June 25, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

THAT was a masterly response from Madam Ho Ching! Read her post and you can see an Asian aunty tidying up after pampered children. You can see her with a broom and a dustpan carrying out the dutiful daughter-in-law responsibilities – or being a “dogsbody’’, as she put it rather old-fashionedly.

This image hardly tallies with the Lee siblings’ first description of her as a power hungry matriarch with too much influence over civil servants. She was, they said, the opposite of their mother, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

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“Singapore has no such thing as the wife of the prime minister being a ‘first lady,’” they said in a joint statement released on June 14, 2017. “During those many years, his [Lee Kuan Yew’s] wife (our mother) consistently avoided the limelight, remaining his stalwart supporter and advisor in private. She lived discreetly, and set a high bar for the conduct of a prime minister’s wife. She would never instruct Permanent Secretaries or senior civil servants. The contrast between her and Ho Ching could not be more stark. While Ho Ching holds no elected or official position in government, her influence is pervasive, and extends well beyond her job purview.”

So far, the Lees have only brought up one example which they think is unwarranted intervention on her part and that is regarding the removal of items from the house. She was painted as the wicked daughter-in-law who removed items from the house even as the late Mr Lee was lying in hospital. “She had no business doing this when LKY was in ICU and it is deeply troubling that someone can represent the PMO despite holding no official position,” said Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Then there was a mix-up over dates, which seems entirely to be the fault of the National Heritage Board. She only did so after Mr Lee’s funeral. Undeterred, Mr Lee Hsien Yang then calls her a thief. “This is even more troubling. By LKY’s will, the estate’s residual items, such as personal documents, fall under the absolute discretion of the executors Wei Ling and myself. Unapproved removal of these items, even by a beneficiary, constitutes both theft and intermeddling.’’

The incident looks clearly like a domestic saga among family members. Why should it concern the rest of us? It should, only insofar as the siblings clarify or justify their earlier statements on Madam Ho exceeding her role as Prime Minister’s wife. What sort of leeway should the spouse of a minister have with civil servants?

If she does direct civil servants to do something, should they do so? Is it implicit that what she wants is also what the Prime Minister wants?

She doesn’t have to say she is Mrs Lee Hsien Loong. People know. What is the bet that the ordinary person knows that Madam Kwa Geok Choo is Mrs Lee Kuan Yew?

Of course, this might be jumping the gun. It may well be that Madam Ho never tried to influence G agencies and that Lee siblings are talking nonsense. In Madam Ho’s case, it is imperative that she stays out of matters that are not under her purview given that her connection with Temasek Holdings already lays the Prime Minister open to charges of nepotism. After 15 years at the helm of this powerful entity, it has become a non-issue. She is a smart, capable woman in her own right. So let it remain that way.

As a contrasting case, the United States (US) has “a longstanding tradition of public service by First Ladies”. But even in the US, former First Lady Mrs Hillary Clinton was served with two lawsuits for leading a highly-secretive health-care reform task force, which counted government staff among its members. The American public seemed to shun a powerful First Lady whose public service was shrouded in secrecy.

Here in Singapore, Madam Kwa Geok Choo was well aware of her role as a staunch supporter of her husband. She once said: “I walk two steps behind my husband like a good Asian wife.”

Spouses and family members of leaders should be careful about keeping out of governance matters. There’s no problem rooting for your spouse or the political party he belongs to but it’s quite another to use them as leverage to get anyone to do anything, however pure the intentions.

G ministers here have a Code of Conduct last revised in 2005, which draws a line between the personal and the professional. It states that a minister must “scrupulously avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest between his office and his private financial interests”. This may arise “from the exercise of powers or influence in a way that benefits or may be seen to benefit private interests held; or from using special knowledge acquired in the course of his activities as Minister to bring benefit or avoid loss in relation to his private financial interests”. It extends to: Ministers must not “use official information that comes to him… for his own private profit or the profit of any family member or associate”.

Perhaps the code should include some guidance for family members. Unlike in other countries, we’ve never had a problem with family members abusing their privileged position, we should keep it that way. Madam Ho is not the First Lady, but she must be Caesar’s wife.

