38 Oxley Rd: Why now, not later?

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I refer to the articles “Indranee asks Lee Hsien Yang: Why the urgency to demolish Oxley Road house?” and “The possible options for 38, Oxley Road” (Straits Times, Jun 27).

The latter states that “1. WHAT FINANCIAL INTEREST DOES LEE HSIEN LOONG HAVE IN 38, OXLEY ROAD?

None.

In the will, Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave 38, Oxley Road, to Mr Lee Hsien Loong, his eldest son.

In the Summary of Statutory Declarations, Mr Lee Hsien Loong says:

•After Mr Lee’s passing, his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee, expressed unhappiness that 38, Oxley Road had been given to him.

•Mr Lee Hsien Loong offered to transfer it to Dr Lee for the nominal sum of $1 on condition that if the property was later sold or acquired by the Government, all proceeds should go to charity. (Note: This condition, if accepted, would have meant that Dr Lee could not keep for herself the money received upon sale or acquisition.) This was not accepted.

•Subsequently, Mr Lee Hsien Loong sold the property to Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong donated the entire proceeds of the sale to charity. Mr Lee Hsien Yang also donated 50 per cent of the sale value to charity.

Hence Mr Lee Hsien Loong is no longer the owner of 38, Oxley Road.

The property now belongs wholly to Mr Lee Hsien Yang.”

As to “4. WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT BEING ASKED TO DEMOLISH THE HOUSE NOW?

That is a good question.

The Government has the same question.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted Dr Lee Wei Ling to stay in the house as long as she wanted. The Government has publicly stated that it will respect those wishes and does not intend to do anything until Dr Lee leaves. Letting the house stand for now does not go against those wishes. Mr Lee Hsien Yang has said Dr Lee does not want to move out and she has every intention of living a long life. That being the case, the matter may well not need to be decided for another 20-30 years. It can be decided by a future government.

So there is nothing for the Government to decide now” – why not throw this question back to the Government?

Why the urgency to set up a ministerial committee in July last year?

With regard to “The real question therefore is why Mr Lee Hsien Yang is asking for an immediate commitment on demolition now.

What is the urgency?

Until and unless Dr Lee moves out, there is nothing for the Government to decide. It is also a principle that the current government will not be able to bind a future government”” –

“In response, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said: “We have never asked the Government to allow us to demolish the house now, only after Wei Ling’s departure.”

He also questioned again why the “secret committee” on the house was formed in 2016.

The youngest son of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said beyond the committee’s opening letters, it was “focused primarily on parroting (Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong’s attacks on our father’s will”.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang also claimed that an earlier proposal by him and Dr Lee, the executors of their father’s estate, had been rejected by their brother PM Lee.

“Long before the committee was formed, we offered to (Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean) that the house be demolished after Wei Ling’s departure, and a memorial garden be built in its place. DPM Teo was reluctant and did not pursue the discussion further. Lee Hsien Loong also rejected this offer,” he said.

“SMS Indranee is pretending that the secret committee had an open discussion with Lee Kuan Yew’s Estate about options for the house. Nothing could be further from the truth. The committee refused to state either the options it was considering or its final deliverable.”” (“We’ve never asked Govt to let us demolish 38 Oxley Road house now: Lee Hsien Yang”, Channel NewsAsia, Jun 27).

In respect to “The options open to any government, current or future, future, are also not binary. There are a range of things it can consider.

… one option we are studying is demolishing the house but keeping the basement dining room where many historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached.

This would substantially fulfil Mr Lee’s wish. His and Mrs Lee’s privacy would be respected. Pictures of the basement were already made public during Mr Lee’s time and are widely available. Nothing of the private spaces would be seen” – wouldn’t this be against the wish of Lee Kuan Yew – not to open his house (or basement for that matter as it is still part of his house) to the public?

As to “At the same time, the history and heritage would not be lost and the crucible where the hopes and dreams of a nation were forged can be kept to inspire many more generations to come”” – how is what the Government doing now enhancing, furthering or ensuring that “history and heritage would not be lost and the crucible where the hopes and dreams of a nation were forged can be kept to inspire many more generations to come”?

Is what the Government now – arguably, inspirational to future generations?

In the final analysis, some of my friends surmise that perhaps the answer to the question “why” may be that money is of no object when it comes to fulfilling your deceased father’s last wish.

Otherwise, why would one pay an estimated $36 million (market value plus 50 per cent donation), when one knows that the house is subject to preservation or acquisition by the Government?

As to the question of “why the urgency” – some of my friends say “if they die all of a sudden – say due to an accident – how could they ensure the fulfillment of their father’s last wish”?

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.