38 Oxley Road will not be demolished. Yet.
The matter of 38 Oxley Road, the house where Lee Kuan Yew stayed during his lifetime, was brought up for debate after calls were made to preserve the home as a museum and memorial.
In response, Dr. Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, trustees of Mr Lee’s will pulled out the document, which clarified that LKY meant for 38 Oxley Road to be demolished once his daughter ceased to live in the house, or upon his death.
After further responses by the public, including ministers in the Cabinet, PM Lee Hsien Loong made a speech today addressing the matter. Here’s what he said.
1. We should not rush into making decisions on honouring LKY
We should allow some time to pass, consider the ideas carefully, and make calm, considered decisions which will stand the test of time. We want to honour Mr Lee, but must do so in the right way.
2. How LKY is honoured must be faithful to the ideals he lived by and fought for
…He did not need and did not want any monument. It was not monuments but ideals that were his chief concern, the ideals upon which he built Singapore: Multi-racialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity, and the rule of law. He hoped these ideals would endure in Singapore beyond him.
3. LKY was very careful when it came to lending his name to institutions and awards
When he consented, it was for causes that he was passionate about, and where using his name served a greater purpose. He was intent on showing support for the cause or institution, rather than using the honour to glorify himself.
Some of the institutions and awards he lent his name to were NUS’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, and the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.
4. LKY disliked personality cults and sought to prevent them
Mr Lee was very careful never to allow a personality cult to grow around him, much less to encourage one himself…Hence, you will not find portraits or busts of Mr Lee Kuan Yew all over Singapore.
5. MPs suggested issuing notes and coins that bear the image of LKY
…that is certainly something we can consider for the future.
6. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) intends to issue a set of commemorative notes and coins
The notes and coins were planned last year, and had already been designed before Mr Lee passed away.
One of these notes, a $50 note, features LKY in the design:
On the $50 note, one element in the design will be a transparent panel showing Mr Lee with fist raised, leading the crowd with the rallying cry of ‘Merdeka!’
The notes are already in production. PM Lee had hoped that LKY would launch the notes himself; unfortunately, that was not to be.
7. LKY was adamant that 38 Oxley Road should be demolished after his passing
(LKY) said that he had seen too many other houses of famous people ‘kept frozen in time … as a monument with people tramping in and out’. They invariably ‘become shabby’. His words. My mother (Mdm Kwa Geok Choo) also felt strongly about this. She was most distressed at the thought of people coming through her private spaces after she and my father had passed away, to see how they had lived.
He even wrote two letters to the Cabinet to make his wishes known.
9. After ministers tried to change his mind, he apparently relented
I quote from his letter: ‘Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay,” end of the quote and that was the letter.
10. Then he made his will, and the part about demolishing the house was made public recently
Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling are the will’s executors and trustees. For some reason, PM Lee isn’t one of them.
‘I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (‘the House’) be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private.‘
11. Dr Lee Wei Ling intends to continue living in the house at 38 Oxley Road
…Therefore there is no immediate issue of demolition of the house, and no need for the Government to make any decision now.
12. PM Lee would like to see his dad’s wishes carried out, but decision will be for that Govt
If and when Dr Lee Wei Ling no longer lives in the house, Mr Lee has stated his wishes as to what then should be done. At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the Government of the day to consider the matter.
13. Honour not just LKY, but also other founding fathers
Mr Lee was always conscious that he did not act alone, but as a member of a team. His core team included Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Othman Wok, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kim San, amongst others… Mr Lee himself said he was only primus inter pares – first among equals. So it is appropriate that we consider how to honour not just Mr Lee, but also our other founding fathers.
14. Founding fathers’ memorial possibly in the works
One idea that has been suggested is to have a memorial for all of the founding fathers, perhaps coupled with an exhibition gallery to honour their legacy and educate future generations. Indeed, Mr Lee himself had thought that there was value in such a memorial.
I have therefore asked Mr Lee Tzu-Yang to chair a committee to gather views from the public, and conceptualise such a memorial for our founding fathers. He has agreed to do so. If the idea of a Founders’ Memorial finds resonance among Singaporeans, the committee will take the project further.
What to take away from the speech
LKY wanted his home to be demolished. However, the Government and the public are apparently refusing to do so, at least not just yet. If we really want to honour him, we should respect his wishes and allow the house to be demolished once Dr. Lee Wei Ling moves out.
More importantly, he wanted all the founding fathers to be remembered, not just him.
If there’s one line from the speech that the public should do well to remember, this is it:
Mr Lee lived his life for Singapore, not for himself. Let us take time to consider the best way to honour his memory, in a way that is in keeping with his ideals.
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