SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (July 5) released copies of documents and e-mail messages that were distributed to MPs during the two-day parliamentary debate on allegations of abuse of power made by Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
The materials relate primarily to the family home at 38, Oxley Road. They show, among other things, how the thinking of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew on demolishing the house changed over time.
The documents also show how permission for the redevelopment of 38, Oxley Road, was obtained from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, plans for how the home could be used, and how all family members were kept in the loop about what was being proposed for the house.
In a note accompanying the updated transcripts, PM Lee said: "As I stated I would do in my Ministerial Statement on 3 July 2017, I am reproducing the speech that I made in Parliament here as a statement made by me outside of Parliament, which is not covered by Parliamentary privilege."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the Ministerial Statement on "Alleged Abuse of Power on 38 Oxley Road" at the Parliamentary Sitting on 3 July 2017
As I stated I would do in my Ministerial Statement on 3 July 2017, I am reproducing the speech that I made in Parliament here as a statement made by me outside of Parliament, which is not covered by Parliamentary privilege.
Mdm 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.
These 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 on the matter. I am not here to make a case against my siblings. Parliament is not the place for that. But 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
Mdm 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 bundle in the letter 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 Kiliney Road, 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 torn down. But I misquote, I said December 2011. In fact he wrote this 20 July 2011.
When I saw this letter the next morning, that means 21 July 2011, I immediately invited Mr Lee 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, i.e. 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.
Mdm Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 3 which is 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 regarding my father’s wishes - what is 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. I gave half of that to charity. He gets the house. In addition, he gives half the amount to charity. On top of that I separately gave half value of the house to charity. So I gave one times the value of the house, he gave away one half times the value. The house is with him. That complicated arrangement, that 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 and 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 few specifics in their charges. But because of their father is Mr Lee Kuan Yew, their accusations gain 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. It is standard way, standard practice for the person facing a potential conflict of interest to recuse himself from the matter in this way, i.e. take himself out from handling the matter or making any decisions about it, and let somebody else deal with it, e.g. his deputy, or some other senior colleague.
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 NHB. This was formalised in a Deed of Gift.
My siblings have accused me of improperly obtaining this Deed between them and NHB. 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 it 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, they 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 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 Signaproeans believed such magicwork in Singapore, Singapore must be in an even sadder state.
Mdm Speaker, may I have your permission to say some words in Mandarin.
Mdm 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.
Closing Statement by PM Lee Hsien Loong on the Ministerial Statements on 38 Oxley Road for the Parliament debate on 4 July 2017
As I stated I would do in my Ministerial Statement on 3 July 2017, I am reproducing the speech that I made in Parliament here as a statement made by me outside of Parliament, which is not covered by Parliamentary privilege.
First of all, I would like to thank Members for this debate.
Two weeks ago, when I decided to bring this matter to Parliament, I explained my purpose. To air fully all the accusations against me and my Government. To allow MPs to raise difficult and inconvenient questions, whether you are a PAP MP, an opposition MP, or an NMP. To enable me and my Cabinet to render account to Parliament and clear the air.
In my Ministerial Statement, I have fully addressed the allegations of abuse of power. In his Ministerial Statement, DPM Teo Chee Hean has explained the Ministerial Committee, and how we uphold the integrity of the Government.
I brought the matter to Parliament because I am answerable to MPs and to Singaporeans. I have opened myself up to questioning by Members. It is the Members’ responsibility to ask me any question they want and get to the bottom of the issue.
So I was surprised that some Members asked me why I had brought this to Parliament, and questioned if we should discuss this in Parliament. I agree that we should not fight private disputes in Parliament, nor have we done so. But grave accusations of abuse of power have been made against me as PM, and against my Government. Doubts have been cast on our Government and the leadership. How can my Ministers and I not discuss them in Parliament? Imagine the scandal, if MPs filed Parliamentary questions on these accusations, and the Government replied that Parliament is not the place to discuss the matter. So whatever else I or the Government may or may not do to deal with this matter, we have to come to Parliament to render account. It is our duty.
