The Government seems to be on a campaign to turn Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish about his house into something else. And it is doing so by clutching at straws to shore up its misguided attempts to change what Mr Lee had wanted – the complete demolition of his house at 38 Oxley Road.
In her Facebook post of 23 June, the Senior Minister of State for Law, Indranee Rajah, attempted to convince Singaporeans that Mr Lee “accepted that the house may not be demolished.”
Do note the use of the word “accepted” here.
This was repeated 3 lines later in Ms Indranee’s note, which says:
“The Will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place.”
Again, she claims that Mr Lee “accepts” an alternative option on the fate of his house.
Ms Indranee’s claims, however, contradict what Mr Lee himself had said multiple times when he was alive, and what was disclosed in his will after his death, and also what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said 3 weeks after Mr Lee’s passing.
It is also worth noting that all of Mr Lee’s 3 children had said that their father was “unwavering” in his wish for the house to be torn down completely.
So, let us look at the words of each of these people specifically, instead of that of ministers who were not privy to private conversations among the family members.
Mr Lee first mentioned his wish publicly in his 2011 book, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going.
“I’ve told the Cabinet, when I’m dead, demolish it.”
He repeated the sentiment:
“Because of my house the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up.”
And then he said it again:
“I don’t think my daughter or my wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past.”
Those were Mr Lee’s own words when he was alive. But that was not the only time he spoke of wanting his house demolished.
PM Lee himself revealed that Mr Lee had a meeting with the Cabinet and made his wish known to them, and that Mr Lee had written two letters later to the Cabinet to state his wish again.
After his passing in March 2015, Mr Lee’s will regarding the house was made public.
“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.”
There is a second part to the will and we will come to that later. For now, it is clear that Mr Lee had wanted his house torn down completely. There is no question about it. This was made clear in his book, in his will and in his private conversations with his family.
On 13 April, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issued a joint statement to the media about Mr Lee’s wish for the house.
The statement said:
“His wish both expressed to us privately, and publicly was unwavering, and was for the house to be torn down upon his passing. He was concerned an order might be issued against his wishes.”
On the same day in Parliament, PM Lee used the exact same words to describe Mr Lee’s feelings about wanting the house demolished.
In his speech in Parliament on calls to honour Mr Lee, PM Lee said:
“Mr Lee’s position on 38 Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and fully consistent with his lifelong values. We should respect his wishes, as well as those of Mrs Lee.”
Mr Lee never changed his mind. He wanted his house demolished, torn down completely.
Now, Ms Indranee says Mr Lee “accepts” that his wish may not be fulfilled, and that Mr Lee’s will itself “specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place.”
Let us take a closer look at Mr Lee’s will.
The first part pertaining to his wish for the house is stated above – unequivocally, Mr Lee wanted his house demolished.
The second part is what Ms Indranee used to support her claim.
So let’s look at it closely.
It says [emphasis added]:
“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…”
First, it is important to understand why Mr Lee made this statement. Contrary to what Ms Indranee claims, Mr Lee never “accepts” that his house may not be torn down.
More accurately, Mr Lee recognised or realised that his wish would not be carried out (perhaps after having met the Cabinet which was against the demolition). This was in fact what Mr Lee’s daughter and younger son had indicated: “He was concerned an order might be issued against his wishes.”
As such, what is Mr Lee to do but to stipulate his “second best wish”, if you will. This, however, does not mean it is his wish or that he “accepts” or would “accept” such an outcome.
It is something he had to stipulate, given no choice, to protect the privacy of his wife and his own.
Again, it does not mean he “accepts” it.
He did not, and would not.
There is a big difference between recognising or realising something, and accepting it.
Also, do note that Mr Lee’s “second best wish”, if you will, is based on a particular circumstance – if there were “any changes in the law, rules or regulations” preventing his children from demolishing his house.
Now, the government has not said there will be any such changes which will affect the house. Or that it is going to gazette the address. So, this “second best wish” in fact is moot. It is irrelevant, and thus it does not come into play.
So, at the end of the day, it is really quite simple. We only need to ask ourselves one question: what is Mr Lee’s wish for the house?
It is to have it demolished, as is clearly stated by himself in his book, in his will, in his private conversations with his family, in the public statements of his three children, including the speech by the Prime Minister to Parliament, and also in accordance with the wish of his wife.
How much clearer could Mr Lee have been?
There is no need for any ministerial committee to investigate “Mr Lee’s thinking” with regard to his house.
If he were alive today, he would say the same thing: demolish my house.
So, please give the man some respect, now that he has passed on. After all, he has given his life to the country and nation. There is no need to deliberately distort, misrepresent or misconstrue his last wish, even if you are not going to honour it.