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When national interest be allowed to rise above personal ones

straits times oxley house
Photo of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house at Oxley Rise Road - Photo by Straits Times

By Yeo Toon Joo

Why does anyone preserve a monument or any building?

Historical value? Sentiments? More sycophancy? Tourism dollars?

Why think of not demolishing the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s old family house, especially since it was his expressed wish that it should not be preserved?

The home at Oxley Rise of independent Singapore’s first prime minister is not remarkable architecturally. Many like it, even better, had been pulverized long ago by the wrecking ball – for national progress and expediency.

But, that house certainly has historical value, because of the person and family that lived there. And some momentous events, we are told, that took place in it, including a number of early meetings in 1950s of the People’s Action Party, Singapore’s long ruling party.

Was Lee Kuan Yew truly the founding father, as feverishly broadcast since March 2015, of an incredibly successful Singapore nation?

If yes, and universally acknowledged, then there appears to be a case to keep something concrete, even intimate, in his remembrance.

Perchance, a substantial number of people now and in the future, will desire a glimpse of our founding father’s abode and family life. Preserving the house in situ, so as to offer the public a glimpse into the inner sanctum of our important national leader, could be enlightening, even interesting.

If our Singapore residents queue up in such numbers in March and April to pay their last respects during the lying-in-state, why won’t they join the line to visit his home, not just in the next several months, but also long after?

People still snake in long lines to visit Mozart’s 19th century house in Vienna, Anne Hathaway’s 16th century cottage at Stratford-on-Avon, Mao Tse Tung’s mummified body in Beijing – albeit preserved for their tourism value – why not Mr Lee’s bungalow at Oxley Rise?

Does it not equate in significance and attraction? To Singaporeans in particular?

If yes, the idea of preserving the old Oxley Rise house merits some consideration. It will probably be better than erecting a Stamford Raffles-like statue of Mr Lee.

Of course, his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, who still resides there, has a very strong say. After all, it’s her home still.

So has the rest of the family: whether in their heart of hearts Mr Lee’s descendants believe preservation of the house will benefit Singapore and Singaporeans, even at the risk of not honouring their father’s stated last wishes.

National interest could be allowed to rise above personal ones.

However, there are other ways of remembering and honouring Mr Lee: Singaporeans, and our new arrivals, should dedicate ourselves to living up to the high ideals he had propagated and pursued in his life.

Preserving the house, changing the name of Singapore’s internationally known Changi Airport to Lee Kuan Yew Airport, setting up a Lee Kuan Yew permanent museum exhibit, are just some of several that should be rationally considered.

Deliberating on a decision should not be restricted to members of parliament, not all of whom are in a position to decide with true equanimity, or without other agenda.