Thursday, 15 June 2017

Lee Kuan Yew's legacy is about to be destroyed by daughter and other son; Lee Wei Ling and Hsien Yang use Facebook to demand demolition of LKY's house

• In young nation where numerous useless buildings receive petitions for conservation, fate of iconic house where modern Singapore was founded fuels public show of sibling rivalry

• Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Yang issue statement to say they have 'lost confidence' in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong


• PM Lee refuted allegations by his siblings that he had misused his power in relation to their late father's house, saying he was disappointed and sad they had chosen to air a private family matter in public

• PM Lee officially rebutts with an explosive account of events regarding changes in LKY's 7 wills

• Was Lee Kuan Yew rushed into signing his last will?




• PM Lee Hsien Loong apologises for dispute with siblings, will deliver ministerial statement in Parliament on 3 July 2017





PM Lee Hsien Loong saddened by siblings' Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang allegations
He denies charges and will consider matter further after he returns from overseas leave
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor and Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has refuted allegations by his siblings that he had misused his power in relation to their late father's house, saying he was disappointed and sad they had chosen to air a private family matter in public.

"I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations that they have made. Ho Ching and I deny these allegations, especially the absurd claim that I have political ambitions for my son," PM Lee said in response to a six-page statement his two siblings issued yesterday.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had said they had lost confidence in their brother, PM Lee, adding that they feared the use of state organs against them.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he and his wife Suet Fern felt compelled to leave Singapore "for the foreseeable future" because of this.

Titled "What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew's values?", their statement is the latest development in a long-running dispute over the demolition of their father's house at 38, Oxley Road.

The two siblings are joint executors and trustees of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate, and have pushed for the Government to honour his wish, as stated in his will, for the house to be pulled down.

They alleged that PM Lee and his wife wanted the house preserved for their own political gain, adding that the PM had abused his position to drive his personal agenda. They further alleged Mrs Lee had outsized influence and power that went beyond her role as the PM's wife.



PM Lee said: "While siblings may have differences, I believe that any such differences should stay in the family. Since my father's passing in March 2015, as the eldest son, I have tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family, out of respect for our parents."

He added: "My siblings' statement has hurt our father's legacy."

After the statement was publicised on the duo's Facebook pages around 2am, it was widely shared online and picked up by media.

The news also sparked talk in the legal fraternity about possible changes at law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford, at which Mrs Lee Suet Fern is managing partner.

Last year, Dr Lee had also called PM Lee a "dishonourable son" in a Facebook post, because of their disagreement over the house.

This time, she and Mr Lee Hsien Yang said PM Lee and his wife had opposed their father's wish for the house to be pulled down, as "the preservation of the house would enhance his political capital".

In December 2015, PM Lee had said in a joint statement with his siblings that he hoped their father's wish would be honoured, adding that he would recuse himself from all government decisions on the house. The Government also said it would not make any decision on the house as long as Dr Lee resided there.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang told The Straits Times that PM Lee had not kept his promise, citing the formation of a ministerial committee on the house. To him, this was a sign of PM Lee's interference.

But Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong said in a statement the committee was formed to consider options for the house and their implications.

He also said PM Lee "has not been involved in Cabinet's discussions concerning this committee. As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all government decisions (on) the house."

The committee was also looking into how the late Mr Lee's will was prepared, and the role Mrs Lee Suet Fern and lawyers in her legal firm played in preparing it, Mr Tan said.



The two siblings also alleged PM Lee and his wife harbour political ambitions for their son Hongyi. PM Lee called it an "absurd claim".

He said: "I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents. At the same time, I will continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my ability. In particular, that means upholding meritocracy, which is a fundamental value of our society."

He ended his statement saying: "As my siblings know, I am presently overseas on leave with my family. I will consider this matter further after I return this weekend."
















 






 






 






 









































Lee Hsien Yang says he feels compelled to leave Singapore
He has not decided when or where to go, but would rethink if PM Lee is no longer in power
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is making preparations to leave Singapore with his wife, but does not know yet when he will leave and where he will be going.

He told The Straits Times yesterday that it was the only sensible option left for him. "There are many ways people are made to feel uncomfortable," he added. "I am a person who spent his life here, who has done public service, contributed in the private sector. This is my home. I wouldn't do this unless I really felt there is a serious issue.

"And I have felt this is not where I can continue to live, the way I have been living in the last two years."



Mr Lee Hsien Yang, 59, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, was elaborating on a statement that he and his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, had issued in the wee hours of yesterday morning.

They said they felt closely monitored and feared the use of state organs against them.

