FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee

Jun 15, 2017 12.00PM |
 

by Bertha Henson

THE first we heard of the ministerial committee was in the Lee siblings’ statement early Wednesday. We’re told that it is headed by Minister Lawrence Wong and that it has been querying the three Lee siblings about their late father’s will. The siblings said that Mr Wong informed them of its existence last July. It is an “internal’’ committee, said Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong, which seems to imply that no one else need to know about it and that it is well within the Cabinet’s right to do so. Since PM Lee Hsien Loong has recused himself from all G decisions regarding the family house in Oxley Road, he shouldn’t (or couldn’t) have directed its establishment.

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So, someone had the bright idea to set up a committee because it doesn’t look like everything about the house has been settled yet. What exactly has happened with the house? The short answer is nothing will happen to the house as long as Dr Lee Wei Ling lives in it. After that? That isn’t clear but the three siblings put out a statement that they would like the house demolished in line with their parents’ wishes. PM Lee said he was expressing this as his personal desire. In other words, he’s separating his private and official capacities. If the G (without PM Lee) decides to keep the house, it’s not clear how he, in his official capacity, would react. Maybe, he would say: “I will abide by the wishes of the Government of Singapore.’’ It’s been clear to many that the death of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had put PM Lee in the invidious position of having to act as both eldest son and Singapore leader. We watched closely whenever he spoke of his father because we’re voyeurs who want to see if the son or the PM shone through his words.

Why the need for such a committee? Who is on it and what is its job scope? Is this a routine thing like MRT trains being sent to China for repairs? Or was it set up to “persecute’’ the two Lee siblings, as Mr Lee Hsien Yang alleged?

According to Cabinet Secretary Tan, while nothing will be done with the house while Dr Lee lives in it; “the committee will be listing out the different options with regard to the House and the implications’’. This, he said, “will help a future Government when a decision needs to be taken about the house’’.  It will be looking at the historical and heritage significance of the house, besides taking into account the late Mr Lee’s wishes for it. 

Since the committee is supposed to help the future government of the day, we can assume its recommendations are just that. Not binding.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s response: “Why, when the Government says the government of the day will decide when Lee Wei Ling is no longer (living there)… is the Government of today convening this Cabinet committee?’’

So this mysterious committee has been summoning the three Lees to make representations. Should PM Lee be allowed to make representations since he has recused himself and the committee is made up of his subordinates? One argument would be that it was natural that PM Lee would be asked to give his views as the eldest son. And the committee should be trusted enough to give the PM’s opinion the same weight as those of his siblings.

The other two siblings, however, have painted their brother has having a firm grip on power and who would use organs of state to get his way. Dr Lee put it even more bluntly in her FB : “(If) PM can misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens.’’ They also said that PM Lee had queried the circumstances of the late Mr Lee’s will. Confirming this, the Cabinet secretary shed more light: Mrs Lee Suet Fern, wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, and lawyers from her firm played a role here and the committee wanted to know what it was. PM Lee has responded with a statutory declaration, but the two others have yet to do so.

But Mr Lee Hsien Yang said his wife had nothing to do with the will and was upset that the siblings were being asked the same questions repeatedly.

“If Lee Hsien Loong had any doubt about the validity of the Last Will, he should have challenged it in court,” he said in an interview with TODAY. “Frankly it is completely improper to use a cabinet committee to pursue an issue like this when the proper channel was at the court and probate.”

“… in his attempt to punish Hsien Yang for blocking what he wants to do with the house, (PM Lee) stipulated that in addition to paying Hsien Loong the market value of the house, he must also donate 50% of that value to charity.” – Dr Lee Wei Ling

It’s getting way too ugly. There’s even a money angle: Like how the settlement between the three Lees prescribes that Mr Lee Hsien Yang pay PM Lee, who was bequeathed the house, its full market value. And how, according to Dr Lee, that PM Lee, “in his attempt to punish Hsien Yang for blocking what he wants to do with the house, stipulated that in addition to paying Hsien Loong the market value of the house, he must also donate 50% of that value to charity.” In other words, Mr Lee Hsien Yang has to pay out 150 per cent of the value of the house. In 2015, property consultants estimated that the house could fetch $24 million, The Straits Times reported.

It looks like the breach in the family cannot be mended given the kind of words that have been levelled on both sides. In fact, they seem to border on the defamatory.

Let the siblings fight. On our part as citizens, we should be more concerned with the use of authority against individuals. For that, the G, now led by Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, might want to think about lifting the veil on this mysterious ministerial committee. There is no need to wait for PM Lee to return to Singapore over the weekend, since he has recused himself from all government decisions over the house.

 

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 Wikimedia Commons user Michał Jozefaciuk.

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