FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given

Jun 19, 2017 09.30AM |
 

by Bertha Henson

SO IS there an end in sight? Or should we brace ourselves for more dirty laundry and public acrimony? Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is back to work today and I doubt that it will be the economy or security that engages his attention. He should be deciding on next moves in the famiLEE saga, but what would they be?

I have no clue.

But here’s what people seem to want to see happen.

a. Disband that internal Cabinet committee.

Never mind that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has given more details about the committee’s work, it’s tainted in the public eye. Whether secret or not, or whether it’s a routine part of Cabinet work, the idea that a committee of ministers are talking to their leader just doesn’t make the cut as an impartial panel.

It goes to show how the public views the leadership – as a monolithic group or collective unit that moves together as one. PM Lee can assert that he has no influence over the decision-making process; that’s almost like saying that he has no say over who should be the next Prime Minister.

It doesn’t help that PM Lee told DPM Teo of his worries about the final will. And it’s DPM Teo who is heading the four-minister committee. Could this have been set up with a certain angle that’s beyond DPM Teo’s declaration that the work was only about whether the will shed light on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes?

Then there is the role played by Law Minister K Shanmugam in the committee. According to the Lee siblings, he was involved in some way too in the final will, yet he is on the committee. No matter how Mr Shanmugam denies any conflict of interest, the layman will simply see it as one man standing on two boats. It’s also troubling that the siblings were never told of the composition of the committee. Why would the committee see the need to withhold names from the people it is asking to make representations? Unless, of course, PM Lee doesn’t know who is on the committee either…

b. Set up a new independent committee of heritage experts or historians.

What is coming through is an acknowledgement that private wishes must also take into account national heritage values. Or the other way round.

The late Mr Lee had himself acknowledged that the G could gazette the house for conservation, but hoped that if so, it be open only to family members. His concern went beyond his abhorrence for monuments, he was also concerned about privacy and economics. He didn’t want strangers traipsing through, the upkeep of the house would be expensive and there are neighbours for whom household values have been kept down because of strictures on plot ratio in the area.

All three points can be addressed without resorting to wholesale demolition. DPM Teo suggested something in between, such as razing the House but keeping the basement dining room where so many historic meetings about Singapore’s future had been held.

The independent committee, just like the committee on how to commemorate Singapore’s founding fathers, might want to canvass the public for a solution that would satisfy both private and national needs. Plenty of ideas have been thrown up: like relocating the house or creating a replica elsewhere or putting some of the furnishings on permanent display in a museum.

This means that the committee isn’t interested in the validity of the will. If PM Lee believes that something is wrong with the final will, he should use the legal route. It also means that the siblings must give way on their demolish-or-nothing position. In fact, this “demolition guarantee’’ they are seeking from the G is a privilege that had not been given to many others whose homes have been compulsorily acquired by the G.

c. While the above two points might help resolve the issue of the House, there is still the defamatory material that has been made public.

Singaporeans might be aghast at the idea of watching a legal battle among family members (which is actually common) or think that this sinks Singapore’s reputation in foreign eyes. But what many perceive to be a private matter has led to some very public words. Defamation must be answered, especially when it concerns the reputation of the Prime Minister. He must be whiter than white, to stay true to his mantra on the necessity of having politicians of integrity.

In other words, the matter of the House can be settled in some way or other. But words made public can never be taken back – unless a public apology is made. And that doesn’t look like it’s forthcoming.

Besides his father’s legacy, PM Lee should be concerned about his own legacy as well. How terrible it would be if his name is tarnished in the last few years of his leadership – because he wants to act like an older brother shielding his family from the public eye, rather than a prime minister concerned about his public standing.

 

The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our past 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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