You can’t blame Lee Hsien Yang or Lee Wei Ling for feeling upset over the fate of their father’s house. The two children of the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew have been engaged in a war of words with their eldest brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over the matter.
16 days have passed since the quarrel erupted into the public spotlight, and hogged the headlines.
What has emerged, which could explain why the siblings are so incensed, is that the Government may have put out a confusing message regarding the house. In particular, the role of the Ministerial Committee tasked with laying down options on what to do with number 38 Oxley Road; and the views of the Cabinet.
Let’s backtrack a little to see what exactly the government has said about the future of the house.
First, Lee Kuan Yew’s own views on the house have been unwavering – he wanted it demolished. That much is clear.
After meeting with the Cabinet on 21 July 2011, Lee Kuan Yew came away from that meeting feeling “despondent”, according to Lee Wei Ling. He was upset that the Cabinet did not agree that the house should be demolished.
Lee Kuan Yew wrote to the Cabinet subsequently, saying: “Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted.”
Note the word “unanimous” which Lee Kuan Yew used. It is an important word. It meant that everyone in Cabinet disagreed that the house should be demolished.
This was confirmed by PM Lee in his statutory declaration in which he said:
“Given the strong views expressed by the ministers during the Cabinet meeting of 21 July 2011… I told Mr Lee that I felt that Cabinet was unlikely to agree to demolish the house after he died.”
PM Lee’s statutory statement said that it was “beyond any doubt that [Lee Kuan Yew] came to accept Cabinet’s position.”
So, in summary, Cabinet was unanimous in wanting the house preserved, and Lee Kuan Yew had come to accept the Cabinet’s position on this (according to PM Lee).
But on 27 June 2017, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the Ministerial Committee, told the media that it is untrue that the ministerial committee is “bent on preventing the demolition of the house”.
Mr Teo said this was a “misconception” that Mr Lee Hsien Yang may have had.
According to Channel Newsasia, DPM Teo said he had shared his personal views on some of the options for the house with Lee Hsien Yang.
This is to let him know that the “Government was not bent on retaining the house as he seems to believe, but that we are calmly and objectively examining a range of options”, DPM Teo reportedly said.
In his statement to the media, DPM Teo said:
“Cabinet will only decide on which option to choose, when the time comes for a decision to be made on the house.”
This seems to contradict what Lee Kuan Yew had said – that the Cabinet had already been “unanimous” in not wanting to demolish the house.
That was why Lee Kuan Yew was “despondent” after the meeting with the Cabinet.
PM Lee had also, as stated in his statutory statement, confirmed to Lee Kuan Yew that the Cabinet was “unlikely” to demolish the house.
So, it is quite clear that Lee Kuan Yew – and no doubt his children too – had the impression that a decision had already been made to not demolish the house, and that the Cabinet was “unanimous” in this view.
They had formed this impression because well, the Cabinet said so!
Now, however, DPM Teo is saying something quite different – that in fact the Cabinet has not yet made any decisions regarding the house! Or did he mean the Ministerial Committee has not made any decisions, and that only the Cabinet has?
Can you blame the siblings for being, pardon the language, pissed off at the confusing message from the Government?
If that is not confusing enough, PM Lee’s statutory declaration on 21 July said it was “beyond any doubt that [Lee Kuan Yew] came to accept Cabinet’s position.”
But one week later on 28 July, the Chief of Government Communications, Janadas Devan, wrote to Lee Wei Ling to say:
“Saw MM today… He was in good form. He said house will be torn down. It is obvious that is what he wants.”
So, Lee Kuan Yew still believed the house would be torn down, contrary to what PM Lee had said – that his father had accepted Cabinet’s decision to not demolish the house?
It is ironic that it is the Chief of Government Communications who seems to contradict what the Head of Government is saying.
What a mess!