Therefore, I am glad that in the last two days, we have had a good debate. Members, PAP and non-PAP MPs, have raised questions and my Ministers have answered them and given a proper account.
What has been the outcome? Over the past two days, the allegations about me abusing power which prompted the sitting, have been answered. No MPs have produced or alleged any additional facts or charges, or substantiated any of the allegations. Mr Low Thia Khiang talks about “scattered evidence centred on family displeasure”. But he has not accused the Government of anything. Nor has he given any concrete evidence, or cited any. Mr Png Eng Huat read out the litany of allegations by my siblings, but he did not endorse them and that is significant. Because it shows that the Government and I have acted properly and with due process and that there is no basis to the allegations of abuse of power made by my siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
My Ministers have in the course of the debate dealt with most of the questions and points raised by MPs. I would like to deal with just a few questions. Firstly, the Attorney-General’s Chambers. Secondly, whether I deceived my father. Thirdly, whether I considered or I am considering the legal options, and finally, where do we go next.
So, AG’s Chambers. Ms Sylvia Lim and several of her Workers’ Party colleagues have raised questions about the propriety of appointing of Mr Lucien Wong as Attorney-General (AG) and Mr Hri Kumar as Deputy Attorney-General (DAG), because Lucien Wong was previously my lawyer, and Hri Kumar was a PAP MP. SMS Indranee Rajah gave a clear reply yesterday. It is perfectly normal for lawyers to have existing clients and connections, and to encounter potential conflicts of interest when they change jobs. In fact, lawyers with no clients and connections probably have no job.
But the way to deal with this is also quite standard – for the lawyers to recuse themselves when matters come up which they had previously dealt with in a previous capacity. The rules are quite clear. All professional lawyers know how to handle such matters. Every time a lawyer moves from practice onto the bench to become a judge, the judge has to do the same. Because he has old cases, the cases may appear before the courts, and he cannot participate in the cases when they turn up before the courts.
So there is no problem of conflict at all for Lucien Wong or Hri Kumar to become AG and Deputy AG. If matters come up which they had previously handled as private lawyers, they just recuse themselves and let others deal with it and so it is with the dispute with my siblings on the house. Lucien Wong was my lawyer. But now he is the AG. I have lost a good lawyer. He is not advising me anymore on this matter. In the AGC, the Government cannot use Lucien Wong either to advise it on this matter, because he is conflicted, he used to represent me. So on this matter, another officer in AGC takes charge. Lucien Wong is out of it.
When Lucien Wong’s name came up as a candidate to succeed Mr VK Rajah as AG, I endorsed him with confidence. He is known as one of Singapore’s top lawyers, and has a high international reputation, especially in corporate and banking law. I was even more confident because I have had direct, personal experience working with him on this case, my personal case. I had also consulted him, informally, on Government matters before, when we were working on the Points of Agreement dispute with Malaysia. I knew that he was a very good lawyer. Everyone involved in the appointment was fully aware that this was the basis of which I was recommending him. I told them. I told the Cabinet – Lucien is my lawyer, he is a very good lawyer. But the Opposition will make an issue of this. But I do not consider this an impediment, because there is no difficulty of conflict of interest. I recommend him.
The AG’s appointment has to be confirmed, approved by the President. I briefed the President before the matter formally went to him, and I told him the same thing. He consulted the CPA (Council of Presidential Advisers), the CPA recommended that the he approve the appointment. He did. Indeed, after the President approved Lucien Wong’s appointment, and it was announced, the Law Society welcomed it.
Likewise, my direct knowledge of Hri Kumar, as an MP and a lawyer, gave me confidence that he would make a good Deputy Attorney-General. I know he has a good legal mind, and he has a good heart as an MP for people.
It is critical for Singapore to have a strong Attorney-General’s Chambers and for the AGC to have a strong top leadership because the AG is a very important and demanding job as the Workers’ Party MPs have themselves pointed out. It is very difficult to find people of the right calibre and range of experience. You can take my word for it. I have been involved doing this, looking for suitable people to be Attorneys--General for quite a long time. And I have had to do it several times. It is important that we get the best that there are to become the Attorney-General. The role is becoming more complex and we need the most capable people to defend our interests. You just look at Pedra Branca. You would have thought the matter was settled nine and a half years ago. No. Four days ago, on 30 June, Malaysia filed an application over the ICJ judgement on Pedra Branca. We are confident of our case; we think the Malaysian case has no merit. But unless we have a top notch team, we may mishandle the case with very serious consequences. Do you want to take a chance?