The situation made Mr Lee feel compelled to leave Singapore "for the foreseeable future", said the statement which centred on a dispute over the house of their late father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Following the release of the statement, The Straits Times went to Mr Lee Hsien Yang's home around 10.30am.

He had already left for work. His wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, 59, a top corporate lawyer, was on her way to work. She said they were making preparations to leave Singapore.

But Mr Lee told The Straits Times later yesterday that he had yet to decide when to leave or where he was heading.

He also added that if PM Lee was no longer in a position of power, "I would reconsider my position".

He also said his three adult sons, Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu, do not live with him any more and would make their own decisions.

Eldest son Shengwu, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, posted the statement on his Facebook page and said: "I generally avoid commenting on Singapore politics, but this is an exception. In the last few years, my immediate family has become increasingly worried about the lack of checks on abuse of power.

"The situation is now such that my parents have made plans to relocate to another country, a painful decision that they have not made lightly."



Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee, 62, are joint executors and trustees of the estate of their late father, and have pushed for his house at 38, Oxley Road to be demolished, in keeping with his wish as stated in his will.

In December 2015, PM Lee, 65, had also said in a joint statement with his two siblings that he hoped the Government would allow the late Mr Lee's wish to be honoured, adding that he would recuse himself from government decisions on the house.

But yesterday, his two siblings said in a statement they had lost confidence in him, and alleged that he had worked behind the scenes to preserve the house as it would allow him "and his family to inherit a tangible monument to Lee Kuan Yew's authority".



As proof of this, Mr Lee Hsien Yang cited the setting up of a ministerial committee on the house.

He said this showed PM Lee did not recuse himself from all government decisions on the house as he had pledged to do.

But Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong said in a statement yesterday that the PM "has not been involved in Cabinet's discussions concerning this committee. As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all government decisions concerning the house".

He added in a statement that the committee was set up to consider the options for the house and their implications. These included looking into aspects such as the historical and heritage significance of the house and the late Mr Lee's thinking and wishes in relation to it.

But Mr Lee Hsien Yang questioned why this was necessary, since the Government had said it would not be making a decision on the house as long as Dr Lee was residing there. "Wei Ling is there today. She has no intention to move out. Why is this committee in existence?" he said.

To this, Mr Tan said the committee had made it clear to Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang that the Government has no intention of doing anything with the house as long as Dr Lee continues to reside there.

In his statement, Mr Tan also said the committee had asked Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang questions on how their father's will was prepared, and the role played by Mrs Lee Suet Fern and lawyers of her firm in preparing it.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang told The Straits Times the will was prepared by his cousin Kwa Kim Li, a lawyer at Lee & Lee, the firm his father and mother, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, had co-founded in 1955.

He added that his wife had only prepared the words of his father's wish to have the house demolished.

He also said the committee should not be looking at a will which has been deemed valid by the court in probate: "A will in probate is beyond doubt and is the established and binding will of an estate."

He added that he and Dr Lee felt strongly about the house being demolished as they wanted to honour their late parents' wishes.

"Both my parents wanted it, we feel we owe a duty to honour our parents' wishes. My parents asked this of all three children and they told this to us many times in our lives. It is the least we could do for them, and actually I think many people would like to see that wish fulfilled," he told The Straits Times.

PM Lee said in a statement yesterday he was disappointed his siblings had chosen to publicise private family matters.

"While siblings may have differences, I believe that any such differences should stay in the family. Since my father's passing in March 2015, as the eldest son I have tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family, out of respect for our parents," he said.





























Home of former PM Lee Kuan Yew at 38 Oxley Road at centre of dispute
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

A long-running question over what to do with the home of the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38, Oxley Road has come into focus again after two of his children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, issued a statement on the matter yesterday.

In their statement, they reiterated their father's wish that the house be demolished upon his death.

The two siblings, who are joint executors and trustees of their father's estate, also said that their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his wife Ho Ching had opposed this wish as "the preservation of the house would enhance his political capital".



The issue of the house made the news back in 2015, several weeks after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died at the age of 91 on March 23 that year.

On April 12, 2015, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang stated publicly that the late Mr Lee had asked for his house to be demolished after his death, and asked Singaporeans to respect this wish.

In his will, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that the house should either be demolished immediately after his death or after Dr Lee moves out of it.

If demolition is made impossible owing to changes in the law, rules or regulations, it was the late Mr Lee's wish that the house should not be open to anyone except his children, their families and descendants.

There had been calls after his death to turn the pre-war bungalow, which he had lived in since the 1940s, into a museum or heritage site.

