SINGAPORE — Responding to criticisms by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Saturday (Jun 17) said there is nothing secretive about the ministerial committee set up to look into the options for 38 Oxley Road.
Providing details on the committee in a media statement, Mr Teo also gave a glimpse of the various options being studied for the property, and reiterated that the Government has the responsibility to "consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance".
The committee was set up by Mr Teo and includes Cabinet members "responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning" - Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, Law Minister K Shanmugam and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
Responding in a Facebook post, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he and Dr Lee had been denied information about the composition of the committee's members, and called it "fundamentally flawed". He added: "As the subordinates of the (Prime Minister), how can they possibly be in a position to deal in this private disagreement? This is the wrong forum."
Mr Teo, who chairs the committee, noted that following the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had recused himself from all Government decisions to be taken on the Lee's family home. Mr Teo said: "There is nothing 'secret' about this committee. It is a committee like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to consider specific issues."
There are several Cabinet committees sitting at any one point, overseeing areas such as defence, retirement adequacy and the economy.
Mr Teo pointed out that "many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders" in 38 Oxley Road. "The Committee has thus been looking at the options available for 38 Oxley Road while paying particular attention to respecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes for his house," he said.
Mr Teo noted that Mr Lee Hsien Yang now owns the property. And as provided for in Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will, Dr Lee can stay in it for as long as she wishes. "The government has already stated on several occasions that it will not do anything to affect Dr Lee's right to continue living at 38 Oxley Rd," he said.
He noted that some people have questioned the establishment of a ministerial committee when no immediate decision was necessary. In response to this, Mr Teo said: "Due process is needed to consider the various options before making any decision on the house. This can take some time."
Mr Teo added that several other factors were also considered: First, if Dr Lee chooses to move out of the house in the near future, a decision on what to do about the house might have to be taken at that point.
Second, soon after Mr Lee's passing, the Executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will (Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee) themselves wanted the Government to commit itself immediately to demolishing the house, though Dr Lee might continue to live in the House for many more years.
Third, some Cabinet members, including Mr Teo, felt it would be useful if a future Government deciding on the house had a set of options that came from ministers who had personally discussed this matter with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr Teo said: "To get a clearer sense of Mr Lee's thinking on the house, the ministerial committee wrote to all the siblings to ask them for their views. When the siblings provided us with differing accounts of their father's wishes, we asked them for further clarifications. The committee's interest in Mr Lee's will is confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house."
He said the committee has tasked the relevant agencies to study a range of options for the property. Some of these options with the Lee siblings, Mr Teo said. For instance, they know that he "would personally not support the options at either end of the range" : At one end, preserving the house as it is for visitors to enter and see it "would be totally against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew".
At the other end, demolishing the house and putting the property on the market for new private residences. "The Committee has also been studying various intermediate options such as demolishing the house but keeping the basement dining room where many important historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached. These studies are ongoing," he said.