We have also outstanding officers within the AG Chambers coming up the ranks. We have promoted them within AGC, and we have elevated some of them to the bench. For example, there is the Deputy Attorney-General Mr Lionel Yee, there are two Solicitors-General, Mr Kwek Mean Luck and Ms Mavis Chionh, all promoted to their positions recently. And other career legal service officers have been elevated to the bench to become Judicial Commissioners as a first step, like Pang Khang Chau, Aedit Abdullah, Hoo Sheau Peng, and Audrey Lim. So we look for talent and we groom and develop talent within but at the same time we seek to reinforce the AG’s Chambers with lawyers from the private sector because they will both reinforce the team, and add to the talent pool and also the AGC can also benefit from their experience with private sector work. We have a good team in AGC today. They hold their own with the very best to fight for Singapore’s interests abroad. They pursue cases in court and handle very complicated cases professionally, competently, and when necessary, aggressively. And the appointments of Lucien Wong and Hri Kumar will contribute to building this team and make the AG’s Chambers an even stronger institution.
Did I deceive LKY?
Now let me turn to a few of the points which have to do with Oxley Road.
Starting with what Ms Cheng Li Hui asked just now, whether I deceived my father and made him believe that the house was gazetted. I think when the allegation is that you have deceived Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and is directed at the Prime Minister that can never be a private allegation. It has enormous ramifications for my standing and reputation and the matter has to be answered.
The simple answer is that I didn’t deceive my father. I explained to you yesterday how my father’s primary wish on the house has always been clear – he always wanted it knocked down.
Where my siblings and I differ is on whether my father was prepared to consider alternatives should demolition not be possible.
After meeting Cabinet on the 21 July 2011, Mr Lee asked me for my view of what the Government would do with the house after he died. I gave him my honest assessment. I told him, you have met the Cabinet.You have heard the Ministers’ views. If I chair the Cabinet meeting, given that these are the views of the Ministers and the public, I think it would be very hard for me to override them and knock the house down. I would have to agree that the house has to be gazetted, to be kept and if I am not the PM or I don’t chair the meeting, all the more likely the house would be gazetted. He understood.
In August 2011, about a month later, he decided to will the house to me as I told you yesterday and he told the family. Ho Ching and I knew my father’s wishes and also my mother’s feelings on the house and we wanted to address their concerns should demolition not be allowed. So we came up with a proposal to renovate the house to change the inside completely, to demolish the private spaces but keep the historic basement dining room. And my wife, kept the whole family comprehensively informed.
Madam Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute the handout to Members?
I am distributing two family emails, just to give you a sense of the conversations and the discussions and how they were conducted. The first email is dated 2 Jan 2012 and it is from Ho Ching to my father. In fact, it is to the whole family – Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong, and Lee Suet Fern – to keep the whole family informed on what we were doing. It is a long email, I will just take you through the beginning and the end. It says:
"Ling, just to update you on one of the ideas for Oxley, renewal / development.”
“As Loong mentioned, the first preference is to demolish the Oxley house and build afresh.”
“The next best alternative is to renovate and redevelop parts of the house/annex, so that it is liveable/rentable for many more years but with a new internal layout. The renovation/renewal idea is to keep or renew the main Oxley house structure, retaining its old world ambience but completely changing the internal layout except for the basement dining room, and redeveloping the back annex into a 2 storey annex connected to the main house.”
“Thus, the current private/family living spaces in the main house upstairs will be gone and family privacy protected…”
And then there’s a long description of all the different possibilities and then we come to the conclusion on the second page.
“If there’s objections to renting out to say expats, then the family could consider moving in, at least for the initial years and Ling can use one the big bedrooms…” and so forth, where, who can go where.
