Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC in response to the Ministerial Statement made by Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security on 3 July 2017
Madam, I thank the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for their statements and I’m heartened by their effort and time they have spent clarifying the issues, addressing concerns and erasing doubts people might have.
Madam allow me to seek further clarifications which I have gathered from my residents, civil society activists as well as feedback on my facebook page.
Role of the Ministerial Committee
Firstly, determining a testator’s intent with regard to a property often follows a legal process. PM did not challenge the will and it was granted probate from the court. Many questioned, what then is the role of the Ministerial Committee with regard to the will?
According to DPM Teo and as he mentioned earlier, the committee’s interest in Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s will is simply to help them understand his thoughts regarding the house. Many are confused as to what is it that requires further understanding and does the committee not accept the Will as the official expression of Mr. Lee’s last wishes?
Secondly, there may be a conflict between the role of the Ministerial Committee and the process and powers set out in Section 11 of the Preservation of Monuments Act.
Section 11 states that “the Minister may, after consulting the Board, make a preservation order to place any monument under the protection of the Board.” The Board here refers to the National Heritage Board.
There is no provision in this piece of legislation about taking advice from the Ministerial Committee. How will evidence gathered and decisions taken by the committee influence the process set out in Section 11? Would the Minister and the NHB be in any way bound by opinions or findings of the Committee? Did NHB know about the convening of this Ministerial Committee and is the NHB also concurrently studying about whether to preserve the house.
If the plan is to conserve the area then similarly, Section 9 of the Planning Act states, “Where in the opinion of the Minister any area is of special architectural, historic, traditional or aesthetic interest, the Minister may approve under section 8 a proposal to amend the Master Plan to designate the area as a conservation area.” There is no mention of the role of a Ministerial committee here as well.
Thirdly, as explained earlier, I understand that the committee is studying and listing options.
But wouldn’t the factors this committee is using, factors including public sentiments change in the future? What then is the point of setting up this committee now and making recommendations now? Things will definitely change in 2 – 3 decades. Family members’ views might change as well.
Fourth, can PM clarify under what circumstances are Ministerial Committees convened? Are there written rules and procedures governing the setting up and function of such committees?
Lastly, can PM or DPM clarify whether the same emphasis was placed on other important buildings like the National Library?
There has been much talk on social media about this and I suppose the question really is how do we decide what to preserve or conserve and when do we set up Ministerial Committees for these decisions. Minister Lawrence spoke about this earlier but can I confirm if Ministerial Committees were setup for previous important buildings as well.
Beyond all these questions, I appreciate that this is not an easy issue to resolve and definitely not one with a straightforward answer.
The community is divided in their views. Last Friday night, I had two meetings and this issue was brought up in our conversations in both meetings.
At the first meeting, the consensus was to demolish. At the second meeting, the consensus was not to demolish. They didn’t support demolishing the house as they felt we had so little heritage left in Singapore that we should preserve or conserve whatever heritage we have left.
Ultimately, it is easy to understand why we should demolish. It was Mr. Lee’s wish to do so.
It is perhaps harder to understand why we shouldn’t demolish and can DPM take this opportunity to further explain and provide details on what exactly is the heritage value and why an option to preserve or conserve the house should be considered.
In conclusion Madam, whatever decision we make, the key is to continue to be transparent about it and perhaps the most important part is to also be transparent about the process of making the decision or recommendations. It really is not an easy issue to resolve and as such I hope that we can set up a Select Committee to look into this and find the way forward.