Singapore

‘Tough’ questions as PM Lee addresses Oxley Road saga

MPs call for independent inquiry or going to court to resolve the dispute

Following attacks on his and the Government's integrity, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday addressed Parliament on the Oxley Road house saga that has gripped Singaporeans.

It began in the early hours of June 14 when his younger siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, dropped a bombshell on Facebook accusing him of several things, including misuse of power to set up a "secret" ministerial committee.

They alleged that he wanted to ensure their former family home at 38, Oxley Road, was not demolished against the wishes of their late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In a 54-minute speech, PM Lee, who also lifted the party whip for the sitting, encouraged MPs to raise questions "vigorously and without restraint".

A total of 23 MPs spoke up on various issues, including:

WHY SET UP A MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE?

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), and Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera questioned the need for a ministerial committee to study the issue.

Mr Zaqy asked why it was looking into "personal family matters" and why there was a "hurry" to set up the committee when Dr Lee is still living in the house.

Mr Perera was concerned about the "non-transparent" nature of the committee, while Mr Zaqy wondered if an assessment and recommendations by relevant agencies would have sufficed.

He questioned why the committee seemed to be concerned with the late Mr Lee's last will when the court is the "proper platform" to challenge it.

Mr Perera also argued that an independent panel with the expertise and resources to perform expert heritage analysis and public opinion sensing would better address the issue, without any "compromise" that the members have to directly report to PM Lee.

PARLIAMENT RIGHT PLACE FOR DEBATE?

Nominated MPs Kuik Shiao-Yin and Kok Heng Leun called for an independent inquiry to be set up. Mr Kok said the public would want to hear from other parties involved.

"As such, Parliament might be the right place to air the Government's position but may not be the right place to settle this issue once and for all..." he said.

Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) suggested taking the dispute to court.

He told the House: "Settling this in court would enable everyone to put forward their side of the story with evidence and with dignity."

PM Lee had earlier said he decided not to take his siblings to court so as not to besmirch their parents' names.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Mr Low and WP's Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) took issue with how Attorney-General Lucien Wong, who was PM Lee's personal lawyer, is now advising the Government and the Cabinet on matters related to the Oxley Road house and the late Mr Lee's will.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said there is no basis to suggest the Attorney-General or deputyAttorney-General - top lawyers - did not recuse themselves from any potential conflict of interest.

WHY CHALLENGE THE LAST WILL?

MPs Sun Xue Ling (Pasir-Ris-Punggol GRC) and Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) asked why PM Lee had addressed his concerns in a statutory declaration to the ministerial committee, instead of challenging the validity of his father's last will.

This is especially so since a grant of probate has been granted, said Ms Rahayu, adding that the statutory declarations may appear to be a backdoor approach in challenging the validity of the will.

WHAT ANALYSTS THINK

Political analyst, Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, gave the "diverse and constructive exchange of views, concerns and ideas" provided by the House a B+ grade.

The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow told The New Paper: "At the same time, it also means that the public expects a lot more clarity as to how this Oxley Road matter can be brought to a close as soon as possible as Singapore's credibility is at stake, and there are far more important and pressing national issues to address that affect the everyday lives of Singaporeans."

Associate Professors Tan Ern Ser and Eugene Tan agreed that tough questions were asked yesterday.

Prof Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore said: "My own sense is that there were some tough questions from the Opposition members focusing on 'abuse of power', 'conflict of interest', and suggestions that a closure to the saga would entail the use of other platforms like a select committee or the courts."

But Prof Eugene Tan, a law don in the Singapore Management University, said the ministerial speeches could have better addressed the siblings' allegations about the Government's conduct.

For instance, questions such as why the terms of reference and members of the ministerial committee were not initially revealed to the siblings were not answered.

He said: "Some tough questions, especially from WP, were asked at the debate. Ultimately, Singaporeans want to know what compelled the siblings to go public with such serious allegations about PM Lee's and the Government's conduct.

"Although the siblings are short on details on this point, they have been taken seriously because of who they are. They will have to be adequately addressed in today's debate."

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