Mok Wei Wei, that is the architect, “has done various projects including the renewal of Victoria theatre as well as conservation of private dwellings and as he explained, the conservation requirements typically do not mean preserving the house in its entirety. The interior layouts are often changed to reflect new family usage needs. So we have the option of redoing the entire interior layout to remove any linkages back to the private family space. Thanks.”
So that’s the first email. I give you a second email which is dated 13 April 2012 – that means about 4 months later – from my wife, Ho Ching, to my father, again copied to the whole family, to say that the approvals have been secured and will be delivered to him and please let her know if anything else needs to be done. He replied about three hours later:
“Noted. Nothing to follow up to sign by me. Permission has been granted as I had previously signed in letters to them. We’ll send them to you."
So you see, it is quite clear, it is quite open, it is not very curt.
The conservation plan was done honestly, transparently, and not on false pretences.
After my father died, I said in Parliament on 13 April 2015, as I recounted yesterday, that the Government will take no decision on the house, so long as my sister was living in it. Why did I do that? Because people were then, three weeks after his passing, still very emotional over losing Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Some wanted to honour him by keeping the house. Others wanted to honour him by knocking the house down. Emotions were high. Whichever decision we made, one way or the other, significant numbers of people would be upset and you are just creating tensions and unhappiness and anxieties for nothing. Best if we postponed this major decision for a calmer time, let time pass before we come to the matter. That’s why I said what I did in Parliament and I see it in no way contradicting my father’s wishes, or what I had advised my father when he was alive.
Restraint in handling the dispute
Now many Members have asked me other specific questions on matters after my father died. Ms Sun Xueling was unsure why I had offered to transfer the house to my sister for $1, but subsequently sold it to Lee Hsien Yang at market value. Mr Henry Kwek asked why I had not raised matters on the will during probate and why I am expressing concern now and have put my views in the form of Statutory Declarations. And several Members have suggested that I take legal action, to clear my name and put a stop to the matter once for all. Let me explain my overall approach to handling this family matter and to do so, I beg your indulgence, Madam Speaker, but I do have to go a little bit into the family history.
It’s a complicated story, but one golden thread running through it, right from the beginning is my desire to manage the issue privately, without escalating the temperature and the dispute, and without forcing the issue of my legal rights. I adopted this approach because it involves family and I was hoping all along to work out an amicable resolution even if that meant compromising some of my own interest. When I learnt from others, who were meant to tell me, that my siblings were unhappy that my father had willed me the house, I tried to resolve the unhappiness.
So in May 2015 I offered to transfer the house to my sister for a nominal sum of $1. She had been living there for some time, in fact all her life, except when she was abroad, and small gaps. And my father had wanted her to continue living in the house after he died, if she wished to. So it was natural to let her own the house. I only asked for one condition: that if the property were sold later, or acquired by the Government, that the proceeds would be donated to charity. I thought it was a very reasonable offer.
My brother wanted in on the deal. He wanted to join in and jointly buy the house with my sister from me for $1. My sister had no objection so I agreed to this. But during the discussions, disagreement arose. My siblings started making allegations about me, and escalating them. So I told them that they would have to stop attacking me if they wanted the deal done, because otherwise if I transfer the house to them and the quarrel continues, there was no point. And they wanted to me to give a certain undertaking. I won’t go into all the details now but I could not agree to what they asked for. So we were at an impasse. We went back and forth for several months. Every few weeks, my letter would go to them. They would think about it. Every few weeks, their lawyer would reply to my lawyer and so we continued the discussion.
Faced with these allegations, I reviewed my old family emails. Kwa Kim Li was my father’s lawyer before his last will. She did not do his last will. But she sent me and my siblings’ information about the previous wills of my father and also information about what she knew about the last will. Only then did I understand what had happened before my father died, and became troubled by how the last will had been done but I still held back from raising the issues with my siblings, because I still hoped for an amicable settlement.