 

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

  1. FamiLEE saga: That internal ministerial committee should go (Jun 21)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Will parliament session end saga? (Jun 20)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  4. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  5. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  7. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  8. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  9. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  10. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  11. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  14. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  15. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  16. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  17. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  18. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  19. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  20. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  21. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

Looks like the G is digging in its heels over the internal ministerial committee. There is a very quick riposte to Mr Han Fook Kwang’s column yesterday (Jun 21) in The Straits Times on whether the committee was even necessary. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean, whom we knew only a few days ago heads the committee, said the Cabinet “cannot outsource decision-making”.

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He reiterated that the committee was only interested in the Will only insofar as it sheds light on the late Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes over the Oxley Road house.

That’s the problem isn’t it? A committee trying to come to a conclusion on a dead man’s wishes by interviewing family members, one of whom happens to be its leader.

Committee members, two of whom have spoken to the younger Lees before, would have known how fractious this would be given Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s suspicions over the validity of the will which he had spoken to Mr Teo about. Plus, some of the acrimony between the siblings has surfaced in public before this saga, such as the quarrel over documents kept in the house.

Evidently, the G thought its investigation would be kept quiet. They didn’t reckon that the Lees would make it public. Perhaps, the G believed that unless it said something first, no one else would take things out in the open without its say-so. It’s a common G affliction.

Mr Teo’s point is that the Cabinet has a responsibility especially since there are laws such as the Planning Act and Preservation of Monuments Act that need to be considered. So it has to consider the legislation plus the late Mr Lee’s wishes, to come to a demolish-preserve-hybrid decision.

What this means is that it is not accepting that the last wishes of Mr Lee in his will, that is, the demolition clause, could be final. (To a layman, it looks absolutely clear that he wanted it razed.) So the committee now has to do some detective work, which will surely upset the Lee siblings because the assumption is that the Will was “tilted’’ their way through some nefarious means.

The committee should be disbanded, because it is tainted.

The G can argue till the cows come home that it’s a routine committee and not “secret’’ but it would have to acknowledge that it could have been more transparent, if not with the public, at least with the Lee siblings on, say, the composition of the committee.

It can say that it has the right and responsibility to decide on the fate of the house but it can’t deny that the public would also be interested – just as they are interested in giving views about the Founders’ Memorial. In this regard, there has been some unbending: “But this [setting up of a Ministerial Committee] does not preclude public consultations or the involvement of some memorial committee at an appropriate time. Indeed members of the public have already written in offering suggestions.”

It can say it is only interested in ascertaining the late Mr Lee’s last wishes and nothing else, but is it also saying then that it would not get relevant agencies involved if there was some hanky-panky that went on?

In any case, the ministerial committee can’t make a “decision’’ on the house, because it can only recommend a position for the G of the day to take when Dr Lee Wei Ling vacates the place. That G of the day might choose to ignore its recommendations for whatever reason.

The Cabinet should have taken itself out of the picture, set up another committee to ascertain the last wishes, and later decide, without PM Lee, on whether to accept its recommendations. That would surely have been a neater method and would not be seen as an abdication of responsibility.

It’s likely that DPM Teo will speak in Parliament on July 3. He might first want to acknowledge that the G is in a pickle, rather insist that the committee did everything right.

 

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

  1. FamiLEE saga: Will parliament session end saga? (Jun 20)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  3. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  5. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  6. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  7. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  8. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  9. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  10. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  14. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  15. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  16. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  17. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  18. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  19. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  20. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

 

 

YOU may be up to date with the latest famiLEE news, but are you up to speed on what else is happening in Singapore? The past few days also had news on the arrest of two Singaporean auxiliary police officers under the ISA, a report that long-term unemployment rates have increased, a Singaporean teenager setting a world powerlifting record, report that obesity rates have increased and the G said that new laws to battle fake news will be out next year.

We’ve summarised these developments in bite-sized form:

1. Terrorism: Two more Singaporeans arrested under ISA; radical publications banned

Two Aetos auxiliary police officers were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed yesterday (Jun 20). Muhammad Khairul Mohamed, 24, has been detained for planning to fight against Shi’ites alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia in Syria. His colleague Mohamad Rizal Wahid, 36, has been issued a Restriction Order (RO) for failing to report Khairul and suggesting ways to get to Syria.

