Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tackled allegations of abuse of office made last month by his younger siblings Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang in Parliament today.
The duo have accused their elder brother of obstructing the demolition of the family home, as last willed by their father and founding Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
PM Lee has denied the allegations and publicly apologised to Singaporeans.
Today, he began a ministerial statement in Parliament noting that in 2011 his father had approved a proposal to renovate rather than demolish the property.
He also said the dispute between the siblings arose out of a difference in perspective – with his personal view of his father being willing to consider alternatives to demolition contrasting with his siblings’ view of a more non-compromising position.
According to PM Lee, “there are few specifics” in the charges made by his siblings. However, because their father is Lee Kuan Yew, he said: “their accusations gain some credibility, and I have to take their charges seriously.”
Allegation #1: Abuse of power
For the first allegation of abuse of power, Hsien Yang had cited as a “prime example” the setting up of the Ministerial Committee to handle the future of the family home.
“I have already explained that I have recused myself,” said PM Lee.
“This is the right and proper way to handle a conflict of interest,” he added.
The prime minister said, “My siblings argue that even though I have recused myself, the Ministers are my subordinates and therefore, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent from me. In fact, they say this of Parliament itself.
“This cannot be right.
“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,” PM Lee said.
The second issue relates to a Deed of Gift of artefacts from the family home to the National Heritage Board (NHB).
PM Lee’s siblings have claimed their brother improperly obtained this Deed in his official capacity when it was between them and the NHB.
“But I disagree,” said PM Lee. “The Deed was signed by my sister and brother, who were acting for my father’s estate. I was one of the beneficiaries of the estate. I was entitled to be consulted by my siblings before they did this, but I was not consulted.”
“As Prime Minister, I had every right to see it,” he said. “After reading the Deed, I became very concerned over what NHB had agreed to. The terms were onerous and unreasonable to NHB.”
“Furthermore, my siblings had announced publicly that this was a gift. But in fact, they had set conditions in the fine print: if any time the terms of the Deed were breached, my siblings could immediately take back all the items for S$1.
“Therefore, this was not a gift at all. They had misled the public,” said PM Lee.
“Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew had gifted many items to NHB during their lives, and they had never imposed any conditions on their gifts remotely like these. What Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang had imposed on NHB was wrong.
“Discovering all this, as Prime Minister, I had to act. Otherwise, people might wrongly think that I was party to this.”
“It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity, I could not raise the matter with a family member. If I come across anyone doing something wrong, even family, maybe especially family, it is my duty to put a stop to it and set them right if I can,” he declared.
Allegation #2: Nepotism concerning PM’s wife and son
Hsien Yang and Wei Ling have also alleged nepotism concerning PM Lee’s wife and son, and claimed their brother’s desire to keep the family home standing to “inherit his father’s credibility”.
“Hongyi, my son, has publicly said he is not interested in politics. Nor have I pushed him to enter politics,” said PM Lee.
“My wife, Ho Ching, is CEO of Temasek Holdings.
“If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and the CPA know what their duty is,” he said.
“Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my standing, even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state,” said PM Lee.
“And if Singaporeans believe that such magic works in Singapore, I think Singapore will be in an even sadder state,” he added.
Lee noted that many people had asked him why he was not taking legal action to challenge the will, or sue for defamation, or take some other legal action to put a stop to this and clear his name.
“Suing my own brother and sister in court will further besmirch my parents’ names.
“At the end of the day, we are brothers and sister, and we are all our parents’ children.
“It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans. Therefore, fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice,” said PM Lee.
He said every family would understand that family disputes happen but they were not something to be flaunted in public.
“That is why I have done my best to deal with this out of the public eye,” he said.
“Unfortunately, my siblings made public allegations against me. I then had no choice but to defend myself, and release the statements and facts about the matter. I stand by the statements I have published but I really don’t want to go further if I can help it.
“Today, I am making this statement in Parliament to account to Members and to Singaporeans, and to deal with the issue expeditiously so that Singaporeans can understand what it is all about and we can put the matter to rest, I hope, once and for all.”