This week, we saw the resurgence of a matter that the public thought was finished – the Oxley Road Saga and the roles that the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee), Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) and his wife, Lee Suet Fern (LSF), played in the will of former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY).
For those whose heads have been buried in the sand, Singapore’s ruling family has been battling over LKY’s former abode, the now legendary 38 Oxley Road. What was a private family home has now involved various cabinet ministers, a Court of 3 Judges, a Tribunal, a Ministerial Committee, and a 15-month suspension for LSF, and both LSF and LHY are now feeling too afraid to come back home for fear of prosecution (events are not in order of occurrence).
Yet, the public is struggling to understand why has this become such a debacle when LKY has always been crystal clear to the public that he wanted his home to be demolished after he died.
It would probably be fair to say that the public is heartily sick of this drama. Most that I have spoken to are aghast that public resources are being used to investigate this when there are “real” problems such as inflation, rising house prices, and post Covid economic problems to deal with. After all, the Government is raising the Goods & Services Tax (GST) saying that we needed to restore our coffers—so why are we spending public money on this which many view (rightly or wrongly) as a private family affair?
Sure, if times are good, we can see this as some sort of painful reality TV show where the private affairs of Singapore’s premier family involving PM Lee and LKY are aired for all and sundry. But in these times, quite frankly, the general populace has bigger problems and concerns – i.e. their livelihood.
In the eyes of many, the issue ended when LSF was handed down a 15-month suspension for her role in LKY’s will. Whether we agreed with that outcome or not is a separate matter. But, that was meant to have been an ending. So why are the authorities seemingly reopening this matter again now?
This timing seems odd and has led to speculation that it has more to do with ensuring that LHY never gets to contest any election in Singapore. After all, LHY has recently announced that he would consider running for President and there was speculation that the wife of PM Lee, Madam Ho Ching might run too!
If this is the case, should public resources be utilised willy-nilly to “fix the opposition”?
It is not as if the office of the president is uncontroversial. There have been so many twists and turns in the office that some have wondered if there is any point to it. The office of the elected president is meant to be above party politics. Yet, since its inception, all of its occupants have been seen as establishment-friendly, at least at the start and those that have asked uncomfortable questions in the exercise of duty have found their time in the office painful (think Ong Teng Cheong). And then, we had the “only minorities can be president this round” debacle which saw Madam Halimah as the only viable candidate – not to mention the various changes in criteria to seemingly rule out non-establishment candidates such as Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
While I would have personally preferred that the LKY will remain a private family affair, now that the authorities have seemingly chosen to make it a huge public one, the public, therefore, has the right to question the viability of the Government spending public money in this way. It is imperative to remember that what is in the state coffers belongs to all Singaporeans and there needs to be greater accountability and checks as to how this money is spent.
Just recently, Leon Perera of the Workers’ Party (WP) brought up the issue of the Government spending money on “feel good” advertisements to seemingly bolster the reputation of particular Government agencies.
Strictly speaking, Government agencies are meant to be non-partisan and above party politics. But, in the Singaporean context, the lines are fuzzier. Given that the People’s Action Party (PAP) has held on to the levers of power virtually unchallenged for over 50 years, the lines between what is public and what is party politics has been blurred. Yet it is important to make clear that Government agencies, civil servants, and any Government affiliated agencies are meant to be political party neutral. They exist to serve the public and not the agendas of any political party no matter how dominant.
The WP’s Jamus Lim recently wrote that he was blessed to have joined a local church in handing out bursary awards “to highly-deserving young students residing in #SengkangGRC, congratulating them on their educational achievements.” He added that this is not something he normally gets the opportunity to do, noting that “As many folks know, opposition MPs are not invited to Edusave award ceremonies.”
The Edusave awards are awarded by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE is part of the civil service, not a political party. Its job is to serve all Singaporeans regardless of political party affiliations. So, shouldn’t it be inviting all elected MPs, not just the PAP ones?
Looking at the Oxley Road saga, the advertising issue brought up by Mr Perera in Parliament and now this Edusave awards example mentioned by Associate Professor Lim, is there a prevalent pattern where state resources are used to further the agendas of the PAP?
While this may not be deliberate and may just be the result of us having had one dominant party for so long that the lines have blurred, it is something that needs to be unmuddied.
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