Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong posted a Facebook post on Friday late afternoon to state that it was normal, and in order, for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to be given the deed in his official capacity.
Just this week, Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) posted a letter from PM Lee’s lawyer showing that Mr Lucien Wong, who is PM Lee’s personal lawyer and the current Attorney General, had informed him that his client, PM Lee had received a copy of the Deed of Gift which was earlier denied by him and his sister, LWL on 12 June 2015. According to LHY, it was a matter of just a few hours before Mr Wong, PM’s personal lawyer wrote to inform them, “Our client has since received a copy of the Deed of Gift dated 8 June 2015 from NHB.”
LHY questioned in his post, “Did LHL acquire the Deed of Gift in his public capacity, or his private capacity? If in his public capacity, to use this in his personal legal disputes is a clear abuse of authority. If in his private capacity, how can other private citizens go about acquiring confidential deeds of gift from the NHB?”
The Minister explains in his post that the deed of gift which LHY was referring to, relates to items from the estate of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, for use in a major public exhibition by the NHB concerning Singapore’s founding leaders. Noting that such a major public exhibition on Singapore founding leaders is a matter for deliberation by the Government, Mr Wong wrote that the Prime Minister was kept informed about the contents and presentation of the exhibition and given the deed in his official capacity, so as to be normal and in order.
The Minister then went on to note that if PM Lee had asked for the information in his private capacity, he would have been entitled to know about the exhibition and the items from the estate, given his position as the eldest son of LKY and beneficiary of the estate.
But for some reasons, Mr Wong brought in the issues about his concerns over the display of the partial quote of the demolition clause from LKY’s will which was part of the conditions set by the executors of the will for the loan to NHB.
In response to the Minister’s post, LHY wrote a Facebook post stating that the Minister is not telling the whole truth.
LHY states that the Minister omits to mention that the deed of gift was signed with the CEO of NHB on the evening of 8 Jun 2015. NHB accepted the “unusual” conditions. In a collection of what happened, LHY wrote that lorries came to collect the items on 9 Jun 2015, and on the morning of 10 Jun 2015, he received an urgent message from Rosa Daniel (then CEO of NHB) that the Minister had “changed his mind”.
“This was an important gift to the people of Singapore. Someone clearly did not want them reminded of Lee Kuan Yew’s wish to demolish his house.” wrote LHY.
LHY posted a screenshot of the email that was sent to the then NHB CEO about the call he had received on 10 June 2015. In the email, it wrote that the Minister (Lawrence Wong) had made a decision that NHB will not proceed with the Oxley Road component of the exhibition and NHB had breach a legally binding deed less than 49 hours of signing.
In an update to Minister Lawrence Wong’s post, the Minister wrote that he did have initial reservations, but he later decided the exhibition should proceed and it was successfully staged. “Everything I’ve said above is accurate. I’ve given a brief summary of what happened. I’ve said that I will give a fuller account in parliament, and will do so.”
PM Lee has earlier made a public statement to apologise for the dispute between him and his two siblings. Apart from apologising for the matter, he said that he will make a ministerial statement to refute the allegations made against him and will subject himself to questioning by the Members of Parliament on 3 July with party whip lifted for his party.
Ministers who were involved in the matter such as Lawrence Wong and especially those in the “secret” committee to ponder upon the fate of the property at 38 Oxley Road, would most likely be speaking about their involvement and reasons behind the formulation of the committee.
Below is Minister Lawrence Wong’s statement in full
I plan to speak on this in Parliament on 3 July, and clear the air on the matter, as I was then the Minister in charge of MCCY.
But as there are several misperceptions circulating around, I thought it would be better to put out some facts earlier.
The deed of gift relates to items from the estate of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, for use in a major public exhibition by the NHB concerning Singapore’s founding leaders, including our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Such a major public exhibition on our founding leaders is a matter for deliberation by the Government.
It would therefore be normal and in order, that the Prime Minister be kept informed about the contents and presentation of the exhibition.
The Prime Minister was given the deed in his official capacity.
If Mr Lee Hsien Loong had asked for the information in his private capacity, he would have been entitled to know about the exhibition and the items from the estate, given his position as the eldest son of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and beneficiary of the estate.
Unlike most donated items to our museums which are covered by NHB’s standard agreement, this deed of gift came with several unusual conditions.
First, the executors of the estate could buy back all the items for $1, so long as 38 Oxley Road was not demolished.
Second, NHB had to display prominently, throughout the exhibition and its publicity materials, part of the demolition clause from Mr Lee’s will regarding his wishes for 38 Oxley Road.
To recap, this is the demolition clause in Mr Lee’s will:
“I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (“the House”) be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out.
If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private.”
The first part sets out his wish for the House to be demolished.
The second part sets out his wish if the House could not be demolished due to any changes in the law, rules or regulations.
The deed of gift required NHB to display the first part of the demolition clause, but not the second.
I had discussed the matter with DPM Teo Chee Hean then, and we were concerned about the partial quote of the demolition clause from Mr Lee’s will. But we eventually decided not to pursue the matter, and to let NHB proceed with the exhibition.
I was also concerned about the tight timeline that NHB had to operate in. But the team did an excellent job. The exhibition opened in September 2015, and I attended the opening with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lee Wei Ling. It was well received and the exhibition has been extended until now.
I hope this will provide some useful background on what happened with the exhibition and the deed of gift in 2015.
I will give a fuller explanation on the matter in Parliament.