PM Lee Addresses Siblings’ Allegations In Parliament Speech
It was one of the most hotly anticipated parliamentary sittings in recent memory.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings have accused him of abusing his powers to advance his personal agendas, and it was finally time to address the nation on these allegations after weeks of social media rebuttals and worldwide media coverage. Read our timeline of the saga.
Here’s a video of his speech in full:
Due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the session on Monday (July 3), proceedings commenced 2.5 hours earlier than usual — at 11am instead of 1.30pm.
The party whip was also be lifted, allowing members from PM Lee’s own party to question him and his ministers from the “secret ministerial committee” set up over the future of his family home.
While the family dispute, now affectionately known as the 38 Oxley Road saga, has been covered extensively prior to today’s Parliament session, PM Lee’s speech did reveal some new details not many had previously heard of.
We list down 5 of the most interesting things we learnt.
1. Many People Don’t Want The House To Be Demolished
While our late founding father Lee Kuan Yew had made clear his intention to demolish his home at 38 Oxley Rd after his death, it appears many people disagreed with his decision.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew had expressed his desire in demolishing the house to the Cabinet on two separate occasions, citing financial and safety concerns.
The first letter was issued after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wife Kwa Geok Choo. He feared his house, built over 100 years ago with “no foundation”, would eventually be in “shambles”. PM Lee kindly read out the letter his father wrote:
I have discussed this with my family many a time. They agreed with me that 38 Oxley Road should not be kept as a kind of relic for people to tramp through, take photos of it or whatever else they want, but demolish it after I am gone.
I have seen too many places which are kept frozen in time. My most vivid memory is that of Nehru’s final home in New Delhi. It was once a grand building kept as a monument, (but) with people tramping in and out, it became shabby. It is not worth the restoration, unless they restore it just for people to look at.
Oxley Road has no merit as architecture. So please respect my wish to have it demolished when I am no longer around.
In January 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew made his stance public via the publication of his book “Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”. But that was also when his father became hesitant, according to PM Lee, since “many Singaporeans” recognised the historical significance of the property and wanted it to be preserved.
Following the public pushback, Mr Lee Kuan Yew decided to seek more opinions on the matter — so he got in touch with the editors of Singapore’s mainstream newspapers.
One felt that the value of the house was priceless and that future generations would come to regret it should he go through with his plans. Another went as far as to suggest the home be redeveloped into a museum similar to the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall located at Balestier.
The answers he received were “not what he wanted to hear”.
Frustrated, Mr Lee Kuan Yew asked his children to decide for him, but they declined the responsibility. He eventually made his mind up to demolish the house and placed it on record in the press.
Shortly after the 2011 General Election, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote another letter to the Cabinet, reiterating his wish for the house to be knocked down. According to PM Lee’s reading of the letter:
I have previously written to Cabinet that the house should be demolished. It has no foundations and it is in poor condition. It is difficult to maintain when people start trampling through the house. Whenever there is piling at Kiliney Road, hairline cracks begin to appear in the walls. So keeping the house is too hazardous and costly. I therefore repeat my wish to have the house demolished when I’m no longer alive.
PM Lee immediately invited his father to make his case to Parliament the next afternoon, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew duly complied.
His father had no issues convincing the Cabinet of his decisions in the past with his “force of personality and conviction”, said PM Lee. But the PM, on the other hand, met with resistance when all of his ministers “unanimously” disagreed with demolishing the house.
2. LKY’s Wife Didn’t Enjoy Visitors
While the public has been fixated with the 3 Lee siblings and Mr Lee Kuan Yew throughout this saga, Mdm Kwa actually played a big role in altering the fate of the house, said PM Lee.
According to PM Lee, his mother enjoyed her privacy, and was distressed at the thought of people “trampling through her personal spaces” after she died.
Even when not so familiar people came into the house for one reason or another to meet her or my father, she would complain afterwards that “you could see them looking around, eyes opened, to try and find out how we lived”.
Due to Mdm Kwa’s concerns, PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching proposed demolishing their private living spaces to preserve the family’s privacy. The basement dining room, which saw the birth of the People’s Action Party (PAP), would be left untouched, while the rest of the house would be renovated to strengthen the decaying structure and create a separate living area.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew agreed to this idea and told the family to follow through with the aforementioned plan “straight away” after he died.
He also wrote in to Parliament for the 3rd time to provide an update. The Lee siblings were all reportedly notified of the latest plans and did not raise any objections to them.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority later approved the plans to refurbish and reinforce the foundation of the house in April 2012.
3. PM & His Brother Donated 1.5x The House’s Value To Charity
PM Lee felt his siblings were unhappy that he received the house from their father. He thought the best way to appease them was to transfer ownership of the house to his sister for “a nominal sum of $1”, as long as compensation from the sale of the house would go towards charity.
The deal fell through, but PM Lee negotiated a separate one with his brother Lee Hsien Yang. The house would be sold at a “fair market value” and both parties would have to donate half the value of the house to charity.
The deal eventually came to fruition, and to avoid being seen as “benefiting financially” from the sale of the property, PM Lee donated the rest of the proceeds, bringing the total amount donated to 1.5 times that of the house.
4. Singapore Must Be “Sad” If PM Needs A “Magic” House
Responding to Dr Lee Wei Ling’s and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s claims that Mdm Ho Ching had a “pervasive influence well beyond her job purview”, PM Lee states that her superiors would hold her accountable if she behaves improperly.
My wife, Ho Ching, is CEO of Temasek Holdings. As CEO, she reports to the Board, chaired by Mr Lim Boon Heng. As a company, Temasek Holdings answers to its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, under Minister Heng Swee Keat. I have every confidence that both Lim Boon Heng and Heng Swee Keat understand the meaning of good corporate governance. It is the Temasek Board which appoints the CEO, and the appointment has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors. If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and CPA know what their duty is.
PM Lee also denied harbouring political ambitions for his son Li Hongyi, another accusation levied by his siblings.
Before moving on to a Chinese version of his speech, he ended off his ministerial statement with an interesting choice of words:
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.
5. PM Lee Wanted To Sue His Siblings, But…
In one of the more startling admissions in the parliamentary sitting, PM Lee explicitly stated that he would sue his siblings “immediately” under normal circumstances.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) July 3, 2017
He even admitted to seeking legal advice and felt he had a strong case against them.
The accusation of the abuse of power is a very grave one, however baseless it may be and it is in fact an attack not just on me, but on the integrity of the whole Government.
He eventually chose to settle things out of court as taking a lawsuit against his siblings would only “further besmirch” his parents’ names.
The potentially lengthy court proceedings also contributed to PM Lee’s decision, as he doesn’t want the proceedings to drag on for years and cause further “distraction and distress” to Singaporeans.
With PM Lee noting that he no longer has any interest in the house and just wants to fulfil his father’s wish, we hope that the matter will be resolved quickly.
While the allegations are undoubtedly serious, we can’t help but think that an overly partisan Parliament just isn’t the right place to settle the dispute.
As activist Gilbert Goh seems to be saying in a photo he posted on his Facebook profile on Sunday (July 2) that looks like it was taken outside 38 Oxley Road, we will probably see a “one-sided account” in Parliament, as PM Lee’s party controls all but 6 seats in the house. And as expected, most of the questions asked on the saga were from the MPs from the opposition Workers’ Party.
Other Fish To Fry
Perhaps Parliament would be better reserved for the Transport Minister to issue a ministerial statement on that pressing issue.
Featured images from YouTube