 

PM Lee told Parliament at a sitting on April 13, 2015 that Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew about calls from the public to turn his Oxley Road home into a museum and a memorial to him, but was adamant that the house should be demolished after his death.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had written formally to the Cabinet at least twice to put his wishes on record, PM Lee said.

The first time was soon after his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in October 2010, and the second time was after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011.

In his statement delivered in Parliament, PM Lee said that his father's position on 38, Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and added that Singaporeans should respect his wishes.

PM Lee explained that his father was averse to the idea of preserving his home as he had seen too many houses of famous people "kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out", and they invariably "become shabby".

The Prime Minister also said that a decision on the fate of the house was not required yet as his sister, Dr Lee, continued to live there.

Three MPs had tabled questions on ways to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew during that Parliament sitting in April.

PM Lee replied that decisions on how best to honour the late Mr Lee should not be rushed into so soon after his death.

He also told Parliament that he had asked Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang to head a committee to conceptualise a Founders' Memorial that honours not just Mr Lee but also his core team, including Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San.



The 15-member Founders' Memorial committee began work on how to honour Singapore's first generation of political leaders in June 2015.

Since then, it has made recommendations on two possible sites for the memorial: Fort Canning Park and Bay East Garden at Gardens by the Bay. A final decision on the site has not been made.


It also announced that PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had each agreed to donate half the value of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road house to eight charities, in honour of their father.

The December 2015 statement also stated that PM Lee has recused himself from all government decisions involving the Oxley Road house.

In their statement issued yesterday, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang revealed that the house was bequeathed to PM Lee, but he sold it to Mr Lee Hsien Yang in late 2015. The brothers also agreed on the donations to charities.

In the statement, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang said they were disappointed when National Development Minister Lawrence Wong wrote to them in July last year to inform them that a ministerial committee had been set up to consider options for 38, Oxley Road and their implications.

An online poll released in December 2015 by Hong Kong- based market research firm YouGov had found that a majority of those surveyed supported demolishing the house.

Of the 1,000 people it polled, 77 per cent said they backed Mr Lee's wish, while 15 per cent wanted the house preserved.
















Ministerial committee studying options for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley house
It has asked PM Lee's siblings questions about how the late Mr Lee's will was prepared
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

The future of the house at the centre of a dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings is being studied by a ministerial committee.

The existence of the committee was disclosed yesterday by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, the PM's younger siblings.

In a Facebook statement, both said they were told by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong last July that "a ministerial committee had been set up to consider options with respect to 38, Oxley Road and their implications".

The pre-war house in Oxley Road had been the home of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew since the 1940s. He died in March 2015 at the age of 91.

Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong, who confirmed the establishment of the committee in a separate statement yesterday, said it was set up to consider options for the house and the implications of those options.

"These included looking into various aspects, including the historical and heritage significance of the house, as well as to consider Mr Lee Kuan Yew's thinking and wishes in relation to the house," Mr Tan said in the statement.



He also said the committee has been looking at how the late Mr Lee's will came to be made and the roles played in this by Mrs Lee Suet Fern - Mr Lee Hsien Yang's wife - and the law firm that she heads.

The statement from the Cabinet Secretary was issued in response to claims by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee in their statement that PM Lee made "extensive representations" to the committee and that he is in "a direct position of power over the committee" because the ministers in it report to him.

Mr Tan said: "The Prime Minister has not been involved in Cabinet's discussions concerning this committee. As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all government decisions concerning the house."

He said the committee had sought the views of the Prime Minister, as well as those of his siblings, "to ask if they wished to say anything about the late Mr Lee's thinking in respect of the house, beyond what has already been stated in public".

"Mr Lee Hsien Loong's views were sought in his personal capacity, given his position as Mr Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son and his interest as a beneficiary of the estate," Mr Tan noted.



In the statement, Mr Tan also refuted Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee's claims that setting up the committee contradicted PM Lee's statement in Parliament in April 2015, in which he said there was no need for the Government to decide the fate of the house until Dr Lee stops living there. PM Lee had said in Parliament: "At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the Government of the day to consider the matter."

Mr Tan said the committee's work "will help a future government when a decision needs to be taken about the house".

He added that it also "made clear" to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee that the Government has no intention of doing anything with the house as long as Dr Lee lives there.

Mr Lee made it public, before he died, that he wanted his house demolished. But after his death, there were public calls to preserve the house and turn it into a museum or memorial.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee subsequently issued a statement as executors and trustees of their father's last will, outlining their father's wishes regarding the house.



Mr Tan, in his statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office , also said the committee received representations from PM Lee on various facts and circumstances in relation to how Mr Lee Kuan Yew's last will was prepared.

