotional, affecting not just the minds, but the heart and soul of the people involved," said Mr Kok, noting that past decisions had often favoured pragmatism over idealism, and society simply had to accept them and move on.

Thus, he was "very glad" to hear Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's acknowledgement in his statement on the ministerial committee that the Government may have been overzealous in demolishing buildings and carrying out development works in the past.

But unlike public spaces like the National Library and Bukit Brown, 38, Oxley Road, poses a different question, Mr Kok added.

"Now we have a private estate, which the community believes to hold a lot of historical value. How do we then balance the needs of the individual as well as the state?," he asked, calling for a decision about its fate to be made with "wisdom and clarity".

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir SMC) noted that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the founding prime minister of a country post-independence, not unlike India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, or former Communist Party of China chairman Mao Zedong. Such a place in a nation's history should not be forgotten, he said.

The values that the late Mr Lee stood for - including multiculturalism, meritocracy, good governance, and rule of law - are representative of Singapore's values, and should be passed on to younger generations, said Mr Sitoh.

While preserving the Oxley Road estate is not the only, or best, way of doing so, it is "reasonable, logical and legal" for the Government to set up a ministerial committee to consider the possibility of preserving his home.

But Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin brought up Mr Lee Kuan Yew's "expressed distaste" of idolatry, and suggested that decisions on the Oxley estate can take their cue from the findings of the 15-member Founders' Memorial committee, which she has been serving on since 2015. The committee gathered views from thousands of Singaporeans about what kind of memorial would best honour the legacy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and first generation of political leaders.

Incidentally, Oxley never came up as a major suggestion, she said. Singaporeans talked of far more public spaces like Fort Canning or Singapore River, and the committee ultimately made recommendations on two possible sites for the memorial: Fort Canning Park and Bay East Garden at Gardens by the Bay.

"Singapore wanted a memorial that would go beyond mere recollection of the past. They wanted the memorial to be forward-looking, that didn't just centre on one personality," said Ms Kuik.

"I would imagine that what Singaporeans wanted for the Founders' Memorial, they would have wanted it for the Oxley house as well. So whether Oxley stays or goes or becomes a memorial garden or basement, I hope that there will be some compromise that will enable it to not go down in history as a memorial that started in bitterness."