Not just a famiLEE affair

Jun 14, 2017 03.00PM |

by Bertha Henson

WHAT did Singapore wake up to this morning? The tremors that have been reverberating for several months have become a political earthquake, which started while we were sleeping.

There is now clearly an open rupture in the Lee family, with the two younger siblings taking issue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) and his wife, Ms Ho Ching. Their denunciations could not have been made plainer, and go way beyond Dr Lee Wei Ling’s earlier description of their eldest brother as a dishonourable man who wouldn’t do right by their late father.

It is no longer about whether PM Lee intervened over the publication of Dr Lee’s columns in The Straits Times or whether an unnamed family member was right to hand over some documents from the family house to the G. As for the contentious Oxley Road house itself, it appears from the statement made by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee that the issue of whether to preserve or demolish the home they grew up in hasn’t been settled.

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It looked as if the siblings were miffed (to put it mildly) that their elder brother was opening the issue again, this time in front of a ministerial committee, which they said was staffed by his subordinates. To cut a long story short, the last decision publicised by all three siblings was that the they hoped that the G would allow the house to be demolished after Dr Lee stops living in it. Meanwhile, PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang each pledged half the value of the house to charity. The PM also recused himself from the G’s final decision on the property.

So what’s going on? Will everything be resolved if the house was simply left alone and demolished once Dr Lee no longer stayed there?

It looks like so much bad blood has been spilt that the mess is impossible to mop up. There was the accusation that PM Lee was questioning the circumstances of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will. That he was abusing his position of authority to advance his political interests and those of his own family. For the first time, his eldest son, Mr Li Hongyi, was pulled into the row, with the statement alleging that the PM and his wife “harbour political ambitions” for him. Ms Ho Ching was further painted as a power-hungry matriarch who wielded too much influence among civil servants despite not having an official position.

Then there was the allegation that unlike the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, Ms Ho had failed to stay out of politics: “The contrast between her [Mdm Kwa] and Ho Ching could not be more stark.”

Even the late Mr Lee was put in the picture: as a disappointed father who wished his son, the PM, could have made it easier for him to have his wishes fulfilled. Plus an intriguing reference as to how the late Mr Lee decided against the PM as executor of the estate.

What is most troubling are the insinuations that organs of State will be used against the siblings and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, so much so that the couple feels compelled to leave the country. What can this mean? It gives rise to speculation that the trio are being threatened in some way. Mrs Lee Suet Fern has a thriving law practice that specialises in corporate finance. But Mrs Lee was once at odds with the Law Ministry. Last year, she claimed that a scheme in 2008 has not benefited local lawyers enough. The Law Ministry then came out to rebut Mrs Lee’s comments by defending the scheme and saying that her arguments did not align with her previous arguments.

It is an ugly picture, but is it the truth? How much of it is emotional guesswork and how much of it can be ascertained? The PM, who is on leave till June 17, has categorically denied his siblings’ allegations, saying he would “continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my [his] ability”.

This is unlikely to stop tongues wagging. There are criticisms of the siblings’ act of washing the family’s dirty linen in public but also some glee that suspicions of high-handedness on the part of the PM and his wife appear to have been vindicated by the siblings.

Some would say that the crux of the issue is the house. It is now before a ministerial committee led by Mr Lawrence Wong. Is there an attempt to preserve the house – or not? Whose opinion matters more: the late Mr Lee (unless there is something wrong with the will) or those who want to see the house preserved for one reason or another?

Whether resolved or not, much damage has been done. The image and reputation of the Prime Minister as a son and brother have been attacked by his own siblings. It’s no business of ours, except that he was also attacked as a leader who abused his authority and his wife has been accused of overstepping the boundaries.

This is not something that can be papered over as a “personal, family issue’’ to be resolved behind closed doors.


Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)


Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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