In August 2015, I dissolved Parliament and called the General Election. My siblings then issued me an ultimatum, to accept their terms by 1 September 2015, which perhaps coincidentally was Nomination Day. I told them I was very busy; they would surely understand that I had many things on my plate and I would respond as soon as the elections were over, which I did. I could not allow myself, the Government or the PAP to be intimidated by such threats. I decided to ask my siblings to clarify the circumstances surrounding the last will. After that, for whatever reason, the 1 September deadline passed uneventfully.
After the election, I again tried to settle the matter. I told my siblings that we were not getting anywhere on the $1 offer, with the conditions on what each side could do or say. So I made them a fresh offer. Forget all the previous discussions – new offer. No conditions on what we can do or say but I will sell the house to my brother at full market value, and the only condition which is attached now is that we each donate half the value to charity. Then you do and say what you think fit, and I am free to be my own person. I am not constrained in any way. I offered this arrangement, which involved the donation to charity because it was a variation that we had discussed before Mr Lee died, but ultimately had not adopted. So we said, “Well, if we want to settle the matter, there was this old variation. Would you like to take it up now?” He took it; we signed, and that was December 2015. Again, I hoped that this would settle the problem and we could keep the matter low-key and perhaps gradually subsiding.
Later on, when the Ministerial Committee asked for views from my siblings and me, I wrote in to give my views; so did my siblings. We both commented on each other’s views. My siblings had put a lot weight on the first part of the Demolition Clause in the last will. So I felt the need to explain the circumstances surrounding the preparation of the last will to the Ministerial Committee so that they would understand what to make of the evidence. And because of the gravity of the matter, I voluntarily made my submissions to the Ministerial Committee in the form of sworn Statutory Declarations (SDs), or as they say in the coffee shops, sumpah. That means that if what I put down is proven to be false, I can go to jail for perjury. The statements cannot be taken back – they are done, sworn and irrevocable. But I did this privately, because it was just to inform the committee in their deliberations and I did not want to escalate the quarrel.
Unfortunately, at 2 am on 14 June this year, my siblings made public allegations against me. I was forced to respond. I decided to put out the facts, and I released a summary of my Statutory Declarations. Again, in the first instance, I did not take the legal route and sue for defamation. I stand by what I swore in the SDs and published in the statement, but really I do not want to go further along this way if I can help it. I did not, and still do not, want to escalate the quarrel. At each point, I decided not to try to enforce my full legal rights. My priority was to resolve the matter privately, and avoid a collision.
Some MPs still asked why I am not taking legal action against my siblings. For example, Mr Low Thia Khiang advocates my suing my siblings for defamation. This background which I have narrated to you explains why I have hesitated to do so. As I said yesterday, I have been advised that I have a strong legal case. And in normal circumstances, I would surely sue because the accusations of abuse of power are so grave but suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents’ names. Mr Low may think that does not count and is neither here nor there. I take a different view. Mr Low argued that we should “do whatever it takes to bring the issue to a quick resolution”. I agree but going to court will not achieve this. It would drag out the process for years, cause further distress to Singaporeans, and distract us from the many urgent issues that we must deal with.
Several MPs – Mr Pritam Singh, Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, Mr Louis Ng and Mr Zaqy Mohamad, suggested a Select Committee, or a Commission of Inquiry as an alternative. But what is the basis for this? There are no specifics to the headline charge of abuse of power. What specifically did I do that was wrong? What was wrong with that, whatever that may be? Who was involved? When did it happen?
After two days of debate, nobody has stood behind these allegations or offered any evidence, not even opposition MPs. The Workers’ Party MPs say that they are not in a position to judge. Indeed Mr Low criticises my siblings for making “vague allegations … based on scattered evidence centred on family displeasure”. If MPs believe that something is wrong, it is MPs’ job to pursue the facts and make these allegations in their own name. Decide whether something seems to be wrong and if you think something is wrong, even if you are not fully sure, then come to this House, confront the Government, ask for explanations and answers. If having heard the Government, you are not satisfied, then by all means demand a Select Committee or a Commission of Inquiry (COI) but do not just repeat allegations and attribute them to others, or ask for a Select Committee or COI because accusations are around – don’t know what but therefore we must have a COI to find out what.
