Ministers facing baseless accusations should sue: Goh Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (4 July). (PHOTO: YouTube screengrab)

Reporting by Nicholas Yong, Hannah Teoh and Wan Ting Koh

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that while he understands the “dilemma” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong faces amid the Oxley Road saga, he maintained that ministers should pursue legal action if baseless accusations are made against them.

“My view remains that when a Minister thinks an allegation made against him is without basis, he should sue,” he said in Parliament on Tuesday (4 July).

Goh made his speech during the second day of a Parliament session centred on PM Lee’s response to accusations made by his younger siblings – sister Lee Wei Ling and brother Lee Hsien Yang – of abuse of power in dealing with their late father’s Oxley Road home. In his ministerial statement delivered on Monday, PM Lee stated that he would prefer not to sue his siblings as it would only “drag out the process for years” and “further besmirch” their parents’ names.

In a 1999 interview with Asiaweek, Goh – who was then prime minister – said, “We (the government) 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.”

Responding to PM Lee’s stance, Goh said that he understood the prime minister’s dilemma. “Indeed, I have urged him (PM Lee) as well as Lee Hsien Yang to sort out their differences, misunderstanding and reconcile,” said Goh. “It is surely not worth the feud being passed on to the next generation.”

ESM Goh said his main concern amid the saga was not the fate of the Oxley Road house or the Lee family feud, but the “wilful attack on the integrity of our leaders and the insidious erosion of public faith in our institutions” that has been sparked by Hsien Yang and Wei Ling’s accusations.

On this note, he questioned the agenda of PM Lee’s accusers and wondered if they were “whistle blowing in a noble effort to save Singapore, or waging a personal vendetta without any care for the damage done” to the nation.

“I have kept my ears open. From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife (Lee Suet Fern) are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the Government and Singaporeans,” said Goh.

Noting that the saga is “now no more a cynical parlour game”, he called for a “clear conclusion at the end of this debate”. “Either we clear PM over the allegation on his abuse of power or we censure him,” said Goh.

Challenge to Workers’ Party MPs, NMPs

Elsewhere in his speech, Goh said he was satisfied with PM Lee’s and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean’s accounts of the matter and defended their integrity as politicians.

Goh also took aim at Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang’s speech in Parliament on Monday, in which the latter called the Oxley Road saga a “sorry state of affairs” and asked the government to take action to “end this saga now”. Low had also noted how the Lee siblings had made “vague allegations” in the public domain based on “scattered evidence”.

Responding to Low’s words, Goh said Low should “follow up with a clear statement” on how the latter had “come to the conclusion that the allegations are baseless”.

Goh also challenged Low, the other Workers’ Party MPs and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) to state their position clearly on PM Lee’s and the government’s integrity.

– additional reporting by Dhany Osman

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