PM Lee’s position untenable

PM Lee’s position untenable
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Singaporeans have been transfixed by the ongoing war of words between the children of the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY).

While there have been much said by both sides, one thing the two parties agree on is this: the dispute, or feud, is no longer a “petty” family affair.

“The main message is not Hsien Yang & I fearing what PM will do to us,” Dr Lee Wei Ling, daughter of LKY said in a Facebook post on 15 June, a day after the explosive statement she and her brother, Lee Hsien Yang, released which set off the chain of attacks on PM Lee.

“The most important point I want to put across is if PM can misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens,” Dr Lee said.

PM Lee himself agreed that the matter was no longer about private family disagreements.

“These allegations go beyond private and personal matters, and extend to the conduct of my office and the integrity of the Government,” PM Lee said in a statement posted on the PMO website on 19 June.

Indeed, Lee Hsien Yang’s allegations have been regular and frequent since 14 June. More importantly, they are so serious some have said they are affecting or have affected Singapore’s international reputation, besides causing concern among Singaporeans.

PM Lee, according to what he said, had tried to resolve the dispute over 38 Oxley Road privately, but to no avail.

It has now spilled into the public domain and the charges (or insinuation) of corruption and/or abuse of power include those in government as well.

While initially Singaporeans may understand that PM Lee is caught in a bind to take more drastic action, given that it is his own siblings who are the ones making the allegations, it has however come to a point where the reputation, credibility and integrity of the government and public institutions are being questioned.

In short, the Lee siblings have accused the entire government machinery of being abused by PM Lee for his own political and personal agenda.

“Since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, on 23 March 2015, we have felt threatened by Hsien Loong’s misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda,” the statement by Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang said. “We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government.”

There are few other allegations which are as serious as this.

Anyone else who makes such an attack on the Prime Minister and his government would see a swift rebuttal and legal letters served on him. The least one would receive would be a cease and desist letter from the Attorney General’s Chambers, along with threats of defamation suits from the Prime Minister’s personal lawyers.

Yet, despite the continuing and frequent new allegations which seem to emerge every other day from the Lee siblings, nothing much has been done by way of conclusively addressing them, to uphold the integrity of our public institutions.

Instead, what we are promised is a parliamentary sitting on 3 July, where the PM said he will deliver a ministerial statement on the matter.

Why Parliament?

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang will not be there to offer their side of the story. Neither will the Attorney General, Lucien Wong, whose appointment to the position has been questioned. Nor would Ms Lee Suet Fern, Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, whose role in the making of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will is described as “troubling” by Lee Hsien Loong.

In short, 3 July will be nothing more than a backslapping fest of PAP MPs pledging support for PM Lee.

It will not resolve the very serious allegations made, allegations which can only be dismissed through an independent inquiry, such as a Select Committee or a Commission of Inquiry.

In fact, is it not for precisely such a situation that the Elected President (EP) scheme was created – to preserve the integrity of government?

The EP is endowed with certain executive powers, one of which is the power to instruct the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to carry out an investigation, if the PM refuses to order one.

Under the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Amendment Act 1991, it is clearly stated:

Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Amendment Act

In brief, the President can call for an inquiry if the PM refuses to do so. And the CPIB can also investigate allegations made against the Prime Minister.

In all fairness to PM Lee, it is unbecoming for Mr Lee Hsien Yang to post allegations on his social media channels with little evidence to back them up. Mr Lee Hsien Yang should make a formal complaint to the CPIB, or write to the President to complain, and submit any evidence he has, notwithstanding his own personal feelings that the PM could use the organs of state for his own purpose or that he wields power over them.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang could make such requests or complaints public, and the CPIB or the President would have to respond to the complaints.

The ongoing dispute is doing more damage than just to the reputation of the protagonists. It is time for PM Lee (and his Cabinet colleagues) to realise that it is the nation that is at stake, and not just one person’s reputation.

As such, it is no longer tenable for PM Lee not to take legal action against his siblings.

This is especially so if you consider that others who were sued (by PM Lee and his former Cabinet colleagues) had done less by way of provocation. Many of them had to pay millions of dollars in compensation, after having their names dragged through the mud as well.

Opposition candidate, Tang Liang Hong, was sued by several PAP leaders (including Lee Hsien Loong), for defamation in 1997. He was ordered to pay almost $8m in damages in total.

Defamation suits were lodged by PAP leaders because, they said, it was the integrity of the government itself which was being questioned, and by effect, Singapore’s very survival was at stake.

Is this not what PM Lee is now saying, vis a vis the ongoing saga?

Does Singapore have a corrupt government? Is PM Lee guilty of abusing his power for a personal political agenda? Is his wife in cahoots with him? Are government ministers being used in a personal dispute? Are public officers being appointed through patronage? Are our public institutions being subservient to private individuals who aren’t even in government?

These are very serious allegations.

Thus, again, it is no longer tenable for PM Lee to take the “lighter” action of rebutting these in Parliament.

He has to set aside personal considerations and relationships, and take firmer action – to protect our public institutions.

Singapore cannot be held hostage by allowing such serious allegations to linger just because the PM’s siblings are involved.

Singapore is much more than one man, or one family.

The only way to get to the bottom of this whole mess is for an independent inquiry or the courts to investigate the allegations.

If the PM refuses to resort to the courts, or to order such an investigation, then the President should do so. This is what the EP is for.

Singaporeans, for the sake of our nation, should demand nothing less.

“But if they’ve defamed us, we have to sue them — because if we don’t, our own integrity will be suspect. We have an understanding that if a minister is defamed and he does not sue, he must leave cabinet. By defamation, I mean if somebody says the minister is on the take or is less than honest. If he does not rebut it, if he does not dare go before the court to be interrogated by the counsel for the other side, there must be some truth in it. If there is no evidence, well, why are you not suing?” – PM Goh Chok Tong, 1999, Asiaweek interview.