SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (June 19) apologised for the harm caused to the country’s reputation and Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government by the private dispute between him and his siblings, adding that he deeply regretted it.
Stressing that he had “done everything possible to avoid this state of affairs”, he pledged to give the matter — which has dominated headlines and discourse in Singapore over the past few days — a “full, public airing” when Parliament convenes on July 3. PM Lee said he will make a Ministerial Statement in the House to refute the allegations against him and the Government.
“As your Prime Minister, I apologise to you for this. And as the eldest of the siblings, it grieves me to think of the anguish that this would have caused our parents if they were still alive,” he said in a statement on Monday night which was also recorded on video.
PM Lee said he has instructed that the People’s Action Party (PAP) party whip be lifted.
“All MPs will then have the opportunity to raise questions for themselves and their constituents ... I urge all MPs, including the non-PAP MPs, to examine the issues thoroughly and question me and my Cabinet colleagues vigorously,” he said. “I hope that this full, public airing in Parliament will dispel any doubts that have been planted and strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government.”
The lifting of the party whip allows PAP MPs to vote according to their conscience, instead of toeing the party line. For instance, it was lifted in 2002 during a debate on a review of junior college and upper secondary education, and during the 2009 debate on changes to the Human Organ Transplant Act.
PM Lee, who returned to work on Monday after his leave overseas, noted that Singaporeans have been “disturbed and confused” by the news of the dispute.
The spat first surfaced on social media in the wee hours of Wednesday, when PM Lee’s siblings — Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang — put up a six-page statement on their Facebook accounts. In their statement, they said, among other things, that they felt “threatened” in trying to honour the wish of their late father — founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew — to demolish their family home at 38 Oxley Road.
Hours later, PM Lee responded on Facebook saying that the statement has hurt their father’s legacy, and he was “deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations”. PM Lee subsequently made public his statutory declaration — where he expressed “grave concerns” about events surrounding the making of his father’s Last Will — to the Ministerial Committee tasked to look into options for the Lee family home.
But the public exchanges escalated, with three government leaders — Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong — weighing in on the dispute over the weekend.
On Monday, PM Lee reiterated that he had done his utmost to prevent the current situation. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had bequeathed 38 Oxley Road to him but his siblings “were not happy about this”. He tried to deal with his siblings’ unhappiness privately, he reiterated, offering to transfer the family home to Dr Lee for a nominal S$1.
When that failed, he sold the house to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at a fair market valuation and donated all the proceeds to charity.
“I had hoped that this would satisfy them,” he said. He added that there should be no reason for any further quarrel since he no longer owned the house and does “not take part in any Government decisions on the house”.
But he noted that his siblings have decided to make serious allegations publicly, including the claim that he used his position as Prime Minister to influence the Ministerial Committee chaired by Mr Teo.
These allegations “go beyond private and personal matters, and extend to the conduct of my office and the integrity of the Government”, he said. “Much as I would like to move on, and end a most unhappy experience for Singaporeans, these baseless accusations against the Government cannot be left unanswered. They must be and will be dealt with openly and refuted,” he added.
PM Lee also assured Singaporeans that the dispute will not distract him and his Cabinet colleagues from their responsibility to govern Singapore and deal with “more important national issues, including the pressing economic and security challenges we face”.
“We are determined to repair the damage that has been done to Singapore. We will continue to lead our nation and serve you to the best of our ability,” he said.
Contacted by TODAY, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he had no immediate response to his brother’s latest statement, adding that he had to “think about it”. “Let me digest (this) — I’ll need to speak to Wei Ling. And Wei Ling is in a different time zone and not contactable,” he said. Dr Lee is on vacation in Scotland. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KENNETH CHENG