SINGAPORE - There was nothing unusual or mysterious about the ministerial committee tasked to study options for the Oxley Road house, contrary to the claims of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's two younger children, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
It is a matter of due process for the Government, and while Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling have charged that it was "shrouded in secrecy", they had, in fact, known about the committee and its terms of reference, he said on Tuesday (July 4).
DPM Teo was speaking during the second day of parliamentary debate on allegations of abuse of power in relation to the house. He had also spoken in defence of the committee, which he set up and chairs, on Monday.
The younger Lees claim that the "secret" committee was formed to to block their father's wish to demolish the house at 38, Oxley Road at the behest of their older brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Teo explained that it was formed to examine the historical and heritage significance of the property, the late Mr Lee's thinking on the property, and possible plans for the house and neighbourhood.
"These are all matters which the Government has to take responsibility for, and must plan for. I have also explained why we are starting the process now, to have drawer plans ready, for reference by the government of the day, when a decision needs to eventually be taken. It is not a private matter, " said Mr Teo. "There is nothing unusual nor mysterious about this. This is just the normal process of Government doing its work, properly, calmly and objectively."
Mr Teo also addressed questions raised by the 16 MPs who had spoken till then on the committee over the two-day debate.
Why not rely on a government agency?
Some wanted to know why the Government had chosen to set up a committee instead of relying on its agencies.
Mr Teo said that the committee is not replacing the government agencies in their work. It merely seeks to improve co-ordination and oversight on the matter of the Oxley Road house. This, he added, does not preclude consultations with heritage professionals and the public at a later stage.
To questions on why the committee did not reveal its composition earlier, Mr Teo said that it had informed the younger Lees that "how the committee functions is within the Cabinet's prerogative to decide", and it could decide to bring in other members as and when needed.
He added that Dr Lee and Mr Lee had sent their representations to all Cabinet members. There is no issue with this, he said, noting that "what was material and relevant had been communicated to them".
"In any case, should the Cabinet need to make a decision related to this matter, all Cabinet members - less PM - would be involved and collective Cabinet responsibility applies. So we should put to rest the allegations about the committee by Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang," he said. "Essentially, all the siblings knew about the committee, and what its terms of reference are."
They knew that neither the committee nor the Government was going to make a decision on the house now as Dr Lee is still living in it, said Mr Teo. They also knew that the committee was examining a range of options, with no pre-conceived ideas on the outcome, and that it would not make decisions on the legality of the last will as "this is a matter between the beneficiaries".
Noting that letters and dates to establish these facts have been provided, Mr Teo said he left it to members to decide on whether the younger Lees' allegations on the committee had any basis, adding: "Madam Speaker, we should put this matter to rest."
He also addressed a question from Mr Lim Biow Chuan on whether PM Lee had any influence on government decisions relating to the house.
"PM Lee did not. But Mr Lee Hsien Loong as a private person was invited to convey his views to the ministerial committee in the same way his siblings were. He did so formally... and this is proper and correct. The lines are clear," he said.
Making decisions independently
He also responded to Mr Lim's query on whether the committee is indeed able to be make decisions independently. He harked back to how, when he became chief of the Republic of Singapore Navy in 1991, he was prepared to step down at any time, if ever he had to do something that went against his principles.
"I continue to be guided by that," he said.
The allegations of abuse of power regarding the ministerial committee have no basis, he added. Instead, the opposite is true, he said, reiterating a point he made on Monday that PM Lee did right by recusing himself.
Cabinet and the Government, too, have carried out their roles and responsibilities properly.
"It is not for me to delve into the motivations behind Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling's allegations of abuse of power. But they should not allege abuse of power simply because they were unhappy or felt uncomfortable at being asked to volunteer their views and clarifications on Mr Lee's wishes regarding No. 38 Oxley Road," said Mr Teo.
He also listed points of agreement that between him and Mr Lee Hsien Yang. For one, he had told Mr Lee Hsien Yang that he personally would not support either demolishing the house and redeveloping the property, or preserving it as is. Mr Lee himself had made clear Mr Teo's personal view in a statement this month.
He also pointed to Mr Lee's statement on July 1 on recognising that "no man stands above the law". On this there is no disagreement as well, as the Government has a duty to go through due process for the time when a decision needs to be made.
"It appears to me that there is really no good reason to disagree and create such a public furore. So let us continue doing the work that is needed, calmly and objectively, to study the possible options for the time when a decision has to be made," said Mr Teo.
He will consult his colleagues to see if it is useful to put out a range of possibilities and have the public ponder the matter without having to arrive at a decision at the moment.
But, said Mr Teo, calling for time for emotions to cool, as he had also done on Monday: "I need to weigh this against arousing emotions again, when what we can really benefit from is time for calm reflection, especially when no decision is needed now."