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Reporting by Nicholas Yong, Hannah Teoh and Wan Ting Koh
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (3 July) dismissed the “entirely baseless” allegations of abuse of power by his siblings Wei Ling and Hsien Yang on the setting up of the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road, deed of gift for some artefacts of the house and nepotism.
Reading his Ministerial Statement in Parliament, PM Lee said he has to rebut the allegations as they have damaged Singapore’s reputation. If unchallenged, they can affect Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government.
PM Lee also acknowledged that many Singaporeans are “upset” and “tired” of the issue of the family feud. He again apologised to Singaporeans – as he did on 19 June – and deeply regretted that it has happened.
On the setting up of the Ministerial Committee, PM Lee said he had explained previously that he had recused himself and that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean is in charge of the Committee.
“I had nothing to do with the decision to set up the Ministerial Committee. I do not give any instructions to the Ministerial Committee or its members,” PM Lee said.
The only dealing that he had with the Committee was to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence, which was the same way that his siblings dealt with the Committee, he added.
“My siblings argue that even though I have recused myself, the Ministers are my subordinates and therefore, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent from me. In fact, they say this of Parliament itself. This cannot be right.
“It is standard practice for the person facing a potential conflict of interest to recuse himself from the matter in this way.”
PM Lee said that if he were to decide as PM to knock the house down and push it through without considering the alternatives and without going through due process, it would have been a “real abuse of power” and going against “the whole system of rules and values that Mr Lee Kuan Yew built up”.
Deed of Gift
On the deed of gift, PM Lee said that after the late Lee passed away, his siblings gifted artefacts from the house to the National Heritage Board (NHB) via the document.
“My siblings have accused me of improperly obtaining this deed between them and NHB. They say I obtained the Deed as PM, and gave it to my lawyers, and that was wrong. I disagree.”
While the deed was signed by his siblings, who were acting for the late Lee’s estate, PM Lee said he was one of the beneficiaries of the estate and was “entitled to be consulted by my siblings” before they did so, but was not.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong updated PM Lee in June 2015 about the SG50 exhibition on Singapore’s founding fathers. The exhibition included artefacts from the house. Wong described the conditions attached to the gift.
“He subsequently gave me the Deed, which I had not seen it before. As Prime Minister, I had every right to see it. After reading the Deed, I became very concerned over what NHB had agreed to. The terms were onerous and unreasonable.”
In the exhibition, NHB had to display the items together with the first clause of the Demolition Clause, which said that the late Lee wanted the house to be knocked down when Wei Ling was no longer living in it. But the second clause about what the late Lee wanted done if the house could not be knocked down was not to be shown.
The partial and selective disclosure would mislead the public on the late Lee’s intentions, PM Lee said.
His siblings had announced that it was a gift but yet they had set conditions in fine print, in that if any of the terms of the Deed were breached, they could immediately take back all the items for $1.
“Therefore, this was not a gift at all. They had misled the public…What Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang had imposed on NHB was wrong.”
PM Lee said that their parents had gifted many items to NHB during their lives and had never imposed any conditions such as the ones set by his siblings.
“Discovering all this, as Prime Minister, I had to act. Otherwise people might later wrongly think I was party to this. It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity as PM, I could not raise the matter with a family member.
“If I come across anyone doing something wrong, even family, it is my duty to set them right.”
PM Lee said he therefore wrote to his siblings through lawyers to object to what they had done. He also told Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo on the matter.
PM Lee also said his siblings have made allegations about nepotism concerning his wife Ho Ching and son Hongyi, and that he wanted the house to stand in order to inherit his father’s credibility and bolster his standing.
Hongyi had already publicly stated that he is not interested in politics nor has his father pushed him to enter politics, PM Lee said.
As for Ho Ching, who is the CEO of Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings, she has to report to the Board chaired by Lim Boon Heng. In turn, Temasek answers to the Ministry of Finance under Heng Swee Keat, PM Lee added. The Board appoints the CEO, and the appointment has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA).
As such, if Ho Ching were to ever behave improperly, the Temasek Board, the President and CPA would know what their duty is, PM Lee said.
As to the allegation that the continued existence of the house could enhance his “aura as PM”, PM Lee said, “If I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state. And if such magic can work, Singapore must be in an even sadder state.”
Additional reporting by Vernon Lee