Following the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee Hsien Loong had recused himself from all Government decisions to be taken on 38 Oxley Road. I chair Cabinet should any deliberations take place on this property.
I set up a Ministerial Committee to consider the options for 38 Oxley Road and the implications of these options. This was explained in the statement by the Cabinet Secretary of June 14, 2017.
There is nothing “secret” about this committee. It is a committee like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to consider specific issues.
I chair this particular committee, and included cabinet members responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning, i.e. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law K Shanmugam, and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
The Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance, and this applies to 38 Oxley Road.
Many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders. The Committee has thus been looking at the options available for 38 Oxley Road while paying particular attention to respecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes for his house.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang now owns the property. As provided for in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will, Dr Lee Wei Ling can stay in it for as long as she wishes. The government has already stated on several occasions that it will not do anything to affect Dr Lee’s right to continue living at 38 Oxley Rd.
Some have asked why then a ministerial committee was established if no immediate decision was necessary? Due process is needed to consider the various options before making any decision on the house. This can take some time. I also considered several other factors.
First, if Dr Lee chooses to move out of the house in the near future, a decision on what to do about the house might have to be taken at that point.
Second, soon after Mr Lee’s passing, the Executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will (Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling) themselves wanted the Government to commit itself immediately to demolishing the house, though Dr Lee Wei Ling might continue to live in the House for many more years.
Three, some of us in Cabinet, including me, felt it would be useful if a future Government deciding on the house had a set of options that came from ministers who had personally discussed this matter with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
To get a clearer sense of Mr Lee’s thinking on the house, the ministerial committee wrote to all the siblings to ask them for their views. When the siblings provided us with differing accounts of their father’s wishes, we asked them for further clarifications. The committee’s interest in Mr Lee’s will is confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house.
The Committee has tasked the relevant agencies to study a range of options for the property. I have shared some of these options with the siblings. For instance, they know that I would personally not support the options at either end of the range: at one end, preserving the House as it is for visitors to enter and see would be totally against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew; and at the other, demolishing the house and putting the property on the market for new private residences.
The Committee has also been studying various intermediate options such as demolishing the House but keeping the basement dining room where many important historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached. These studies are ongoing.