Speech by Kwek Hian Chuan Henry on the debate on 38 Oxley Road
Singaporeans have seen many twists and turns in the past few weeks. We see new Facebook posts and statements every other day. Many Singaporeans are unsure of what to make of this debate. We want to know what is at the heart of this dis-agreement. Because some things do not add up.
One. Mr Lee Hsien Yang shared that Ms Lee Wei Ling will probably stay in the house for many more decades. The government also confirmed that, if this is the case, the current Cabinet minus PM, would likely not be the ones making the final decision. Therefore, both sides agree that the decision could be decades away. So why disagree now? Shouldn’t Mr Lee Hsien Yang, or those after him, raise the issue with Future Government and the people of Singapore at that point?
Two. DPM Teo mentioned the possibility of a memorial park with only the basement preserved. And recently, Mr Lee Hsien Yang suggested planting a memorial garden after demolition of the house. Both options are not that far apart. Why can’t both sides continue to talk, and come to an agreement over time?
Three. Both sides have stressed that the government has the right to gazette the house, because the government has the responsibility of determining what is national interest. That means that both sides cherish the core Singaporean principles: that the rule of law must apply, that no one is above the law, and that the law must serves the people.
So are both sides really that far apart? Is the disagreement so strong that a family dispute needs to be aired on the national stage, with profound implications to Singapore’s international standing, and at a time of many pressing challenges? We have heard the viewpoint of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his wife, and Ms Lee Wei Ling.
Having listened to PM and DPM Teo, it is clear there is nothing to ar-gue about the house; the house and what to do about it cannot possibly be the reason why the siblings have gone public – since the govern-ment has said there is nothing for the government to do for many years as long as Lee Wei Ling stays there.
So what is really behind all of this? Is it attacking the PM, using the house as a proxy? Lee Hsien Yang has said he wants the PM down. Is that the true motive?
Next, I note that over the last 2 weeks, Mr. Lee Hsien Yang has evolved his position on what to do with 38 Oxley Road. Initially, he has stated that he had not thought through the plans beyond demolition. Subsequently, he mentioned the possibility of planting a memorial garden. And in his Facebook post yesterday, Mr. Lee Hsien Yang stated that he has no current intention of re-developing 38 Oxley Road, as a luxury condo, because that would be an affront to the values of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. However, a careful reading of his statement shows that this may not be definitive, because his declaration of “not inclined to apply for rezoning” does not rule out re-development under all circumstances.
Next, it is important for Singaporean to be fully informed of the financial implication of various options for 38 Oxley Road: The government has highlighted various options – conservation, preservation, and land acquisition. I have heard that these options are worth around 20 million dollars. If full demolition and redevelopment happens in the future, and if URA under the future government agrees to re-zoning, the land could be worth a lot more. I believe a piece of land nearby was recently sold for more than a hundred million.
The public debate, on what to do with the house, will likely last a long time, perhaps even lasting beyond those currently involved. In the future, the government of the day – who will finally make the decision – needs to listen closely and carefully to Singaporeans. Therefore, it is important for us to put all the facts on the table, including the financial implications, so that from now to the point of decision, Singaporean can have a full appreciation of what drives various viewpoints.
Next, I would like to ask about the Ministerial Committee. Most Singaporeans I speak to understand that ministerial committees are part and parcel of routine government work. Nevertheless, they would be further reassured if they have a clearer understanding of how this Ministerial Committee works, and how it is organised to explore options independently.
Can the government share the following?
One. Who initiated the Ministerial Committee? Did PM recuse himself, and 1st DPM Teo, as the leader of the cabinet in PM’s absence, proposed the ministerial committee?
Two. Who selected the members of the ministerial committee? Was it PM, DPM Teo, or someone else?
Three. What are the operating protocol? For example, was discussion and information shared on a need to know basis within the committee, rather than being shared liberally with the rest of the Cabinet Minus PM, even before the decision stage? Are there any other operating protocols that the Ministerial Committee will abide by in the future, that would provide us with additional reassurances?
Next, the issue of the 7th will. Much has been said about the 7th and final will. Can PM share comprehensively why he did not contest the 7th will?
Last, I hope that Singapore can move beyond this issue after this parliamentary debate. I am glad that the government has chosen to respond to allegations through transparency and debate, because having a clean and honest government is what kept Singapore exceptional.
Moving forward –
Singaporeans want an immediate and firm reassurance that our government integrity is beyond reproach.
Singaporeans hope that all parties concerned, especially after the debate today, will try to prevent their private matters from continuing to spill over to the public arena.
Singaporeans want our government’s undivided attention, on pressing national matters, concerning the livelihood and security.
After we finish the debate on this Ministerial Statement, Parliament will discuss 2 important Bills:
(1) the MAS Act that would keep our financial system intact, when the next global financial crisis strikes, and
(2) the Home Team Corps Bill that would strengthen our people’s support for a safe Singapore.
The issues that directly affect Singaporeans’ lives must always come first. Let us not keep our people waiting. Thank you.