Speech by Mr Low Thia Khiang, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC and Secretary-General of Workers' Party on the 38 Oxley Road issue (Lee Family Saga) in Parliament on 3 July 2017.
Madam Speaker, this is a sad day for Parliament that we have to hear and debate the dispute of the descendants of our Founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It is sadder still that this whole saga is centered on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will because his wish on 38 Oxley Road is well-known.
I would like to state from the outset that the Workers’ Party has only a simple and broad position on this unfortunate saga, that is, the Workers’ Party is concern about how this saga would affect our nation. The opinions of Workers’ Party members and MPs on the other aspects of the issues are just as diverse as public opinion has been in these few weeks.
As an outsider to this dispute, I personally believe the acrimony between the Lee descendants has much deeper roots than just the fate of the house arising out of the will. This is because all sides seem to be willing to risk the national interest by bringing this private matter into the public domain.
This is the fundamental point that I want to make, which I personally feel strongly about. The problem with this whole saga is that the line between the private and the public has been blurred and crossed too many times by the Prime Minister, the Lee siblings and the Government too.
We need to restore the line, make it a bright red line, resolve the aspects of the dispute that have crossed into the public domain, and push the dispute back into the private domain.
We need to do this so as to move on to far more important issues that are truly national issues. This saga is distracting the Government, distracting Singaporeans, and distracting the international audience and damaging the Singapore brand.
Crossing the Line Between the Private and the Public
Madam Speaker, the line between the private and the public is a very important one for good governance. It is also the foundation of Singapore’s unforgiving anti-corruption stance. Unfortunately, in this whole saga, I personally think that the line has been blurred and crossed many times by all sides.
First, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling should not make vague allegations in the public domain against the Prime Minister based on scattered evidence centered on family displeasure. Making allegations that appear to be calculated to undermine the Prime Minister’s authority does not make for constructive politics in Singapore. It is a reckless thing to do and I do not see how this is in the national interest. If the accusers have details and concrete evidence that the Prime Minister has been lying and abusing his power, allowing his wife to influence the appointment of public officials, they should have made all of them public by now. They should not be waging a continuous media campaign to keep the nation in suspense.
However, the Government has also contributed to the squabble. It does not help that the Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet colleagues have also responded in kind in Facebook and even making counter allegations on the motive and character of the other party.
The Government should set an example and needs to maintain its dignity in the face of insults to its integrity. It should not get involved in a Facebook brawl for the whole world to see. Cabinet members, more than anyone else, should refrain from making insinuations about the character and motivations of the accusers. The Government should not continue with this dispute in the public domain.
Mdm Speaker, Good government cannot be achieved in social media. The Prime Minister is faced with serious allegations from his brother and sister. These allegations need to be addressed in a proper manner. As the Prime Minister once said himself, such matters cannot be just “you say, I say”. It is the hallmark of the PAP Government in the past to get to the bottom of such matters via the court.
I believe that the “you say, I say” exchange will continue in social media if the Prime Minister fails to take action to put it to the stop.
The Prime Minister said earlier in the ministerial statement seems to hope to resolve the issue after this Parliament session, but how sure he is that his siblings will not continue the allegation or having new allegation against him? He is already being accused of trying to cover up and whitewash himself by using Parliament.
Next, it seems to me that the Minister for Law was a close personal friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and other members of the Lee family. He has now fallen out with some members of the Lee family. Dr. Lee Wei Ling said he was a “changed person”. He was also previously involved in giving personal advice relating to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will. However, he is also now part of the Ministerial Committee which is looking at the issue of the house arising from the will. Is there not a conflict of interest here?
Furthermore, the current Attorney General, Mr Lucien Wong, was acting as Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s personal lawyer in his private dispute against his siblings. But now the same person is in the position to advise the Government and the Cabinet on matters related to the house and Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will. Is there also a conflict of interest here? Was this consideration taken into account when he was appointed the Attorney-General?
Can the Prime Minister clarify the role of the Law Minister and the Attorney General in this matter, and explain to the house whether there is any conflict of interest? If so, how they are going to account to the public for this? Is their current position still tenable?
The Government Needs to Move On
Madam Speaker, I am personally perplexed and lost, as are many Singaporeans, on the Lee family saga. However, this is not Korean drama show. It is a serious matter because it affects the credibility of our entire country.
The timing of the public blowing up of the private dispute is also unfortunate. At this juncture, the country faces serious challenges. Singapore is facing a tricky and volatile geopolitical situation and the Government has to navigate our small state between a self-centred America and a more assertive China skilfully and carefully.
We also seem to be vulnerable to the worsening security situation in the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia, with troubling cases of self-radicalisation surfacing at home. We have only recently embarked on a critical transformation of Singapore economy and workforce, to enable our companies and workers to seize the opportunities of technological disruption to stay competitive. We are still fixing persistent problems with our physical and social infrastructure, in particular the recent continuous major MRT breakdowns.
Although the Prime Minister had said this saga would not affect the work of the government, I am of the view that it is a serious distraction to the Government in dealing with the serious challenges when the cabinet members, all of them are not members of the Lee family but have been unnecessarily drawn into the dispute, which, to me, is essentially a family dispute.
The Ministers need to focus on rallying Singaporeans to be united in facing the challenges, and not be participating in a divisive dispute. The Government needs to move on. I hope that all necessary steps are taken by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to achieve a resolution as soon as possible.
In this regard, I have a couple of personal suggestions for the Government to consider to end the matter and move on.
First, I am of the view that the correct platform to settle the private dispute is the Court. Individuals who made less serious allegations that undermine the reputation and authority of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers have been brought to task for libel. There is no reason why this time it should be different because it is from the Lee family; and the allegations are much more serious.
Given the past track record, not doing so would risk the Government giving the impression that it is afraid of what the Lee siblings might say or reveal. This will taint the trust Singaporeans has placed on the Government and compromise the high standards that the Government prides itself on achieving and aspires to maintain.
Anyway, this Lee family saga playing out on Facebook has become an ugly media circus. Settling this in Court will enable everyone to put forward their sides of the story with evidence and with dignity.
Second, the Government has the power under the law to decide what to do with 38 Oxley Road. The Government can take the options available under the law by going through the process of assessment to make a decision like any other important heritage sites in Singapore.
I believe that to a large extent, it is the delay in acting which has led to this sorry state of affairs. Why is there a need for a Ministerial Committee to look into this, when the Government clearly has the power to act decisively in the national interest? What further deliberations does the Committee intend to make and how much more time does it need to come to a decision?
End This Saga Now
Madam Speaker, Singaporeans are embarrassed; Singapore’s international reputation has taken a beating. Some countries which have had a high regard for us are laughing at us, and the international media has amplified and maximized the bad publicity on Singapore.
This Lee family saga has shaken international confidence in Singapore, which is known as a country of political and social stability. The country’s reputation is at stake, the Prime Minister’s credibility has been called into question, and the Government’s authority has been undermined.
I urge the Prime Minister and the cabinet to do whatever is necessary to bring this dispute to quick resolution. Settle the dispute in the appropriate forum, which is the Court. Restore the line of distinction between the private and the public.