Below is the full speech by Nominated Member of Parliament, Kok Heng Leun as delivered on 3 July 2017 during the debate on Ministerial Statements (38 Oxley Road dispute) by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Thank you Madam Speaker.
Much has been said, and will be said, about this matter, so I shall be terse.
On a fundamental level, 38 Oxley Road’s case is one where private citizens, namely Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, are alleging that the Prime Minister is abusing his power.
It is therefore necessary for the government and Parliament to address these allegations in an open, transparent and fair manner. As mentioned in The Straits Times, in our tightly-knitted Singapore community, when relationships are complex and interwoven, where duties and private relationships inter-mingle, how do we ensure that there are institutional checks and balances to prevent any abuse?
This furor has raised many questions in the minds of Singaporeans, questions directed towards the Prime Minister and the government, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling. Allow me to share some of them here:
- Who drafted the last will? Why the rush to prepare and sign the will?
- When Dr Lee Wei Ling claimed that the Prime Minister had, I quote, “angrily threatened” to gazette 38 Oxley Road. But is there anyone else who can corroborate this?
- Dr Lee Wei Ling also alleged that a photographer from the Ministry of Communications and Information helped Ms Ho Ching photograph and catalogue the late Mr Lee’s effects. Why must the documentation be done when the family is still in period of grief?
- When Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling alleged, and I quote, “We feel hugely uncomfortable and closely monitored in our own country.”
Does Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling have any substantial evidence for this statement? Did the government investigate these statements and if it has, what were the findings? Were Mr Lee and Dr Lee being interviewed and questioned after they have made these statements?
- When both Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling alleged that the Prime Minister harbour political ambition for his son Mr Lee Hong Yi, again, where is the evidence? What is the Prime Minister’s position on this?
- What is the reason for the government’s choice to refuse to take the probate at face value, and instead focus solely on the historic value of the house?
- Why must a Ministerial Committee be set up when we have Preservation of Sites and Monument Board which could decide on whether if Oxley 38 should be preserved or demolished? What is it in this particular case that is beyond the mandate of the Board hence needing a special Ministerial Committee to be set up? How do we know that in future, whether should a Ministerial Committee should be set up to look at Preservation of particular sites and monuments?
- In the case of the appointment of Mr Lucien Wong as the Attorney General, was the President formally informed of the current Attorney- General’s former role as the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer? If not, why is that? If he was informed, how did the President address this issue of potential conflict of interest?
What does open, transparent and fair mean? To me, it means being able to find satisfactory and trustworthy responses to the above questions. It also means all individuals involved should get a fair hearing, their statements carefully studied, by an independent panel, and these proceeding made fully available to the public as well.
The Parliament sits in today to hear—as we have done—the PM’s and DPM’s statements. But I would say that it is now still a case of “your word against mine, mine against yours”. I believe the public would also want to hear from Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Dr Lee Wei Ling, and all the players involved as well, in the same manner, as a matter of fairness. As such, Parliament may not be the right space for that. We should therefore consider another independent platform that will allow for all parties to present their cases.
Some people have spoken about the desire for “closure” on the issue. But what kind of closure do we want? A good closure is not just about restoring or maintaining faith and confidence in the government. It is also about having the opportunity to scrutinise and interrogate existing systems and structures. We must ensure no one misinterprets our efforts in debating this issue as a calibrated public relations exercise.
This is crucial on many levels. We have to show that the systems we have in place are robust, with checks and balances built in to withstand open scrutiny. A good closure can only be achieved if our system inspires confidence by being truly transparent and allowing for fair hearing from all sides—government officials and individual citizens.
As such, I would like for Parliament to consider setting up a Public Inquiry on this matter, so that all parties involved can have their allegations and statements articulated and scrutinised equally.
It is important for Singaporeans to have an unwavering belief in our system of government. In moments of crises, the resilience of Singapore, and of our system is, at the same, being tested and being strengthened.
This is a case where the private citizen and government disagrees. How should we sort this out? And I also ask, should the government consider setting up independent ombudsman to deal with such disputes that may happen in future.
I have one more point to say, and this relates to the emotional aspects of heritage and memory. We all hold on to our memories; we want to remember and preserve things we hold dearly in a specific way. Some buildings and monuments do not only impact individuals but also the wider community. The loss of our national heritage—whether the National Library, National Theatre, Dragon playground or Bukit Brown Cemetery—can be very emotional, affecting not just the mind, but the heart and soul of a people. Very often, past decisions have been made favouring pragmatism over idealism. Society had had to accept the decision and just move on. I am glad that DPM and government has acknowledged that the government has been over-zealous in our past in demolishing and taking down heritage buildings.
In the case of 38 Oxley Road, can a decision be made with wisdom and clarity?
Will the closure we all seek ever be fully realised?
Many elderly people I meet through the course of my work share with me stories about their wills. Although they know what they want, they are very apprehensive and worried about what other family members would think. When I ask then if they have discussed the matter with their family members, they say it is difficult to talk about these things. Such obstacles, combined with feelings of pride and fear, can blind us. They can lead to decisions that seed future disputes.
Family does not always have a beautiful utopian image that we like to conjure. Family is all about relationships. When there are disputes, how do we repair a broken relationship, because 破镜难圆。 I don’t know if that is ever possible.
I would like to end with some words from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
The last words of the play, ring loudly:
“The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most. We that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
I hope this incident, whatever its final decision, will only strengthen our resolve to make Singapore and its system even more robust, open and transparent. Thank you.