38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

PM Lee addresses his siblings' allegations of abuse of power

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in parliament, on July 3, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in parliament, on July 3, 2017. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Neither the ministerial committee on 38, Oxley Road nor its members were given any instructions by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Like his siblings, he only corresponded with them in writing when they had requests.

"This is the right and proper way to handle a conflict of interest," PM Lee told Parliament when delivering a ministerial statement yesterday to address allegations by his two younger siblings.

The setting up of the ministerial committee is one of three main allegations of abuse of power made by his siblings: Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.

The second is on a deed of gift for items from the house that were to be displayed in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The third concerns accusations of nepotism made against PM Lee's wife, Ms Ho Ching, and 30-year-old son, Mr Li Hongyi, and that PM Lee wants his father's house to remain standing to bolster his power.

These allegations were made in statements the siblings had posted on social media since June 14.

"There are few specifics in their charges, but because 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," said PM Lee.

MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE

Tackling each of the claims in turn, PM Lee reiterated he had recused himself from all government decisions on the house, and had no part in the decision to set up the committee. It was formed and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

His siblings had argued that the committee, as well as Parliament, could not be independent of PM Lee as they comprise his subordinates.

But PM Lee said it is standard practice to recuse oneself and let someone else like a deputy or senior colleague deal with a matter with potential conflict of interest.

He added: "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

PM Lee went on to address the allegation that he had improperly obtained the deed of gift between his siblings and the NHB as the Prime Minister, then gave it to his lawyers.

As one of the beneficiaries of the estate of his father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee said he was entitled to be consulted by his siblings before they signed a deed of gift donating items from Mr Lee's house at 38, Oxley Road, to the NHB.

But the deed was shown to him only later, in June 2015. Then Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong did so when updating him on a major SG50 exhibition which included the items, PM Lee said.

As Prime Minister, he had every right to see the deed, he added.

After reading it, he said he was very concerned as the terms were "onerous and unreasonable".

The NHB was required to display the itemswith the first half of the demolition clause in the will that said the late Mr Lee wanted the house knocked down when Dr Lee was no longer living in it.

But his siblings did not want to include the second half of the clause, which stated what the late Mr Lee wanted done if the house could not be knocked down.

The exclusion thereby misleads the public on their father's intentions, PM Lee said.

He also felt his siblings were wrong to call it a gift, when they set conditions in fine print that if any of the terms of the gift of deed were breached, they could immediately take back all the items for $1.

"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 wrongly think I was party to this," he said.

"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."

Besides writing to his siblings through lawyers to object to their actions, PM Lee also told Mr Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo on the matter. "I believe this was the correct and proper way for me to handle the deed of gift," he said.

NEPOTISM

PM Lee noted that his siblings had made allegations of nepotism concerning his wife, Ho Ching, and son, Hongyi. They also claimed he wanted 38, Oxley Road to be kept standing to inherit their father's credibility and bolster his standing.

He pointed out that his son has publicly said he is not interested in politics. "Nor have I pushed him to enter politics," he added.

PM Lee also said his wife, as CEO of Temasek Holdings, reports to its board, chaired by Mr Lim Boon Heng. As a company, Temasek answers to its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance under Mr Heng Swee Keat, he added.

"I have every confidence that both Mr Lim and Minister Heng understand the meaning of good corporate governance."

The CEO appointment is made by the Temasek Board and has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

"If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and the 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," PM Lee said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee addresses his siblings' allegations of abuse of power'. Print Edition | Subscribe