Separately, the G has banned nine publications by extremist Singaporean preacher Rasul Dahri under the Undesirable Publishing Act, the Ministry for Communications and Information announced yesterday. In some of his works, the preacher called for Muslims to reject secularism and establish an Islamic state. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) called Rasul Dahri “exclusivist” and “hardline”, advising Muslims to “avoid such teachings”.

2. Economy: 2017 growth forecast raised, exports shrunk, no improvement in long-term unemployment

There’s mixed news in the economic sphere. The job market remains tough as long-term unemployment is at an eight-year high of 0.8 per cent in March, up by 0.1 percentage point from a year ago. The majority of those retrenched are professionals, managers, executives and technicians, who are also finding it difficult to re-enter the workforce.

There are some silver linings though. Unemployment in the first quarter was lower than projected by the Ministry of Manpower. Some 4,000 workers were laid off between January and March, down by nearly 1,500 from a year ago. And projections for economic growth are up, with private sector economists predicting 2.5 per cent growth, up from their forecast of 2.3 per cent in March.

3. Sports: Singapore Athletics feud; SG teen sets powerlifting record

Disputes between Singapore Athletics (SA) and track and field coach Ms Margaret Oh over the schedule for Ms Shanti Pereira’s training sessions and participation in events have been resolved. Ms Margaret Oh is the coach of 200m champion Ms Pereira, who won gold at the 2015 SEA games. Ms Pereira told The Straits Times on Monday (Jun 19) that “they had a good, positive discussion.” Both Ms Oh and Ms Pereira have agreed to join the pre-SEA Games centralised training camp next month. Ms Pereira will be competing in the Women’s 100m and 200m at this year’s SEA Games.

On a happier note, 17-year-old Mr Matthew Yap set a new world squat record at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsek, Belarus on Sunday. He lifted 208kg in his third attempt, overtaking Kazakhstan’s Mr Dmitriy Chebanov on the leaderboard to win a Gold medal. In addition to the win, Mr Yap has also won a bronze medal in the bench press and a silver medal for the overall standing in the competition.

4. Health: Obesity and STIs

Singapore is a makan paradise for the foodies. But overeating can take a toll on the health of the average Singaporean. Findings from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that while Singaporeans are exercising more, they are also eating more. Six in 10 are exceeding the recommended food intake.

What’s worrying is that obesity rates could reach 15 per cent in seven years. ST reported that on average, the median body mass index (BMI) score for adults last year was 23.15 – outside of the healthy range.

In other health news, the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic recently released figures that showed an increase in adolescents getting diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STI). In 2015, 421 boys and girls aged 10 to 19 contracted STIs. The year before there were 391 cases. This is an increase of 8 per cent from the year before, reported The Straits Times. The highest number of cases occurred in 2007 with 820 adolescents contracting STIs. Since then, the figure had been on a steady decline. Experts suggest that while adolescents here are generally aware that condoms are used as protection against STI, many simply choose to forgo using condoms.

5. Law: Fake news laws likely out next year

The G has decided to come up with new laws to battle fake news, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said on Monday at the opening of a two-day conference on fake news. Mr Shanmugam cited a poll by the G which showed the need for such laws. He said:“Around two-thirds [of Singaporeans] could not recognise fake news when they first saw it. And only around half are confident of their own ability to recognise fake news.”
In an ideal case, “most misinformation will be dealt with through a resilient society, responsible and effective media, and the innovation of Internet companies”. But in reality, the Minister said: “We cannot always rely on the content standards of the Internet giants… The Government will also need to update our toolbox.”

To achieve this, Minister Shanmugam said the G had surveyed the positions of three other jurisdictions: the European Union, Germany, and Israel. These jurisdictions are considering laws to compel social networks to take down illicit content.

 

Text by Sharanya Pillai, Danielle Goh, and Johannes Tjendro.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Suhaile Md and Sharanya Pillai

MUSLIM sectarianism has reached Singapore.

AETOS Auxiliary Police Officer Muhammad Khairul bin Mohamed wanted to fly to Syria to “fight against the Shi’ites” there by “joining the Free Syrian Army (FSA)”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) earlier today (Jun 20). The 24 year-old was issued with an Order of Detention (OD) under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Khairul’s colleague Mohamad Rizal bin Wahid was issued with a Restriction Order (RO) for “supporting” his “intentions” added MHA. Rizal is 36 years-old.

