Reporting by Nicholas Yong, Hannah Teoh and Wan Ting Koh
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Monday (3 July) that there is rarely a need to announce the formation of committees like the one set up to explore options for the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s house at 38 Oxley Road.
Reading his Ministerial Statement in Parliament, DPM Teo said, “They are all part of the normal working process of Cabinet, or indeed the Board of any large organisation…These committees ultimately report to Cabinet, which operates under the principles of collective Cabinet responsibility.”
On the Ministerial Committee (MC) on 38 Oxley Road that he chairs, DPM Teo reiterates that it “does not decide” and is merely drawing up plans for the residence of the late Lee so that a future Government can refer to them and make an informed decision in due course.
DPM Teo also recounted the background on the formation of the MC.
Following the passing of the late Lee on 23 March 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong informed Cabinet on 15 April 2015 that he would recuse himself from all Government decisions to be taken on the house.
As PM Lee has recused himself, DPM Teo said he chaired Cabinet should any deliberations be taken on the house. Cabinet recorded this information at its meeting on 15 April 2015.
On 1 June 2016, at a Cabinet meeting that DPM Teo chaired, Cabinet approved the proposal by Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong to set up an MC on 38 Oxley Road.
Prior to the meeting, work on the issue had been carried out at staff level, with inter-agency consultations sought as needed.
“I had supported Minister for National Development’s proposal as setting up a Ministerial Committee would improve coordination and oversight on this matter,” DPM Teo said.
There were three broad terms of reference of the MC, specifically, the historical and heritage significance of the house, the wishes of the late Lee in relation to the house and possible plans for the house and the neighbourhood.
DPM Teo said the government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with historical significance, and has a range of powers to gazette or acquire such a property.
“Government cannot outsource decision-making on this. Ultimately, the Government of the day has to decide and carry the decision,” he added.
The MC pays particular attention to respecting the late Lee’s wishes. He expressed his wish to Cabinet for the house to be demolished in July 2011, but also listened to the views of the Cabinet members.
“He did not direct the Government. He was aware of the Government’s responsibilities and how the law on this matter operated. He wrote to Cabinet five months later, informing us that he had reflected on the matter,” DPM Teo said.
The MC also wrote to the late Lee’s children to invite them to share their views on their father’s thinking on the house. They did so and provided different views, including on the drafting of the last will.
“Indeed, the fact that the Committee received differing views showed how essential it was that we sought the views of the siblings on Mr Lee’s wishes and thinking…I should emphasise that it is not for the Committee to decide whose claims are valid,” DPM Teo said.
– additional reporting by Vernon Lee