SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong apologised to the nation on Monday (June 19) for the harm caused by a protracted and publicly-aired dispute with his siblings, saying it has damaged Singapore’s reputation and affected confidence in the Government.
He said he will deliver a ministerial statement to refute the “baseless accusations” his siblings made last week against the Government when Parliament sits on July 3.
PM Lee issued a statement and a video of his apology on Monday evening, on his first day back at work from vacation. In it, he expressed deep regret about the dispute with his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, over whether to demolish their late father Lee Kuan Yew’s house at 38, Oxley Road.
His siblings had released a statement last Wednesday (June 14) accusing him of misusing his power in a bid to preserve their father’s house, among numerous other allegations.
PM Lee on Monday said these “serious allegations” went beyond private and personal matters, extending to the conduct of his office and the integrity of the Government.
“Much as I would like to move on, and end a most unhappy experience for Singaporeans, these baseless accusations against the Government cannot be left unanswered. They must be and will be dealt with openly and refuted,” he said.
PM Lee said all MPs will have the opportunity to raise questions after his statement, adding that he has instructed that the People’s Action Party whip be lifted. This allows MPs to speak according to their conscience and not be bound by their party’s position.
The party whip has been lifted several times, including for the Abortion Bill and more recently in 2010, when the House debated legislation to enable parents to sue their children for financial support.
PM Lee urged all MPs, including opposition MPs, to “examine the issues thoroughly and question me and my Cabinet colleagues vigorously” about the matter. “I hope that this full, public airing in Parliament will dispel any doubts that have been planted and strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government,” he said.
When contacted on Monday night, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he needed time to study PM Lee’s statement and would respond at an appropriate time.
In his statement, PM Lee acknowledged that Singaporeans have been disturbed and confused by news of the private dispute between him and his siblings.
A day after his siblings released their statement, PM Lee’s lawyers issued a statement which summarised the statutory declarations he made to a ministerial committee considering options for the Oxley Road house. In it, PM Lee voiced his “grave concern” about the “troubling circumstances” surrounding the preparation of the late Mr Lee’s final will, and questioned if there was a conflict of interest when his sister-in-law Lee Suet Fern helped prepare the will.
His siblings hit back with multiple Facebook posts, disputing his account about the last will and alleging PM Lee had used his position to influence the ministerial committee into challenging the validity of a clause to demolish the Oxley Road house in the final will.
That prompted Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to reveal the members of the committee and detail their scope of work on Saturday (June 17).
“As your Prime Minister, I apologise to you for this,” PM Lee said on Monday. “And as the eldest of the siblings, it grieves me to think of the anguish that this would have caused our parents if they were still alive.”
He said he has “done everything possible to avoid this state of affairs”. He noted that his siblings were unhappy after their father bequeathed the Oxley Road house to him as part of his equal share of the family estate. He said he tried to deal with their unhappiness privately, first by offering to transfer 38 Oxley Road to Dr Lee Wei Ling for a nominal $1.
After that failed, he sold the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at a fair market valuation, and donated his proceeds to charity. “I had hoped that this would satisfy them. There should be no reason for any further quarrel, since I no longer own the house and I do not take part in any Government decisions on the house,” he said.
Besides pledging to refute the allegations, PM Lee also assured Singaporeans that the dispute would not distract him and other Cabinet ministers from their responsibility to govern Singapore and deal with more important national issues, including pressing economic and security challenges.
“As public servants, my Ministers and I will always protect the integrity of our institutions, and uphold the strict standards separating private affairs from our public duties,” he said. “We are determined to repair the damage that has been done to Singapore. We will continue to lead our nation and serve you to the best of our ability.”