The Lee saga: Long hard truth

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah


All the signs point to a long-drawn titanic struggle between the Lee siblings over 38 Oxley Road. The forthcoming July 3 Parliamentary sitting on the issue will take place without the presence of two of the main combatants  –  Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling – and can only serve to present Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s clarifications about his role and the government’s attempt to explain its position and involvement. Nothing more.

In the leadup to July 3, LHY and LWL are not conceding an inch and I do not see either relenting in their attacks on their brother, sister-in-law Ho Ching and their supporters beyond the date. They have refuted every public statement made by LHL’s or the government’s side.

Examples: LWL alleged that the existence of the committee to look into options for 38, Oxley Road was disclosed only when forced – and this only after one year – despite many requests for the names of the committee from the estate of the late Lee Kuan Yew. Both DPMs Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam have said the existence of the committee was no secret.

Next, LHY accused Ho Ching of “theft and intermeddling” when she took away items belonging to LKY. He was pointing out that his sister-in-law had no right to do so. To him, it was irrelevant whatever the purpose of the removal, even though LHL’s spouse had tried to justify the good intentions behind her act.  Not accepted by LHY, evidently.

Another  example of the younger Lee siblings’ refusal to budge was in LHY’s angry retort – in response to Senior Minister of Law Indranee Rajah’s Facebook postings on the drafting of LKY’s will. He took issue with LHL’s using of ministers repeatedly to insinuate that the late first PM did not understand his own will.

He said PM Lee’s ministers were arguing that Lee Kuan Yew, a Cambridge-educated lawyer and sitting MP, signed his own will without knowing what was in it. LHY  took offence that they were claiming that he initialed beneath the demolition clause, without understanding what it meant in plain English.

“This is an insult to a great man,” LHY said.

“Probate has been granted on Lee Kuan Yew’s will, so it is final and legally binding,” he said. The proper place for his brother to challenge his father’s will was in court.

We now have a situation where LHL has to defend himself in Parliament – against attacks on his integrity and allegations of abuse of power and explain his dilemma in dealing with not just his father’s house but also his siblings. He is wearing a number of hats  – as PM, as the eldest son of LKY and as an elder brother.  As PM, he is obliged and duty-bound to act in the larger interests of the nation and that well be in conflict with his other roles as son and sibling. It is a kind of a Hobson’s choice – the more he stands on the side of government and argues the case against late father’s wishes to preserve the house, the more he will be seen by his siblings to have betrayed LKY and, as collateral damage, the standing of the siblings.

The 38 Oxley Road saga is no longer just about 38 Oxley Road. It is a full-blown Lee saga played out in the openfield Facebook arena, with Singaporeans hooked onto its every twist and turn. Everything every of the siblings says  – and that includes the sisters-in-law, Ho Ching and Suet Fern –  is part of a closely fought battle for public legitimacy as heirs to the LKY legacy.

LKY was a great admirer of the Japanese system of elite bureaucracy where top political figures and civil servants were all part of a big happy family and where there were usually never any doubt as to their overall orientation and loyalties.  The Lee dispute will now test that severely.

We are all growing up – the Lee family, the political system and the people.

The dispute will be with us for a long time. Whatever Parliament and the courts choose to do, Lee Wei Ling is going to stay in 38 Oxley Road and outlive the tenures of government leaders. LHY is unlikely to allow unchallenged any critical remark about his or wife’s conduct.

It is a fact now: Life has changed dramatically in Singapore. However distracting it may be for Lee Hsien Loong in carrying on as PM, he has to deal with that. And Singaporeans have also to deal with this hard truth, as the founding PM might say.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

There were some typographical errors in the original piece. We apologize for it and would like to thank our readers for alerting us. 


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  2. Singapore needs a 2 party political system where talents will IQ n EQ and altruistic drive to serve nation n people. The system must be 1 of integrity, accountable and transparent. Everyone is held accountable. Judicial needs major tinkering. At the moment, the Lee saga looks like Trump WhiteHouse as everyone seems to be singing songs to support LHL in this private matter. When there is smoke there is fire…,

    • Would you put yourself up for candidacy? I would vote for you.

      The smoke or smokescreen is coming from whose house I seriously wonder.

      While I agree this episode may be good for SG in the long run, i think there is more to the eye than LHY suddenly so keen to fight for transparency and judicial impartiality. Why didn’t he make any noise when his papa wields power?

    • Serene Ong truth lies within himself or Suet Fen. Hope this saga change Singapore better n prepare for transition to bi-party politics. I can be an activist but never a politician… not savvy enough!

  3. The contentious issue is whether the claim of integrity by the all pure white party still stands. And there again, the all integrity talks in the past were they all true? Were we as a nation being led by the nose? These are hard truths arising from the saga, were they not?

  4. When a crime has been commited the law can be as swift as it chooses to be. I feel this issue will be settled much more quickly than this author thinks.

  5. Looking at the feud, I thought of the Malaysia’s Founding Father, the late Tengku Abdul Rahman. His descendants stay away from politics knowing what politics is. His images remains untarnished. But not his successor, Tun Abdul Razak. His son went in and subsequently become PM. The present situation I believe, has great affected the party and its founding leaders. Same with the Ghandis of India. It has led to the Congress Party being totally rejected by its people.

  6. Jairus Lau 3 things are accepted: 1) The share is equal: 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, 2) 38 Oxley is left to LSL, and 3) The executors of the estate are LWL and LSY. Why did wise LKY detailed the above? As early as 2011, LSL spoke on the preservation of 38 Oxley. That the organ of the State can over-ride the wish for demolition. To avoid potential conflict, 2) LKY left the property to LSL to decide. To balance, we have clause 3). After all, as PM, LSL is fully occupied with matters of the State. LSL claims that because of 2), LWL and LSY were unhappy. Perhaps the opposite is true. Because of 3), LSL is the dissatisfied one. So, did LSL screwed up, big time?

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