Khairul’s duties in Traffic Enforcement Division did not require him to be armed. Rizal, however, was an armed officer who conducted general security duties. “Rizal did not share Khairul’s desire to participate in armed violence”, said MHA. Both were deployed at Woodlands checkpoint.

An OD allows the G to detain Khairul without an open court trial for up to two years. The order can be “extended for a further period or periods not exceeding two years at a time”, as stipulated by the ISA. Under the RO, Rizal will not be allowed to change his residence and employment, or travel abroad without the prior approval of the Director of the Internal Security Division. He will also have to undergo compulsory religious counselling. It is not clear what Rizal’s job status is currently.* Khairul and Rizal were fired from AETOS on Jun 1. 

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Khairul’s radicalisation began online in 2012. He wanted to know more about the conflict in Syria after reading about it on mainstream media.

Said MHA: “He developed the view that the conflict in Syria was a sectarian struggle between Sunni Islam and Shi’ite Islam, and being a Sunni Muslim, he wanted to fight against the Shi’ites in Syria.”

Khairul saw the Syrian conflict as a “holy war” and he was prepared to die fighting in a bid to “receive divine rewards”, added MHA. So he planned to join the FSA, a group that aims to overthrow the “Syrian government led by President Bashar Al-Assad, who is backed by the minority Shi’ite Alawite sect”. In 2014, he “tried to reach out” to a foreign militant and “two other individuals whom he believed to be FSA supporters”, to figure out how to reach Syria.

Rizal had known about Khairul’s intentions since 2015 when Khairul confided in him. But Rizal did not report his colleague to AETOS management and instead “suggested to Khairul various ways to get to Syria and to die there as a ‘martyr’.”

“As an Auxiliary Police Officer, [Rizal] should have been aware of the prevailing terrorism threat and his failure to dissuade Khairul and report him to his superior officer was a serious lapse of judgment,” MHA said.

But Rizal was not the only one who knew of Khairul’s intentions. “Several relatives and friends knew of his intention to fight in Syria, but none of them came forward.” It’s not clear if MHA will take any actions against them. Neither is it clear if his family knew about his radicalisation.

MHA added that it takes seriously “anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence” regardless of where the violence takes place and especially if the individual is a public servant or a uniformed officer. This extends to anyone who “supports or abets another person’s radicalisation or intention to undertake violence”.

Over 457,000 Muslims reside here according to the G’s 2010 population census, the vast majority of whom are Sunni. Globally, up to 13 per cent of Muslims are Shi’ite. There are no firm numbers in Singapore, but a 2009 Pew report estimated less than 1 per cent of Muslims here are Shi’ites. According to a 1988 fatwa (ruling) issued by the Islamic Religious council of Singapore (Muis), Shi’ites are Muslims. The fatwa remains valid to this day.

It’s not clear what Khairul’s thoughts are on the minority Shi’ite community in Singapore. But a TMG investigation in May revealed that Shi’ite-Sunni relations in Singapore could be better. Read more here.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Other ISA arrests since 2016:

On Jun 12, 2017, MHA revealed that it had arrested the first radicalised woman in Singapore. Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter.

On August 19, 2016, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, 2016, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, 2016, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, 2016, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, 2016, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

*The MHA update that Khairul and Rizal had lost their jobs on Jun 1 was received after publication.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

SOME 20 years ago, the Lee family found themselves in a quandary, except that they closed ranks then. It had to do with corruption – whether they knew that the apartments they bought from local developer Hotel Properties Ltd. (HPL) came with a hefty discount.

Singapore was surprised when the issue was sprung in Parliament in 1996 with the then Prime Minister (PM) Goh Chok Tong saying that he had launched investigations into rumours regarding the purchases. Both then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave statements in Parliament. People were surprised because they thought the rumours were just that: rumours with no clear originating source. Plus, those were the days when social media wasn’t around to amplify them.

PM Goh said he had found nothing improper, that the Lees did not ask for nor even knew of the discounts, which had since been given to charity. There was a three-day debate in Parliament.