He said the committee asked Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang further questions about how the will was prepared, and the role that Mrs Lee Suet Fern and lawyers from her legal firm played in preparing it.

Mr Tan said the committee has also invited Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang to put their response by way of a statutory declaration, as PM Lee had done.

They have not responded to date, and have indicated that if they respond at all, it will be by the end of this month at the earliest, he said.

There was no further information immediately available on the make-up of the committee yesterday.










No political ambitions for my son, says PM Lee
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday refuted allegations by his younger siblings that he harbours political ambitions for his son Li Hongyi.

Such a claim is "absurd", he said in a statement responding to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.

"I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations that they have made. Ho Ching and I deny these allegations, especially the absurd claim that I have political ambitions for my son," said PM Lee.



He did not name his son in the statement, but his younger siblings had publicly accused him and his wife Ho Ching of using Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy for their own political purposes - and that included harbouring political ambitions for Mr Li.

PM Lee has a daughter Li Xiuqi and a son Li Yipeng from his first marriage. He married Ms Ho in 1985 and they have two sons, Mr Li Hongyi and Mr Li Haoyi.

He had previously said in interviews that his children are not keen on entering politics.

In an interview with a Chinese television station in Beijing in November 2014, PM Lee said none of his children was interested in politics.

"They have to find their own path in life," he said when asked whether he was steering them towards politics. "They have to choose, because a child's personality and aptitude have to be taken into consideration."



In a 2012 interview at the World Economic Forum, CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked PM Lee if his children would enter politics.

PM Lee replied: "They have to decide for themselves. At this point in time, the odds are not on it. They have so many opportunities - internships, job offers, the world is their oyster."



Mr Li Hongyi is in the public service. The 30-year-old is deputy director of the Government Digital Services Data Science Division of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, a statutory board under the Prime Minister's Office.

He studied at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Raffles Junior College.

In 2006, he won the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science and received a Public Service Commission Overseas Merit Scholarship, a top government scholarship, to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

After graduating from MIT, he worked in Google for two years from 2011 to 2013, before returning to serve a six-year bond, according to his LinkedIn profile.




























Family conflict gets wide media coverage
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

Social media was abuzz yesterday as Singaporeans woke up to the news of a renewed public dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Many responded with concern at what they saw as the airing of dirty linen in public. "Domestic affairs should not meddle with the nation's interest. What will the other nations think when they see this? I hope it won't lower the nation's bargaining power," said Mr Chason Li Zhong Ng on Facebook.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had posted a statement on Facebook yesterday saying, among other things, that they had lost confidence in their brother.

PM Lee, who is overseas on leave, responded in a statement saying he was disappointed and saddened by his siblings "publicising private family matters".

Many netizens, commenting on PM Lee's Facebook page, were supportive of his position.

Those commending PM Lee's two siblings praised them for publicly airing their concerns on the running of the country.

Mr Alvin Teo said on Facebook: "The PM's integrity and character are a matter of public interest. I'm glad there's someone in the family who speaks up (though their claims cannot be verified yet)."

Some felt that Mr Lee Hsien Yang's statement that he would leave the country was a poor example to set for fellow Singaporeans.

"If you truly love your country, stay. Work out your differences and forgive," said Facebook user Carmen Luanne Choy.



Stories on the spat by mainstream and alternative media were shared widely. It was the top-read story on The Straits Times' website after it was published.

The saga gained much traction in international media as well, and was widely reported by wire agencies and news outlets such as The New York Times, Agence France-Presse, Financial Times, BBC and The Star.

It was the most viewed story on the South China Morning Post international website, with the headline, "Siblings of Singapore PM 'fear for their safety', accusing him of harassment and trashing Lee Kuan Yew's values".

The statement by the duo centres on a long-running dispute over the fate of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road.

The siblings reiterated their late father's wish for the house to be demolished after his death, and said PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had opposed this wish.

Some netizens in their comments called for the late Mr Lee's wishes to be respected, while others said the house should be preserved as a national monument to inspire future generations.

Facebook users Simon Tan and Terence Foong suggested that there might be a way to please both parties - creating a 3D map of the house to let Singaporeans visit it in virtual reality even after it is demolished.

"The Government's view to preserve the house as a legacy for future generations is not wrong, but going against the wishes of our late (Mr Lee Kuan Yew) will make it tough," said Mr Tan.






















Timeline

2010-2011: Mr Lee Kuan Yew writes formally to the Cabinet twice to put his wishes to demolish his house at 38, Oxley Road on record.

December 2011: Mr Lee is invited to a special Cabinet meeting to discuss his house. After the meeting, he writes a letter to the Cabinet in which he acknowledges their unanimous view that his house should not be demolished.

