The Law Ministry (MinLaw) has rebutted the wife of the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, had alleged in a lecture organised by the Law Society last month that the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme has not benefited local lawyers sufficiently.
The Law Ministry took issue with her assertion about QFLP (a scheme started in 2008 which opens up the local legal sector to foreign law firms) and said that the scheme has set-up Singapore to be a regional legal centre.
In her lecture Mrs Lee, the managing partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford, questioned the outcome of internationalisation of the scheme and wondered if QFLP was good enough when the firms under the scheme hired “only about 100 out of thousands of Singapore-qualified lawyers”.
The QFLP scheme allows foreign law firms to practise in permitted areas of local law through Singapore qualified lawyers, and the six original QFLP firms generated $1.2 billion in revenue between 2009 and 2014. Mrs Lee said that the foreign law firms, had given local ones a run for their money.
QFLP had opened up new opportunities for Singaporean lawyers who were keen to do transnational commercial work, it allowed them to gain exposure to niche areas not previously easily available and also gave opportunities to young local lawyers, MinLaw defended the scheme.
80 percent of the $340 million revenue generated by the nine foreign firms granted QFLP status were from offshore work, and this was work that could have been done elsewhere said the Ministry.
Foreign law firms also contributed to exports of legal services worth $700 million – $400 million in 2014; and more than a third of lawyers in firms with QFLP were Singapore-qualified, with more than a quarter of partners in such legal firms being Singapore-qualified, MinLaw revealed.
“The introduction of the QFLP, and its role in making Singapore a regional legal centre, has implications beyond the legal sector, and benefits beyond the economy,” said MinLaw to explain that the scheme had received the backing of many of Singapore’s larger law firms and those in the financial services industry, which would be most directly impacted by QFLP.
MinLaw did not stop at rebutting Mrs Lee’s allegations, but also revealed that her arguments appeared at odds with her previous positions, because she had sought to join the scheme in 2014.
MinLaw turned down her proposal as the ministry “had specific periods when it invited applications from everyone, then considered the best applicants”. “It would not be possible to give a licence to one firm, at that firm’s request,” MinLaw explained.
Mrs Lee then appealed for an exception to be made for her firm and “strongly made the case for a QFLP licence to be given” to her firm extolling “the virtues of the QFLP scheme” disclosed MinLaw.
“However, her request was rejected because no exceptions could be made for her. The QFLP licence is awarded only when an application cycle is called, and on a competitive basis,” the Ministry said.
Public displays of disagreements between the Lee family and the Government headed by the elder Lee are highly unusual.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s older sister, Lee Wei Ling, had recently taken her brother Lee Hsien Loong to task for the hero-worship of their father, Lee Kuan Yew. Prime Minister Lee had denounced his sister’s accusations as “completely untrue”.
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