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Lee Kuan Yew accepted proposal to renovate 38 Oxley Road: PM Lee
THE late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had, in 2011, accepted a proposal by his eldest son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to renovate the family home at 38 Oxley Road rather than demolish it.
This was revealed by PM Lee in Parliament on Monday, as he refuted the numerous allegations of abuse of power levelled against him and the Singapore government by his two younger siblings.
Speaking at the start of a two-day debate on the contentious saga that has gripped the nation for the past three weeks, he described the allegations by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang as "entirely baseless".
PM Lee said these have already damaged the country's reputation, and, if unrebutted, could affect the confidence that Singaporeans have in the government.
He also explained why he had to address the allegations in Parliament, and not somewhere else. Under the Constitution, it is the Prime Minister who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the House. As the current Prime Minister, he has a duty to explain himself to MPs and rebut the allegations.
He urged all MPs to ask questions and raise any doubts they may have so that these could be answered and dispelled. "In Singapore, everyone is equal before the law. Mr Lee understood this most of all," he said.
"When the dust has settled on this unhappy episode, people must know that the government operates transparently, impartially, and properly, and that, in Singapore, even Mr Lee's house and his wishes are subject to the rule of law."
In response to PM Lee's speech, Lee Wei Ling said on Facebook late on Monday: "Pa was never happy with Ho Ching's so-called plans to renovate Oxley." She added that he had continued to ponder how he could have the house demolished.
It was in the wee hours of June 14 when PM Lee's siblings alleged in a statement that their elder brother had abused his powers to prevent the demolition of their father's house.
The siblings insisted that the house should be demolished, which is what their father had indicated in his final will. They also questioned the setting up of a "secret" ministerial committee to look into their father's will, with regard to the house.
As PM Lee went through the timeline of the family's discussions on the house in detail, he noted that, in August 2011, the late Mr Lee had willed the house to PM Lee, and informed the family about this.
"Ho Ching (PM Lee's wife) and I knew my father's wishes and also my mother's feelings. We also knew how Cabinet and the public viewed the matter," said PM Lee.
That kickstarted discussions with Mr Lee about the options for the house and how best his wishes could be fulfilled in case the house could not be demolished.
Mr Lee's main concern at that time was that the house should not become dilapidated and expensive to maintain, while Mrs Lee worried that her privacy would be intruded upon if strangers went through her private living spaces.
This led to PM Lee and Ms Ho Ching coming up with a proposal to renovate the house and change the interior completely. This would involve demolishing the private living spaces to preserve the family's privacy, keeping the basement dining room due to its historical significance, strengthening the decaying structures and creating a new and separate living area.
Mr Lee accepted this proposal, and in December 2011, he told the family that it was "best to redevelop 38 Oxley Road straightaway" after his death, and do as proposed - to remove the private spaces and renovate the house without knocking it down.
In a letter to Cabinet on Dec 27 that year, Mr Lee wrote that if the house were to be preserved, it needed 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," he wrote.
PM Lee and Ms Ho Ching proceeded with their plans along these lines, while keeping the family "fully informed" of the considerations and intentions.
Said PM Lee in his speech: "We emailed everyone, including my father, my sister, my brother and his wife. No one raised any objections to the plan."
He recalled that Mr Lee met the architect, went through the proposal, and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house.
Mr Lee went on to sign the authorisation to submit the development application in March 2012; the Urban Redevelopment Authority approved it the following month.
"As far as I knew, that was how the family had settled the matter - rationally, amicably, while Mr Lee was still alive … I heard nothing to the contrary until after my father died," said PM Lee.
It was only at the reading of Mr Lee's last will in April 2015, about three weeks after his death, that Mr Lee Hsien Yang objected for the first time to the renovation plans that their father had earlier approved.
"(Mr Lee Hsien Yang) wanted the house to be knocked down immediately. This was a complete surprise to me. I pointed out that his position now was different from what the family had discussed and agreed on," said PM Lee, adding that it was not possible to demolish the house yet because Dr Lee was still living there.
In his nearly hour-long ministerial statement, PM Lee also tackled the allegations on the setting up of the ministerial committee to discuss the options for 38 Oxley Road.
He reiterated that he has already recused himself from all decisions related to the house, and that his only dealing with the committee has been to respond to its requests in writing by formal correspondence - "no different" from how his siblings interact with the committee.
PM Lee later talked about the issue concerning a Deed of Gift of artefacts from 38 Oxley Road to the National Heritage Board.
His younger siblings claimed that he had improperly obtained this Deed in his official capacity and given it to his lawyers.
PM Lee, disagreeing, stressed that the Deed was signed by his siblings, who were acting for their father's estate.
"I was one of the beneficiaries of the estate. I was entitled to be consulted by my siblings before they did this, but I was not consulted," said PM Lee.
The Prime Minister also explained why he chose not to take legal action against his siblings, even though he felt he has a "strong case" against them.
"In any other imaginable circumstance but this, I would surely sue," he said, noting his siblings' allegation of abuse of power, while baseless, was a "very grave attack" on both him and the entire government.
"Suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch my parents' names. It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans. Fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice," he said.
As to the allegation that the continued existence of the house could enhance his "aura" as the prime minister, he said: "If I needed such magic properties to bolster my standing, even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state. And if Singaporeans believe that such magic works in Singapore, I think Singapore will be in an even sadder state."
More than two dozen MPs, including those from the opposition Workers' Party and several Nominated MPs, rose to speak during the debate that went on for about five hours.
The debate continues on Tuesday, with both PM Lee and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean set to respond to the questions and points made by the various MPs.
- PM Lee says the allegations by his siblings are entirely baseless
- Lee Kuan Yew had agreed to a proposal in 2011 to renovate 38 Oxley Road, instead of demolishing it
- Lee Hsien Yang first objected to proposal in April 2015, after Mr Lee's death
- PM Lee has chosen not to sue his siblings to avoid further besmirching their parents' names