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Now, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong has told Singapore that he would make a statement in Parliament on July 3 refuting allegations that had been made by his siblings over the past few days. A wan-looking Mr Lee had himself video-taped with a message for the people.

It was a masterly job. He apologised; he said he had tried to keep it private. His parents would be anguished to see what’s been happening, he said. There were hints of frustration and embarrassment in his message which culminated in a fierce declaration to “repair the damage that had been done to Singapore”. This is the first time in a very long time that a prime minister has resorted to doing the equivalent of breaking into a broadcast news cycle to speak to the masses. It shows that he recognised the urgency of responding to the confusion that has taken hold of Singapore over the past few days.

So far, the Prime Minister has commented three times since Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling launched their campaign in the wee hours of June 14. The siblings said their aim was to tell about how their eldest brother was running roughshod over them because he wanted his way over their father’s will, especially over the Oxley Road house. PM Lee, who was holidaying abroad, responded with a post denying the allegations made by the two Lees. He concluded the post saying: “As my siblings know, I am presently overseas on leave with my family. I will consider this matter further after I return this weekend.”

He wasn’t allowed to holiday in peace, however, because his siblings went on to speak to media, made public private correspondence and other aspects of the squabble surfaced, such as PM Lee’s public and private utterances about their father’s wish for the Oxley Road house.

In turn, PM Lee launched a bombshell in the form of a summary of a statutory declaration he made to what the siblings described as a “secret ministerial committee’’. Most intriguing were his doubts that proper procedures had been followed in the drafting of the final will – not just about the demolition clause but also about share portions among the three siblings. Mrs Lee Suet Fern, who was involved/not involved (depending on who you believe) in the last will, became the new focus of attention.

Singaporeans watched all this, puzzled, bemused, and also upset. Some will say it is unseemly for such an illustrious family to bicker so openly over their father’s desires. They would rather close their ears. Others will wonder about whether PM Lee is as power-hungry as his siblings make him out to be. They would want evidence or a firm rebuttal. All, however, know that the dispute is damaging Singapore’s reputation and trust in the government, as PM Lee himself recognises.

Will the parliamentary session put the matter to rest? PM Lee has said that the People’s Action Party (PAP) whip will be lifted. This will be one of those rare occasions when PAP Members of Parliament (MPs) are allowed to speak their minds and vote their hearts. In previous occasions, the whip was lifted to acknowledge that MPs had their own religious beliefs to take into account, such as over abortion and the Human Organ transplant act, or where the legislation might affect their own work as MPs, such as the introduction of nominated MPs.

Doubtless, PM Lee doesn’t want it said that the PAP MPs were merely toeing the party line with soft questions. He has given them permission to speak and it will be for them to act as representatives, not of the party but of the people. He encouraged the non-PAP MPs to speak up too.

It will be an interesting debate not least because the PM seems to be encouraging a parliamentary inquiry into his words and actions, with himself as sole respondent. It will be tough for MPs to take his side given that people will watch for partisan comments and draw what conclusions they will. If, however, there is a sticking point about using parliament as a forum, it is about how comments are ‘privileged’, that is, no one can be sued for what they say in it.

Will a ‘full public airing’ dispel doubts about the political system here? MPs and political observers believe that it will allow the G to publicly address the serious allegations of abuse of power that have been made by the Lee siblings. Notably, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat hopes that this will “dispel doubts, and strengthen confidence in our institutions and system of government”, reported ST.

In the HPL case, Parliamentary hearings successfully quelled public disquiet. The then Nominated MP Walter Woon remarked positively that the debate proved: “That you do not have to give favours to civil servants or politicians, because it is not accepted; and that if there was any impropriety, no matter how high up, it will be rooted out and stamped on.”

