Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament on Monday that no one is above the law. However, he also said that he will not sue his siblings for allegations made against him.
PM Lee was giving his side of the story in the ongoing dispute with his sister and brother over the fate of their father’s house at 38 Oxley Road.
In his speech addressing the allegations, which include the charge that he has abused his powers, PM Lee said, “Whether you are a Minister, or an ordinary citizen; whether you are the Prime Minister, or the children of the founding Prime Minister – you are not above the law.”
He also said that the accusation that he has abused his powers for a personal agenda is a “very grave attack” not just on him but the whole Government.
But when addressing questions from many people who have asked why he has not sued his siblings for defamation, or taken some other legal action to end the dispute and clear his name, PM Lee seems to contradict his own assertion that no one is above the law.
“In normal circumstances, in fact, in any other imaginable circumstance but this, I would surely sue… But suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch my parents’ names.”
He added that he believed he has a strong case, but that legal action would drag out the process for years, and “cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans”.
“Therefore, fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice,” he said.
Still, the question remains: should his “parents’ names” be such an important consideration, more important than the integrity of our public institutions and that of the Government itself, that they override the protection of these institutions?
It was an issue which the Workers’ Party secretary-general, Low Thia Khiang, raised in his speech following PM Lee’s opening remarks.
Mr Low said PM Lee should settle the “private, family dispute” between him and his younger siblings in court.
Mr Low also noted that less serious allegations had been dealt with under libel or defamation laws.
“Individuals who made less serious allegations that undermined the reputation and authority of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers have been brought to task for libel,” he said. “There is no reason why this time it should be different because it comes from the Lee family. In fact, the allegations are much more serious.”
He added, “Settling this in court will enable everyone to put forward their sides of the story with evidence.”
Mr Low is probably right, because it is doubtful that the parliamentary sitting will bring an end to the saga. PM Lee’s siblings are expected to rebut his side of the story when they take to social media again.
What is questionable are PM Lee’s reasons for not wanting to sue his siblings, which this website has said is an untenable position. (See here: PM Lee’s position untenable.)
While filing a lawsuit for defamation or libel is mostly a personal choice, as it has to do with one’s personal reputation, this case is quite different.
For one, as Mr Low said, the line between what is public and what is private has been blurred.
Second, PM Lee is the Prime Minister of Singapore, and the allegations against him are for using his position as Prime Minister for a personal agenda for personal gains.
Third, his ministers are also accused of allowing themselves to be used as pawns in Mr Lee’s alleged abuse of power.
The accusations are thus very serious ones, targeted to tear down public trust in very important public institutions such as government ministries and statutory boards.
And also just as important, the allegations are made by the PM’s own siblings. This, as Mr Low also said, makes the charges even more serious.
It is disturbing that PM Lee has given rather flimsy and unconvincing reasons (or more accurately, excuses) for not taking legal action to protect the integrity of our public institutions and public servants.
His reasons – that because those making allegations are his siblings, that such action will tarnish his parents’ names, and that a lawsuit would drag on for years – are superficial and do not stand.
PM Lee himself, of course, has never been afraid of any time frame when it comes to lawsuits for he has lodged not a few himself, even as recently as 2015.
Neither was his father, who never hesitated to put Singapore’s interests above his own and sued when he felt it was necessary.
The late Lee Kuan Yew never refrained from protecting the integrity of our public institutions, as he saw it, or gave pathetic excuses such as the time a lawsuit would take to avoid defending their integrity vigorously.
And so, while PM Lee asserted on Monday that “whether you are the Prime Minister, or the children of the founding Prime Minister – you are not above the law”, the opposite in fact would seem true. That it is precisely because you are the children of the founding Prime Minister, and thus siblings to each other, that the laws of libel and defamation would not be used against you.
Is that not what PM Lee in fact said today?
It is indeed a sad day for Singapore that the laws of the land will be used, or not used, based solely on who you are.
Singaporeans should take some time and ponder on what this means for the rule of law in Singapore.