Dec 17, 2013: The date of Mr Lee's last will.

March 23, 2015: Mr Lee dies.

April 12, 2015: Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issue a public statement which outlines their father's wishes on demolishing the house, and ask Singaporeans to respect his wishes.

April 13, 2015: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tells Parliament a decision on the fate of the house is not required yet as his sister will continue to live there. He adds that as a son, he would like to see his father's wishes carried out, but it will be up to the government of the day to consider the matter.

Dec 4, 2015: The three siblings issue a joint statement announcing that PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have each agreed to donate half the value of the house to eight charities. The statement also says PM Lee has recused himself from all government decisions involving the house.

June 14, 2017: Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issue a statement saying, among other things, that they have lost confidence in PM Lee. In response, PM Lee denies their allegations, and says his siblings' statement has hurt their father's legacy. Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang also say in the statement that they were informed about a ministerial committee set up to consider options for the house in July 2016.














































Many historical sites already lost

As a filial son, Mr Lee Hsien Loong should obey his father's last wish to demolish his house, but as Prime Minister, he has a duty to preserve a historical monument. After all, isn't that the reason why conservation laws are enacted in the first place?

Many significant sites have been torn down in the name of progress. The death houses of Sago Lane, the tongkangs along the Singapore River and Great World Amusement Park are just some of them.

The demolition of these landmarks did not cause an uproar because they were of no major significance to anyone.

But demolishing the house of the nation's founding father at 38 Oxley Road is a different matter altogether.

Everything that is associated with Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life should be made public after his death.

As a wise sage, the late Mr Lee should have known better. I can only surmise that his wish stemmed from a fear of having the sanctity of his house turned into a "tourist trap" of sorts.

Some possible ways to get out of this sticky situation include:

- Holding a referendum to decide.

- Carrying out the instructions in the will and building a replica somewhere else.

- Demolishing the house but building nothing in its place. A conspicuous empty plot of land can also speak volumes of the nation's indebtedness to this great man.

- A combination of the above.

Lee Peng Hon
ST Forum, 15 Jun 2017











Oxley Road dispute: Time to reflect, and seek the common good
Those in family dispute should set aside hurt feelings and self-interest
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2017

On my Facebook, some people are saying that the ongoing feud within the Lee family is like a multi-episode TV drama, with plot twists and characters that could have come straight from a scriptwriter's most overwrought imagination.

There is intrigue; a will - in fact, several wills; accusations and counter claims among siblings; money - always, there is money; feuding women; and a whiff of dynastic ambitions, swiftly denied. Politics, power, money, family drama.

They add to a potent mix. And as accusations levelled at Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew who died in March 2015, swirl, many Singaporeans are following the statements and Facebook posts put out by his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, brother Lee Hsien Yang and third-generation Lees, with a mix of prurient interest and concern.

On Facebook, people talk of this being a popcorn moment, like when you settle down for a movie.

It would all make for great entertainment.

Except, of course, it is not.



Because this is clearly not just a "family matter" being played out in public. Matters of public interest have arisen.

First is whether to preserve the Lee family home where the patriarch Mr Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo raised three children. This house was also the site of meetings that led to the founding of the People's Action Party, and a frequent meeting place for the first generation of leaders. It has historic value.

Disagreement over whether to demolish the house or have it conserved for history is central to the ongoing spat. It turns out, too, that inheritance shares and value are also involved.

My former colleague Cherian George summed up the issue well in a post on Thursday, when he said of the senior Mr Lee's wish to demolish his house:

"This was in line with his well-known abhorrence of emotional pulls in politics, whether in the form of race, religion, language or charismatic personality. He wanted to build legitimacy around performance, not identity, and to train Singaporeans to exercise a more clinical, legal-bureaucratic rationality.

"You don't need to be a disciple of Lee Kuan Yew to recognise this as a worthy principle for Singapore governance. Nor do you have to be a traitor to Lee Hsien Loong to acknowledge the risk, red-flagged by his siblings, that this principle will be compromised by preserving their house as a monument, against their father's wishes."

I was part of a team that interviewed Mr Lee for the book Hard Truths. His frugal habits and simple house came up in an interview in August 2009. He immediately said he had told the Cabinet: "When I am dead, demolish it." We probed him for a few minutes on this. But he was quite insistent, citing the cost of preserving it, and the fact that many historic abodes turn into "shambles" after a while.

According to PM Lee, Mr Lee had first stated he wanted the house demolished in earlier wills, but took out that requirement in later wills. In his final will read out after his death, there was a clause which specifically stated that he wished for the house to be demolished.

