Foreign Correspondents Association dialogue with Chan Chun Sing

'Silver lining' to Oxley Road dispute

The "silver lining" in the Oxley Road dispute is that it shows Singapore is serious about the rule of law, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

The dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings over the family house at 38, Oxley Road, also shows Singapore has leaders who tackle difficult issues head on without dodging responsibility, he added, citing the ministerial committee set up to consider options for the house.

Mr Chan made these points at a lunch dialogue with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association, when he was asked by a journalist from The Nikkei of Japan for his views on the saga, which broke in June this year.

On the rule of law, Mr Chan said the incident showed "no man is above the law". "Not even our founding prime minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, put himself above the law," he said, adding that this gave confidence that the rule of law applied to everyone - "regardless of your position in life".

He was referring to how Mr Lee's earlier wish of wanting the house demolished was not executed by default, as it was subject to due processes under the relevant laws.

"If Mr Lee had put himself above the law, I think it will send a very different signal to the international community on what you can look to Singapore for," he said.

On those who ask why the Government could not respect Mr Lee's wishes, Mr Chan said: "We have solutions to achieve both respecting his wish and also the longer term national perspective."

Moving on to the ministerial committee studying options for the house, Mr Chan said it shows the country has leaders who will "take it upon themselves to bear the responsibility for the decisions of their generation".

The committee - headed by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean - came under criticism from PM Lee's siblings, who questioned its secrecy and the need for its existence.

Mr Chan said: "If Mr Lee has his personal wish and no one in the current or future Cabinet would have the sense of responsibility to think through the issue in context, according to the needs of the society at the time, what would it speak about the quality of leadership in Singapore?"

He added: "The fact that you have people who are prepared to sit down, look at the issue dispassionately, examine the options, put it to the people, it speaks well for the country."

While the Oxley Road incident is "unfortunate", he said the overall response to it bodes well for the country.

"The incident won't define us. Our responses to the incident will define us," he added.

Elgin Toh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline ''Silver lining' to Oxley Road dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe