TL;DR – If PM Lee had dictated that the house be demolished, what would people have said?
DPM Teo Chee Hean and some MPs also spoke.
To us, the most important issue is whether PM Lee abused power for his personal gain. That was the most serious of allegations made by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling – that PM abused his power to preserve the house so as to boost his own personal standing.
There are two parts to that allegation, both of which were addressed by PM and DPM.
Preserving the house enhances PM’s personal “aura”
To that allegation, PM Lee said this:
“Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state. And if such magic can work, Singapore, must be in an even sadder state.”
A case may be made that PM Lee is in a pretty sad state, that he’s a pale shade of a leader compared to his predecessors. But, as Singaporeans, we take offence to anyone thinking that Singaporeans are so weak-minded that such “magic” would work.
This sorry state was because PM didn’t abuse his power
It would probably have been very easy for PM to fulfil his father’s wishes. He is the PM. He could have easily done away with the due process of assessing the historical value of and considering the different options for the house. But that would be a true abuse of power. As PM said:
“Suppose instead that I had decided as PM to knock the house down, and had pushed that decision through without allowing the Government to consider the alternatives, weigh the considerations, and go through due process, just because it was what my father wanted. That would have been a real abuse of power. That would have gone against the whole system of rules and values that Mr Lee Kuan Yew built up.”
Still not convinced?
In his speech, DPM Teo highlighted that the Government carefully considers the merits for each property to be preserved or conserved. Currently, 72 buildings and structures are gazetted as national monuments, some of which were private residences. And Singapore has conserved over 7,000 buildings.
DPM Teo pointed out that some owners of the buildings gazetted to be preserved or conserved applied for redevelopment. But the government directed the owners to conserve the buildings for their historic or heritage value. Often, this meant that the owners had to forgo considerable financial gains they might have reaped from redevelopment.
As DPM Teo said:
“There is a due process for considering such matters and the decision is never taken lightly.”
If PM had done away with the due process and dictated that 38 Oxley Road be demolished, then how will all the other owners of buildings that were conserved feel?
Won’t they feel cheated of the financial gains they were made to forgo? Wouldn’t it be terribly unfair for them? And the government will no longer have the moral authority to direct owners to conserve buildings with historic or heritage value anymore.
And that’s why this whole saga is so ironic.
PM Lee got accused of abusing his power because he’s not abusing his power.
So now how? How to end this?
This case has gone on for far too long. It has distracted us from other, far more important issues. That is a key point that the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang made. He urged PM Lee and the Cabinet to do whatever is necessary to bring this dispute to a quick resolution. He suggested that the best way to do so is to bring the issue to court.
Mr Low said:
“Individuals who made less serious allegations that undermined the reputation and authority of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers have been brought to task for libel. There is no reason why this time it should be different because it comes from the Lee family. In fact, the allegations (by PM Lee’s siblings) are much more serious.”
Mr Low said that bringing the issue to court will allow the parties involved to put forward their sides of the story with evidence, while allowing Cabinet ministers to focus on uniting Singaporeans instead of being drawn into “participating in a divisive dispute”.
Most people have confidence that PM will win if he were to sue. In fact, PM also said he believes he has a strong case. And that’s not because he has control of the judicial system. We firmly believe in the independence of the judicial system. Rather, we don’t think Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling have any specific and concrete evidence of PM abusing his power for personal gain.
But PM has already said in Parliament that he would rather not sue his siblings because he doesn’t want to besmirch his parents’ names further.
PM Lee still hopes to be able to resolve the unhappiness within the family. So now the ball is in the siblings’ court.
(Featured image via)