PM Lee has raised questions about the circumstances in which that last will was made and if Mr Lee was fully aware of the content when he signed it, including the reinstatement of the so-called "demolition clause".

While much is now made of trying to determine what Mr Lee's final, authentic wishes were for the house, ironically it might not matter very much. At least, it should not be the final word on the matter.

Mr Lee believed community and society's needs took precedence over the individual's claims. Just as his Land Acquisition Act rode roughshod over other families' wishes, it is perfectly consistent with the ethos of Mr Lee's regime that the state has power to override Mr Lee's own wishes and those of his family.

This is not to say it should or must.

Whether one comes down on one side or the other of the save-it-or-demolish-it divide, most would agree that the process of deciding this is as important as the outcome.

Mr Lee himself, after all, as a leader and a lawyer, believed in the rule of law and proper government process for all manner of things, including gazetting of national monuments. As for who gains and by how much, should the house be demolished and redeveloped for sale, that is no one's business but the Lees'.

Issues of public interest, such as whether to conserve the house of the founding prime minister, can be resolved calmly, over the long term, by rational discussion and public consultation. There is little value in Facebook wars.

The other issue of public interest that has arisen is the charge made by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee that PM Lee "misused his position".

In words carefully crafted to raise questions without making specific accusations, the post said: "Since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew on March 23, 2015, we have felt threatened by Hsien Loong's misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore Government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda. We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government.

"We feel big brother omnipresent. We fear the use of the organs of state against us and Hsien Yang's wife, Suet Fern. The situation is such that Hsien Yang feels compelled to leave Singapore."

The post mentions the writers' fear of the use of organs of state, and their concerns over the lack of checks and balances. The one specific accusation made is that PM Lee "misused" his position and influence over the Singapore Government.

These are serious allegations to make, albeit sweeping and vague. Whatever the differences among the Lee siblings, casting doubts and aspersions on the system that Mr Lee had worked his whole life to build with Singaporeans must surely be an unfortunate, even if unintended, blow to his legacy.

Yet, no doubt many will say that the fact that members of the Prime Minister's own family fear that the organs of state might be improperly used against them is not insignificant, especially in view of the Singapore state's past reputation as a police state.

In 2017, that reputation is receding, as citizens have more rights and feel more empowered, and as the Government also becomes more responsive and accountable. But that might be due to voluntary restraint by the executive.

To be sustainable and iron-clad, checks on executive power must reside in institutional mechanisms, such as laws, regulations and scrutiny by other arms of government, not in voluntary self-restraint by those in power.

Many other issues are being thrown into the mix - some of major public interest, many of nothing more than prurient interest.

Maybe it is because I have met Mr Lee many times as a journalist, sat across from him, watched his face, seen his eyes and heard the intonation of his words, as he spoke about the country he so loved and the family so close to his heart.

I can't view this as a popcorn moment; I can't watch this family drama unfold as pure entertainment. As a political journalist, I had the rare, unusual duty of being present at the Mandai crematorium for both Mr Lee's last journey, and that of his wife.

Mr Lee was not only the Lee siblings' father, but also the Founding Father of Singapore, and many of us as ordinary citizens claim a small - no matter how small - part of him and want to honour his memory.

The public fighting would have grieved him so.



There is a time for everything, and the time for family feuding is not now, when the country faces multiple challenges on the terrorism front and in foreign policy; when we all fear our jobs and livelihoods disappearing as technologies disrupt the workplace.

There is a place for everything, and the place for fighting over a family will and inheritance is not via Facebook and social media.

Singapore is a mature country with a mature polity. There are probate courts. There are family courts. There has been much effort to promote mediation as a means for dispute resolution in tricky cases. There are men and women of integrity and influence who can be appealed to, to mediate.

What is required is that those involved set aside hurt feelings, pride, fears and self-interest and seek to find a common good.

Mr Lee used to talk about "knocking heads" whenever people proved intractable or unyielding to reason. I think he would say that his children need a dose of that right now.

















Oxley Road dispute: How it unfolded

A family feud between the children of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew spilled over into the public sphere last Wednesday when Dr Lee Wei Ling and her brother Hsien Yang issued a statement saying they had lost confidence in their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At the centre of the dispute is their father's house at 38, Oxley Road. The two siblings alleged that PM Lee wanted the house preserved against their father's wishes, for his political gain. But PM Lee has refuted their accusations and raised misgivings over the preparation of their late father's will. Danson Cheong traces the timeline of the tussle.
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 18 Jun 2017


JUNE 14

2am: Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang release a Facebook statement saying they had lost confidence in PM Lee and feared the use of state organs against them. They also accuse him and his wife Ho Ching of wanting to make use of the late Mr Lee's legacy to further their political ambitions for their son Li Hongyi. They also reveal that a ministerial committee has been set up to consider options for the house.

