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No immediate decision to demolish 38 Oxley Road: PM Lee

After Mr Lee stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011, a bust of him, made several years ago by British sculptor Sydney Harpley, was displayed in Parliament House.


THERE is no need to decide on the future of the late Lee Kuan Yew's home for the time being because his daughter, Wei Ling, will continue to live there.

Revealing this in parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that there was "no immediate issue of demolition" of the historic property, located at 38 Oxley Road.

He also told the House that the government did not have to make any decision on this matter for the time being.

The elder Mr Lee, who died last month at the age of 91, had indicated in his will that he wanted the pre-war bungalow demolished immediately after his death, or, after Dr Lee, who lives there now, moves out.

PM Lee, in his ministerial statement in parliament, said: "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."

On Sunday, the executors of the the will - Dr Lee and her brother, Hsien Yang - issued a statement asking that Singaporeans respect their father's wishes.

Since Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing on March 23, numerous calls have been made to preserve his home of more than 60 years and have it converted into a museum and a memorial to him.

The house was built by a Jewish merchant more than a century ago.

On Monday, PM Lee spoke of how his father was "adamant" that it be demolished after his death, to the extent that he even wrote formally to the Cabinet twice - once after his wife died in October 2010, and again after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011- to "put his wishes on record".

Said PM Lee: "He said that he had seen too many houses of famous people 'kept frozen in time . . . as a monument with people tramping in and out'. They invariably 'became shabby', in his words."

He also disclosed that his mother, who also felt strongly about the matter, was "most distressed" at the thought of people going through her private space to see how they had lived.

Soon after Mr Lee Kuan Yew had sent that second letter to the Cabinet, PM Lee held a special Cabinet meeting in December 2011 and invited his father to attend it in order to discuss the fate of 38 Oxley Road.

At that meeting, the ministers were unanimous that the property not be demolished; they tried hard to persuade Mr Lee Kuan Yew to change his mind.

Afterwards, Mr Lee wrote to the Cabinet to say that he had reflected on their opinions and decided that if it were to be preserved, it would first need to have its foundations reinforced and the entire building refurbished. The home must then be let out for people to live in, he insisted.

It was two years later that he drew up his will, dated Dec 17, 2013. He wrote that if his children were unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes to the law, rules or regulations binding them, then the house should never be opened to others except his children, their families and descendants.

The prime minister, who noted that his father's position on his home had been "unwavering" over the years and consistent with his life-long values, said: "We should respect his wishes, as well as those of Mrs Lee."

PM Lee also responded to suggestions by three Members of Parliament on how to honour Mr Lee, such as by renaming Changi Airport after him and having an annual Founder's Day to remember the contributions of Singapore's first generation of leaders.

One idea is to have a memorial for all the country's founding fathers, along with a possible exhibition gallery to honour their legacy and educate future generations, said PM Lee, who agreed that this concept merited further consideration.

"A founder's memorial need not be a grand structure, but it must stand for our ideals, our values, our hopes and aspirations. It must belong to all Singaporeans and mean something significant to us all," he said.

PM Lee announced that Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang had agreed to chair a committee to take in views from the public and come up with a concept for such a memorial.

Later this year, a new S$50 note will be released that will feature a transparent panel showing Mr Lee with his fist raised, leading a crowd with the rallying cry of "Merdeka!", which means "independence" in Malay.

The design was finalised last year, and the note is part of a set of commemorative notes and coins being produced for Singapore's golden jubilee celebrations.

"We had hoped Mr Lee would launch the commemorative set of notes himself. Sadly, that is not to be," said PM Lee.

"But we have decided to continue with the project and will launch the notes later this year. They will form part of our SG50 celebrations, which will honour our founders even as we pledge ourselves to continue their work," he said.

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