The accusers may not be in Parliament but that should not stop MPs from talking to them to get their story, nor would it stop the accusers from getting in touch with MPs, including opposition MPs, to tell their story so that the MPs can raise it on their behalf in Parliament. That is, in fact, how the MP system is meant to work. Those are the MP’s duties. That is one reason why Parliamentary Privilege exists. So that MPs who have heard troubling allegations or news, can make these allegations and raise the matters in the House even if they are not completely proven and may be defamatory, without fear of being sued for defamation. That is how Parliaments are supposed to function.
But none of this has happened over the last two days. No one says there is evidence of abuse of power. Even the Opposition is not accusing the Government of abuse of power. So it is not a case of oneself defend oneself. Why do we need in these circumstances, a Select Committee or COI, and drag this out for months? It would be another Korean drama full scale serial. Should we set up Select Committees to investigate every unsubstantiated allegation, every wild rumour? It is as Mr Low Thia Khiang says, “vague allegations,…based on scattered evidence centred on family displeasure”, as a basis for ordering a Select Committee or COI? That’s not a basis. But if there is evidence of wrongdoing that emerges or alleged evidence of wrongdoing which emerges, then I and the Government will consider what further steps to take. We can have a Select Committee, we can have a Commission of Inquiry, I may decide to sue for defamation or take some other legal action, but until then let’s get back to more important things that we should be working on.
Where do we go from here? The ministerial statements and the debate have been important and valuable. Facts and explanations have been put on the record. Singaporeans have received a full account of how the Government works, and what the Government has done, in the case of 38 Oxley Road. The allegations have been aired, have been answered and rebutted. People can see that there has been no abuse of power, by me or the Government. I hope that this two-day debate has cleared the air and will calm things down.
It would be unrealistic to hope that the matter is now completely put to rest. I do not know what further statements or allegations my siblings may make. But with the benefit of the statements and debate in Parliament, Singaporeans are now in a better position to judge the facts, and see this issue in perspective. And we can all go back to what we should be focused on and not be distracted from national priorities and responsibilities.
I thank ESM Goh Chok Tong, Ms Chia Yong Yong, Mr Charles Chong and many others for your good wishes for reconciliation within the family. I, too, would like to think this is possible. It will be a difficult and a long road but I hope that one day there will be rapprochement.
DPM Teo reminded us about the national week of mourning when Mr Lee died. It was an emotional week for everybody. For Singaporeans, who lost their founding father, for my family and for me. For me, the most difficult and emotional moment in that whole week came when I was reading the eulogy at the state funeral service, when I recounted how when I was about 13, my father had told me: “If anything happens to me, please take care of your mother, and your younger sister and brother”. Singapore was then part of Malaysia. We were in a fierce fight with the Central Government and the communalists. My father did not tell me, but he knew his life was in danger. Fortunately, nothing happened to my father then. He brought up the family and I thought we had a happy family and he lived a long and full life. Little did I expect that after my parents died, these tensions would erupt, with such grievous consequences and after so many years I would be unable to fulfil the role which my father had hoped I would. So I hope one day, these passions will subside, and we can begin to reconcile. At the very least, I hope that my siblings will not visit their resentments and grievances with one generation upon the next generation and further, that they do not transmit their enmities and feuds to our children.
I am sad that this episode has happened. I regret that in addressing public accusations against me, I have had to talk about private family matters in Parliament. My purpose has not been to pursue a family fight, but to clear the air, and to restore public confidence in our system. This is how the system is supposed to work. When there are questions and doubts about the Government, we bring them out, deal with them openly, and clear the doubts. If anything is wrong, we must put it right. If nothing is wrong, we must say so.
Ms Chia Yong Yong spoke eloquently yesterday of the many issues she felt passionately about, the many challenges we face as a nation, and why we should be focussing on them and not be distracted by this controversy. Mr Low Thia Khiang called on everyone to “focus on rallying Singaporeans to be united in facing the challenges, and not be participating in a divisive dispute”. I fully agree with them. We must all get back to work. This is not a soap opera. Come together, tackle the challenges before us. My team and I will do our best to continue building this Singapore, keeping it safe, and making it prosper. Thank you very much.