2.20am: Mr Lee Hsien Yang's son Li Shengwu shares the statement on Facebook, saying his "immediate family has become increasingly worried about the lack of checks on abuse of power".

Younger brother Huanwu also shares the statement, saying he has made a "painful exception" in doing so. They are the first third-generation members of the family to comment publicly.

9.40am: PM Lee denies the allegations, saying he is disappointed his siblings have chosen to publicise a private family matter, and, in doing so, hurt their father's legacy. He adds that he is deeply saddened by their "unfortunate allegations".

5pm: Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong confirms the existence of a ministerial committee, saying it is an internal committee formed by the Cabinet to consider options for the late Mr Lee's house and their implications. Mr Tan says PM Lee has not been involved in the Cabinet's discussions concerning the committee, and his views were sought only in his personal capacity as Mr Lee's son.


JUNE 15

12.20am: Dr Lee responds to the Cabinet Secretary in a Facebook post, saying there is "no way" the ministerial committee was formed without PM Lee's consent and approval.

3pm: Mr Li Hongyi denies he has political ambitions, saying on Facebook: "For what it is worth, I really have no interest in politics."

9pm: PM Lee, through his lawyers, issues a statement raising grave concerns about the way his father's last will was made. It is a summary of the statutory declarations PM Lee made to the ministerial committee.

9.25pm: In a Facebook post, Mr Lee Hsien Yang says there are contradictions between what PM Lee has said publicly in Parliament and what he has said under oath to the ministerial committee. "Is his statement to Parliament false, or is his statement under oath false?" he asks.

10.16pm: Dr Lee releases personal e-mails of correspondence involving the late Mr Lee, Mrs Lee Suet Fern and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in a bid to prove Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife have not acted against her interest. She accuses PM Lee of being selective in using quotes from her e-mails to Ms Ho Ching to suggest otherwise.


JUNE 16

3.44am: Mr Li Shengwu posts on Facebook a comment he gave to newswire Agence France-Presse: "I believe that it would be bad for Singapore if any third-generation Lee went into politics. The country must be bigger than one family."

7.30am: Mr Lee Hsien Yang comes to the defence of his wife's law firm. In a Facebook post, he accuses PM Lee of lying about their father's last will being drafted by the firm and its lawyers.

1.05pm: On Facebook, Mr Lee Hsien Yang says the late Mr Lee's last will was drafted by his cousin Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee, co-founded by the late Mr Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo. He adds that a paragraph dealing with the demolition of the house was drafted by his wife at Mr Lee's direction, and later inserted into the will by Ms Kwa.

6.23pm: Mr Lee Hsien Yang alleges that the ministerial committee is "entirely uninterested" in exploring options for the house; it is focused solely on challenging the validity of the demolition clause.

11.11pm: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong calls on Singaporeans to not let the dispute "define who we are". "We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences. Whatever damage Singapore may suffer, wilfully inflicted or otherwise, I know Singaporeans will not lie meek. We will not be dragged down by a family's petty disputes," he says.

11.40pm: Lawyer Kwa Kim Li tells The Straits Times she did not prepare Mr Lee's final will.


JUNE 17

1.29am: Mr Lee Hsien Yang posts a Facebook statement saying that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final will was prepared on his late father's instructions to revert to his first will from 2011, drafted by Ms Kwa.

"Lee Kuan Yew's final will was simply Lee Kuan Yew's first will of 20 August 2011 re-executed on his instructions," says Mr Lee Hsien Yang, adding that his father had read the will carefully and initialled every page, including below the demolition clause.

1.50pm: Mr Lee Hsien Yang posts another Facebook statement defending the validity of the last will. He cites a file note by two lawyers from Stamford Law Corporation who witnessed the will signing that "LKY read through every line of the will and was comfortable to sign and initial at every page".

5.04pm:  Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean releases a two-page statement on the ministerial committee looking at options for 38, Oxley Road. He says the committee is not secret, and that he had set it up. He also reveals details on the committee, such as its members, who include ministers Grace Fu, K. Shanmugam and Lawrence Wong.












The damage wrought by Lee family feud
By Tom Plate, Published The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2017

After my first trip to Singapore, as a Los Angeles Times columnist for my first interview with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then titled Senior Minister, I returned home feeling I had seen something special and had met someone special. This was in 1996. Back then, the average American thought of the place as no more than a "caning and chewing gum" circus. How silly and uninformed that view was.

