It was Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s change in his position on the status of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s house that ultimately led to his siblings issuing a public statement of no confidence in him, said PM Lee’s brother Hsien Yang.
Speaking to Yahoo Singapore over the phone on Wednesday night (14 June), Hsien Yang, 60, the younger son of the late Lee, said that it had been “painful” and “difficult” to issue the statement. “I feel sad. I never imagined it would come to this. But it’s the only sensible course of action.”
On Wednesday morning, Hsien Yang and his sister Wei Ling, 62, issued a statement denouncing PM Lee, 65, and accusing him of pursuing a personal agenda with regard to their late father’s house at 38 Oxley Road. PM Lee has denied these allegations.
An agreement on Lee Kuan Yew’s house
Hsien Yang recounted that in December 2015, the siblings reached an agreement on the status of the house. They would honour the wishes of their late father for the residence to be demolished, and PM Lee would recuse himself from government discussions on the house. Hsien Yang noted that the late Lee’s will, which stated that the house was to be torn down when Wei Ling passed on or relocated, had been taken to probate. This means that the will had been officially certified in court.
“If Hsien Loong had any doubts (about the will), that was the time to come out and say, ‘Hey, there are some questions here, please, let’s address them in court’. He never raised them. In fact, he encouraged us to get probate,” said Hsien Yang.
Hsien Yang and Wei Ling said they were then notified in July 2016 that a Ministerial Committee had been set up to consider options for 38 Oxley Road. In a statement on Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong clarified that the committee had “received representations from Mr Lee Hsien Loong (in his personal capacity) on various facts and circumstances in relation to how Mr Lee’s Last Will was prepared”
Hsien Yang said, “Recuse generally seems to mean that you should exclude yourself, you should not participate. And he seems to think that he is free to make representations to this committee, regardless of his commitment to recuse himself.
Asked if he felt that PM Lee had not been sincere in his dealings with him over the Oxley Road house, he said, “It’s not purely a matter of sincerity, it’s a matter of honesty, and abiding by what you have committed to.”
Frayed family ties beyond repair?
Asked if he had been in touch with PM Lee since the joint statement was issued, or whether he planned to get in touch with him, Hsien Yang replied emphatically, “No.”
When asked whether there was any hope of reconciliation with his brother, Hsien Yang did not answer directly but recounted the dispute over the status of the house and PM Lee’s promise to recuse himself.
“And yet now, he goes to the cabinet committee and says ‘Oh, my father wasn’t quite so unwavering in his wish. You know, he would have accepted that the government has a right to do what it does’. What is all this sophistry? What, are you quibbling and trying to play with words, to try and say that it might be all right?”
In their joint statement, the Lee siblings had claimed that they felt threatened and that “organs of the state” would be used against them. In this regard, Hsien Yang planned to leave Singapore “for the foreseeable future”.
Asked to elaborate, he said that some of his friends had suffered “serious repercussions”, adding, “They don’t want to be identified and they don’t want the issue to be raised. But there have been…a number of incidents which have caused hurt and pain to people.”
The father of three clarified that while the decision to leave had been “relatively recent”, he had not yet decided where to go. He added that it depended on the authorities and his personal circumstances whether he would retain his position as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
The next step
Do the Lee siblings remain determined to carry out their late father’s wishes for his house to be torn down? Hsien Yang seemed ambivalent.
“We would like to. We have tried our best to. Having said that, the government has certain powers. They can exercise those powers.
“I think you have to ask yourself: what did Lee Kuan Yew think? What did he want? 99 per cent of Singaporeans know what it is. They may or may not agree with him, but I think the vast majority of them would support honouring what he wanted. And yet, why are we in this position?”