SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was given a deed of gift relating to his late father’s items in his official capacity, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
The deed for the donation and public exhibition of items belonging to the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has become a point of contention in a dispute between his children over the future of his house at 38 Oxley Road.
In a Facebook post on Friday (June 23), Mr Wong said the items were bound for a major exhibition on Singapore’s founding fathers - a matter the Government has to deliberate.
“It would therefore be normal and in order, that the Prime Minister be kept informed about the contents and presentation of the exhibition,” he said.
Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, have accused their older brother, PM Lee, of abusing his power to obtain the deed of gift directly from the National Heritage Board (NHB).
In a Facebook post on Monday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said it is a “clear abuse of authority” if PM Lee had acquired the deed in his public capacity. And if PM Lee did so in his private capacity, how could other private citizens go about acquiring confidential deeds of gift from the NHB, his younger brother asked.
On Friday, Mr Wong said PM Lee would also have been entitled to know about the exhibition and the items from the estate if he had asked for the information in his private capacity, given his position as the elder son of the late Mr Lee and beneficiary of the estate.
Mr Wong added that the deed from the Lee siblings came with “several unusual conditions”, unlike most donated items covered by NHB’s standard agreement.
First, it stated that the executors of the estate could buy back all the items for $1, so long as house at 38, Oxley Road was not demolished.
It also required NHB to prominently display the first part of the demolition clause from the late Mr Lee’s will throughout the exhibition and its publicity materials.
The first part of the will sets out Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish for the house to be demolished.
The siblings did not ask for the second part of the clause, in which the late Mr Lee asks for the house remain off-limits to the public if it could not be demolished due to any changes in the law, rules or regulations, Mr Wong noted.
He said after discussing the matter with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, “we were concerned about the partial quote of the demolition clause from Mr Lee’s will”.
But they eventually decided not to pursue the matter and let NHB proceed with the exhibition, which opened in September 2015 and has been extended till now, he said.
Mr Wong, who was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the time in question, said he wanted to put out some facts to address the “misperceptions circulating around”.
He will give a fuller explanation to “clear the air” on the matter when Parliament sits on July 3.
Responding to Mr Wong last night, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said the minister omitted to mention that the deed was signed by then NHB CEO Rosa Daniel on June 8, 2015.
NHB accepted the “unusual” conditions, and lorries came to collect the items on June 9, he said.
But on the morning of June 10, he said Mrs Daniel notified him that Mr Wong had “changed his mind”.
He posted an e-mail he sent to Mrs Daniel that evening, in which he noted she told him that Mr Wong decided NHB “will not proceed with the Oxley Road House component of the exhibition”.
“You acknowledged that NHB would be breaching our deed of gift, but did not give any reasons for the minister’s decision,” he wrote.
He also expressed the siblings’ shock and disappointment that NHB would breach the deed less than 48 hours after it was signed.