Oxley Road: Debate has cleared air over abuse of power allegations, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrapped up the debate on the alleged abuse of power on day two of Parliament. Here are seven highlights from the session.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks in Parliament House on July 4, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks in Parliament House on July 4, 2017.PHOTO: PARLIAMENT HOUSE OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - After a two-day debate on allegations of misuse of power, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this had cleared the air over such charges. He urged the country to move forward and "get back to work".

As he wrapped up the debate on Tuesday (July 4), Mr Lee pointed out that throughout the debate, facts and explanations have been put on record. Singaporeans have been given a full account of how the Government works and what it has done in the case of the Oxley Road house, and allegations have been aired and rebutted.

"People can see that there has been no abuse of power, by me or my Government," said PM Lee.

His siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, have in the past weeks, charged that PM Lee had misused his power on the matter of their father's house at 38, Oxley Road by, among other things, forming a "secret" ministerial committee. They have accused the committee of acting on PM Lee's bidding to obstruct their father's wish that the house be demolished.

On Tuesday, PM Lee said he hoped the two-day debate had cleared the air and would calm things down, even as he added: "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, Singaporeans are now in a better position to judge the facts, and see this issue in perspective," he said.

"We can all get back to what we should be focused on, and not be distracted from our national priorities and responsibilities."

He also thanked members, including Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, for their wishes for reconciliation within the family.

On this, he said: "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."

Things took an emotional turn when he recalled the sombre week of mourning that followed Mr Lee's death in 2015.

Voice wavering, PM Lee recalled how the most difficult moment for him came as he was reading the eulogy at the state funeral service.

He had then recounted how, when he was about 13, the late Mr Lee had told him: "If anything happens to me, please take care of your mother, and your younger sister and brother."

Singapore was then part of Malaysia, and was embroiled in a fierce fight with the central government and the communalists.

"My father didn't 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," said PM Lee.

"Little did I expect that after my parents died, these tensions would erupt, with such grievous consequences... 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."

DPM Teo: Setting up of ministerial committee 'matter of due process'

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who also spoke on Tuesday, reiterated that 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.

 

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.

"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."

He also addressed questions raised by some MPs on 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.

Heng Swee Keat: Oxley basement holds historical significance for Singapore

Eleven other ministers and MPs also spoke on the second day of the two-day debate.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat shared with the House the conversations Mr Lee Kuan Yew had with Cabinet on 38, Oxley Road, and its historical significance.

The need to preserve this room was put to the founding Prime Minister by Cabinet ministers in 2011, said Mr Heng. Mr Lee Kuan Yew then mulled over the issue and took their views on board. Mr Heng cited this example to illustrate that the late PM was capable of changing his mind.

The events that unfolded in the basement dining room of 38, Oxley Road during the early days of Singapore's history hold a special significance for the country, and not just the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), Mr Heng noted. It was the site of many historical meetings between founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team of pioneer leaders.

"Those years marked a pivotal moment in our nation's history - in fact, they were the start of a series of events that led to independence. It is therefore right and proper that we consider this history in any decision to demolish or preserve the house, or parts of it," he said.

ESM Goh: Whistleblowing or waging personal vendetta?

ESM Goh Chok Tong, who was among those who rose to speak, said the dispute among the Lee siblings has been blown out of proportion and has tarnished the reputation of Singapore.

 

He said the dispute is only "a fig leaf" for the deep cracks within the family - cracks which perhaps started decades ago.

He asked: "What then is the agenda of PM’s accusers? Are they whistleblowing in a noble effort to save Singapore, or waging a personal vendetta without any care for the damage done to Singapore? I have kept my ears open."

"From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the Government and Singaporeans," he said.

Low Thia Khiang: Claims not thoroughly investigated

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang, meanwhile, said that his party cannot conclude after two days of debate whether the allegations made by the Lee siblings are baseless or not, as their claims have not been thoroughly investigated yet.

"We keep our minds open, we are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the PM. For me personally, I will not be convinced until the entire allegation is given a convincing or conclusive airing," Mr Low (Aljunied GRC) said.

 

During the debate, some MPs have called for the setting up of a special committee or a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to look into the allegations.

Responding to these suggestions on Tuesday, PM Lee said there was no basis as there are "no specifics to the headline charge of abuse of power".

"After two days of debate, nobody has stood behind these allegations or offered any evidence, not even opposition MPs," he added. "So why do we need a select committee or COI, and drag this out for months?"

PM Lee: Sadness over public feud

Wrapping up the debate, PM Lee once again expressed sadness over the public feud. He said he regrets that in addressing public accusations against him as prime minister, he has had to raise 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," he said.

"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."

He highlighted how Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong and WP's Mr Low had urged the nation to focus on more pressing issues, and unite.

"I agree with them. This is not a soap opera. We must all get back to work."

"Come together, tackle the challenges before us," said the prime minister. "My team and I will do our best to continue building this Singapore, keeping it safe, and making it prosper."