SINGAPORE: There have been no specific allegations of acts of abuse against the Prime Minister and the Government that demand a deeper inquiry, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Jul 4).
He was speaking in Parliament on the ongoing dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
In his speech, Mr Heng noted that the issue before Parliament is not about the preservation or demolition of 38 Oxley Road, but the allegations directed at PM Lee and the Government by PM Lee’s siblings of an abuse of power.
Mr Heng stressed that in his view, there has been no abuse of power.
“What has been levelled are general allegations and aspersions cast,” he said. “The two days of this Parliament sitting bear this out.”
“No member, including from the Workers’ Party, has articulated any specific allegation of abuse of power.”
Mr Heng, who served as Principal Private Secretary to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew from mid-1997 to 2000, spoke of his interactions with Mr and Mrs Lee during that period.
“I learnt that both of them, especially Mrs Lee, valued their privacy deeply. They would be deeply anguished, if they were alive, to see the siblings’ disagreement played out so publicly.”
MR LEE KUAN YEW WILLING TO CHANGE HIS VIEWS IF PRESENTED WITH ‘ROBUST ARGUMENTS’
Drawing on his experience of working with Mr Lee, Mr Heng spoke of Mr Lee’s willingness to change his views if presented with “robust arguments”. In particular, he highlighted Mr Lee’s change of mind over the demolition of his family home at 38 Oxley Road.
He related how Mr Lee had stated his preference for the house to be demolished after his passing during a Cabinet meeting in July 2011.
“Despite his seniority and his role as the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, he did not once use his status to advance his case,” he said. “He just stated his preference, and then listened intently to the views of Cabinet members.”
With the exception of PM Lee, who did not speak, Cabinet ministers were unanimous in persuading him that the house should not be demolished, said Mr Heng. “All of us who spoke felt strongly that as a young nation, we needed a deeper sense of history, and that the house was of historical significance.”
“Mr Lee looked very thoughtful after the session,” he recounted. “We did not hear from him until later, when he sent the note in December 2011 that PM presented yesterday.”
“To me, that note, sent five months after the meeting, showed that he had been mulling over the issue during that period, and importantly, he had changed his mind.”
“I was at that Cabinet meeting, and can attest that Mr Lee put his views to us, and then listened seriously to Cabinet members,” added Mr Heng. “I was struck at the time by how scrupulously he presented his case, without once invoking his seniority or contributions, and how he listened so intently to what we had to say.”
He added that Mr Lee’s December 2011 note to Cabinet on the house was an “important change”, particularly because Cabinet did not expect to hear back from him.
“It showed me two things: One, that he had taken five months to mull things over very carefully; and two, that he felt it was proper and important to inform Government of his thinking, now that he was prepared to consider the possibility that the government of the day might decide to demolish the house,” he said.
“Until PM shared it yesterday, I did not know that Mr Lee then went on to apply for URA approval to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house,” he added. “This shows that he had a plan, and he put it into action.”
IMPORTANT TO REVISIT QUESTION OF MR LEE’S WISHES
Mr Heng also spoke of the importance at this juncture to revisit the question of what Mr Lee’s wishes were, and how these wishes can be honoured. He stressed that Mr Lee’s “greatest wish” was for Singapore to remain successful beyond his lifetime, and the best way to honour him is to “continue to work for the survival and success of Singapore".
To that end, he brought up three principles relevant to the debate: a sense of history, rule of law, and an honest and effective government.
“Mr Lee was convinced that we all need a sense of history – not just in knowing what happened in the past, but why it happened – that would help to anchor and guide us for the future,” he said.
Therefore, he said it is “right and proper” to consider the historical significance of 38 Oxley Road in any decision to demolish or preserve the house, or parts of it.
Second, Mr Heng said from the Cabinet meeting and Mr Lee’s letter to Cabinet five months later, it is clear that Mr Lee had observed a “strict separation” between his and Mrs Lee’s private wish, and the duty of Government.
“He had a strong personality and formidable track record, but not once did he insist that only his view should prevaiI,” he said. “I found that deeply admirable, for someone who was the founding PM of Singapore, and who had been PM for 31 years.”
He added that PM Lee and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had already given speeches on how PM Lee had recused himself from deliberations relating to the house, and “kept a strict separation between his private duty as a son, and his duty as the Head of Government.”
“The irony is that if PM were to do what Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling wanted, to impose his private wishes as a son and have the house demolished, we would not have this disagreement made public, but he would have abused his power,” he said.
And he said that an honest and effective government can only be achieved by “years of effective service.”
Mr Heng urged the House to not have the differences “sidetrack us from the bigger task of honouring Mr Lee’s wish for a successful Singapore, and get back to the business of serving the people.”
“In 30 or more years, when Dr Lee Wei Ling is no longer living at 38 Oxley Road, it is probable a future government may agree to demolish the house, as our founding Prime Minister wished,” he said.
“But there is another house that Mr Lee Kuan Yew built lovingly, a greater house than 38 Oxley Road – and that is Singapore.”
“This house, we cannot allow to be demolished.”