My fondness for Singapore was never to wane during subsequent trips and interviews, not only with Mr Lee but also with other huge talents such as diplomat Tommy Koh, foreign minister George Yeo, global thinker Kishore Mahbubani, former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, newspaper editor Cheong Yip Seng and others. I feel gratitude for their time and mentoring even today.



Many years later, I related this to Mr Theodore Sorensen, the iconic policy adviser and speech-writer for John F. Kennedy, months before he left us at the age of 82. Ever sharp until the end, Mr Sorensen, a mentor in graduate school, tried playfully to curb my enthusiasm. The occasion was a 2010 party at Singapore's UN mission in New York for my book Conversations With Lee Kuan Yew. Chuckling, Mr Sorensen related that after his first visit to Singapore, Mr Lee asked for an assessment. "Minister Mentor," Mr Sorensen reportedly said (and knowing the sharpness of his needle, I'm sure he did say this), "I now feel my life is complete. I have been to Utopia."

To be sure, Mr Lee never remotely claimed to have created utopia in the actual, but in ambitious thrust, he tried, as did the many hard-working Singaporeans he carried with him to transform a third-world backwater into a first-world city state. Yet about this we would joke - relaxed, he was very witty - with my once suggesting that if Singapore were utopia, then its citizens had to be Martians, not human beings. This remark somehow got to him, but then he smilingly said: "We're not Martians!"

Judging from the sordid Lee family rift that has now just surfaced, it looks as if the Singapore elite is more earthbound than suspected. From the Prime Minister - Mr Lee's son, in office since 2004 - to his thoughtful daughter, a brilliant neurologist, this near-utopia today looks creepy-swampy with back-stabbing and name-calling. On the surface, the unseemly divisiveness focuses mainly on the late founder's last will, and his wish for the modest home of his last 70 years to be demolished, not glorified into some Chinese Mount Rushmore (Singapore itself being the monument). I won't venture to sort out all the details, which have been ably reported by this newspaper (South China Morning Post). But I believe this was in fact his last wish, and feel as does a former colleague and current resident of Hong Kong who is also a devoted Singapore watcher: "I'm shocked. I feel sorry for LKY."

Sure, this family falling-out is not of global import, but for those who sincerely care about the LKY legacy, as the "old man" himself certainly did, it is very sad to witness. It would be joked back in the Lion City that LKY's power of will was so strong, if from the grave he sensed his Singapore veering off-track, he'd reach out and knock the place back into shape. Alas, it's too bad that option is not actually available. "So very sad," e-mailed a friend from Singapore who knew "the old man" well. Another, from Hong Kong, e-mailed: "A Shakespearean tragedy for some, but a tragicomedy for others - and not only Hongkongers."



Modern Singapore's global as well as regional image reached near Olympian stature, due not only to its economic success but also to its founder's talents as the city state's public face. He was a skilled orator (though the late Nelson Mandela, in my view, retires the gold medal), and a serious thinker (though more in deft, concise formulation than pure origination). In some ways, he could be modest: Regarding contemporary China, for instance, he'd say that, because of his historic relationship with Deng Xiaoping, his insights might be overestimated. "I visit China maybe once a year," he once said. "What do I know?" Yet some scholars who once shunned him like a civil-rights felony regarded him almost as if he were an Old Testament prophet.

Though sometimes wrong, on the big things he had an uncanny knack for being right. Regarding the "Clash of Civilisations" thesis, he was only wary of Islamicism ("because of that Book", he'd say, referring to overly literal adherences to tiny parts of the Quran). And his fervour for one-citizen, one-vote democracy was no warmer than Plato's (it can produce "erratic results", he'd say, a view many Americans would accept). Though the leader of such a tiny state (but more populous than Ireland and New Zealand), Mr Lee was viewed as a giant, not just in Asia.

His surviving children and their inner circle need to consider whether their public quarrel behoves their founding father. Having inherited a magnificent mantle, they should be ashamed for permitting the dirty family laundry of jealousy and ego to enter the otherwise commendably clean public domain of their Singapore.

Once, at the end of an exhausting day, Mr Lee was asked whether the political system might finally "loosen up, as many have conjectured", after he had "gone to Marx", as the atheist's option is sometimes put. "It is for the present and future generations of leaders to modify and adjust the system," he said. The time has come for the present generation to do just that. If they cannot handle what has been given, they should humbly hand it off to others who might preserve it with more class.

The writer, a columnist and university professor, is author of Conversations With Lee Kuan Yew in the Giants Of Asia series. This article first appeared in South China Morning Post.





No comments:

Post a Comment