“The interest of the Committee in Mr Lee’s will is confined to helping us understand his thinking on the matter”?

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I refer to the article “DPM Teo responds to ST’s article, said ministers cannot avoid taking responsibility for making the required decisions on public interest” (theonlinecitizen, Jun 21).

It states that “Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has issued a statement in response to an opinion piece by Han Fook Kwang, editor-at-large for Straits Times.

Straits Times earlier published Mr Han’s opinion piece, “Three key issues in the Lee vs Lee saga” on Wednesday.

Below is DPM Teo’s statement in full

Mr Han Fook Kwang in his article “Three key issues in the Lee vs Lee saga” asks about the need to set up a Ministerial Committee. Setting up a Ministerial Committee to study or work on issues is part of normal Cabinet working processes. Even boards of companies set up committees to look into specific issues.”

What other ministerial committees were set up in 2016, and for what purposes?

What were the ministerial committees set up in the last five years, and for what purposes?

Have the existence of any ministerial committees in the past been made public?

Has any country in the history of the world, including Singapore – ever set up a ministerial committee to look into a family dispute regarding a will?

“He also asked why the issue of what to do with 38 Oxley Road cannot simply be left in the hands of the Founders’ Memorial Committee. Ultimately, it is the Government of the day which has to be responsible for making a decision on the property as this is where the powers reside under the law, specifically the Preservation of Monuments Act and the Planning Act in this case. Mr Han himself acknowledges this. It is therefore incumbent on Cabinet to consider and decide on the issues, and I have decided to set up a committee to assist Cabinet to do so. Cabinet cannot outsource decision-making. But this does not preclude public consultations or the involvement of some memorial committee at an appropriate time. Indeed members of the public have already written in offering suggestions.”

If “Cabinet cannot outsource decision-making” – what’s the point of establishing the “Founders’ Memorial Committee” or employing hordes of senior civil servants (note: the starting annual pay of a permanent secretary is about $1.7 million)?

Is it not in a sense – a duplication and wastage of government resources – especially in the light that the combined annual remuneration of the members of the ministerial committee is estimated to be more than $10 million?

As to “(the) Prime Minister Lee has recused himself from government decisions on the property” – was PM Lee Hsien Loong consulted in any way at any time or did he agree or recuse himself – to the setting up of the ministerial committee?

Who initiated the setting up of the ministerial committee, and when was it first mooted?

How can the PM recused himself – and yet participated – such as making a statutory declaration to the ministerial committee?

In this regard, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary – “recused” means “to disqualify (oneself) as judge in a particular case; broadly :  to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest” – what is the ministerial committee’s understanding of “recused”?

Why is it that only parts of the PM’s statutory declaration was released to the public – why not release the full statutory declaration? When will the full statutory declaration be released?

Can you make public the ministerial committee’s terms of reference, minutes of meetings, correspondence, etc?

With regard to “No decision is required now as Dr Lee Wei Ling continues to live in the house.

Whoever makes a recommendation, the public or some memorial committee, and when Cabinet eventually makes a decision” – and since it has been said that it was up to the Government of the day to decide when Lee Wei Ling is no longer staying there – why was there such an urgency to set up the ministerial committee in July last year?

After all, wouldn’t “the Government of the day” (when Lee Wei Ling is no longer staying in the house) be able to override any recommendations now of the ministerial committee?

In respect of “founding Prime Minister Mr Lee’s thinking is an important factor which we would all want to take into account. The committee invited views from the siblings to understand Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking on this matter. It is only proper that the committee seek their views.  Indeed, the Committee had to, since the siblings themselves told us they had different views, and challenged each other’s interpretations of Mr Lee’s wishes. All views were given voluntarily, including those in the form of statutory declarations. Where there were different views, clarifications were sought including the offer for them to be made as statutory declarations. As I have said, the interest of the Committee in Mr Lee’s will is confined to helping us understand his thinking on the matter. This process was conducted through correspondence, and out of the public eye until it was brought out onto a public platform” – since the will was made on 27 December, 2013 (note: Mr Lee Kuan Yew was continuously a Member of Parliament until his death on 23 March, 2015) and “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” – why is there still a need to say that “the interest of the Committee in Mr Lee’s will is confined to helping us understand his thinking on the matter” and also according to the PM – “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”?

“We should be clear that the difference of views did not arise because there was a Ministerial committee. We still hope that differences of views on private matters can be resolved within the family. But ultimately, the Cabinet of the day and its ministers cannot avoid taking responsibility for making the required decisions on matters where the public interest is involved, and due process is required. Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself understood this and would have expected the government to do so.”

Shouldn’t “due process” be through a court of law to make a determination, and the parties involved should submit themselves to go through the proper legal process? Why is your statement arguably, silent in this regard?

Do you agree that any other way may arguably be – not the rule of law, but “rule by law”?

Do you agree that it (Mr Lee’s will) should not be decided by a specially formed ministerial committee or the Government, nor should any findings or recommendations of the ministerial committee or Government be used to influence the judgement of a court of law, given that the ministerial committee is arguably tainted by conflicts of interests?

Leong Sze Hian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.