Even the opposition MPs reportedly agreed that the discounts were not illegal. The then Singapore Democratic Party MP Ling How Doong said it loud and clear: “I am not taking part in the debate because there is no impropriety. There is no necessity to have this matter brought to Parliament.”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew even framed the occasion into a demonstration of the effectiveness of Singapore’s system of checks and balances: “I take pride and satisfaction that the question of my two purchases and those of the Deputy Prime Minister, my son, has been subjected to, and not exempted from, scrutiny… It is most important that Singapore remain a place where no one is above scrutiny, that any question of integrity of a minister, however senior, that he has gained benefits either through influence or corrupt practices, be investigated”

In the previous case, there was a gatekeeper, which was PM Goh. So, there was someone who could say he had the matter scrutinised, draw a line and declare it closed. There was also no one who could put up a meaningful challenge on the matter, since the allegations were “rumours’’ without a source. In this case, we have two high-profile individuals who do not mince their words.

A parliamentary session will not be as definitive as a court case because it cannot make judgments of guilt or innocence. Perhaps, the debate will be framed in the form of a motion which MPs can vote for or against or abstain, especially since the PAP whip is lifted.

It’s not likely though that matter will end with talk in Parliament. Some action will still need to be taken, like what to do about the house.

 

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

  1. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  2. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  4. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  6. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  7. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  9. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  14. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  15. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  16. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  17. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  18. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  19. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Johannes Tjendro

CAN we really believe everything we see on the Internet? The answer is obviously “no”. In practice though, it is not always clear what is fake and what is real.

Here are some recent examples we have found of news that made rounds on social media and messaging apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Guess which one is true and which one is false:

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1. Satay made of dog and cat meats at Bazaar Ramadhan 2017

 

2. No cash issued from your CPF after your death

 

3. $200 fine if you throw tissue “into bowl, on plate, or cup” 

 

Be careful if you thought any of them were true – they are all fake. But you are not alone if you could not tell that they were false.

According to a poll by the G, “around two-thirds [of Singaporeans] could not recognise fake news when they first saw it. And only around half are confident of their own ability to recognise fake news,” said Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K. Shanmugam earlier at a conference today (June 19). The two-day conference on fake news co-organised by The Straits Time opened this morning.

This warrants our concern, given that as many as “around 75 per cent of Singaporeans came across fake news at least occasionally”, and of the 75 per cent, a third of them “came across fake news frequently”.  Around 25 per cent also “shared information they later discovered to be false”, said Mr Shanmugam. Facebook and WhatsApp are cited as the platforms where people most often chanced upon fake news.

The Minister pointed out that these findings followed upon an increasingly worrying global trend of fake news spreading on the web, and a public that is not sufficiently discerning in their social media consumption (and production via sharing). This trend, dubbed “the rapid spread of misinformation online”, was identified by the World Economic Forum in 2014 as the top tenth trend in terms of global significance.

Significantly, one of the biggest fake news that has ever broken in Singapore was the hoax on the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It happened on March 18, 2015, when a Singaporean student created a fake copy of a government website and posted a false announcement that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. Mr Lee died five days later.

Minister Shanmugam highlighted that “established news outlets like CNN and China’s CCTV fell for the hoax”. He also added that while “the news outlets did not intend to misinform… unintentional fake news can cause harm too”.

 

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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)

 

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by Johannes Tjendro 

IS 38 Oxley road just a private residence or something more? Many people, including the G, think there is more to the house than just the place where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived.

But many of us, it seems, are late in realising the significance of the house. Last year a thesis paper written by a then-graduate student at Columbia University, Ms Cherie-Nicole Leo, looked into the importance of the house and what it means for Singapore. We found this thesis publicly available online and thought that it was worth summarising. Here are 10 things we learnt.

1. The house isn’t just about Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It’s about colonial history and the foundation of his party.

The late Mr Lee moved into the colonial bungalow, which is now over a century old, at the end of the second World War with his mother. The house was originally built by a Jewish merchant and later occupied by Japanese forces. After the war, it came under the control of the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, who rented it to Mr Lee for 80 Straits dollars a month.

The dining room in the basement of the house is an especially significant place, since it was where early People’s Action Party (PAP) members came up with the signature lightning logo and the party manifesto. Despite the presence of an official Prime Minister residence within the Istana, Mr Lee chose to live at 38 Oxley Road for over seventy years.

2. It’s also a key narrative in PM Lee’s upbringing and political career

One of the key reasons Mr Lee Kuan Yew chose to stay put was that he wanted to give his children as normal a childhood as possible. As reported in a 2015 article by The Straits Times (Mar 24), he did not want to give the three children “a false sense of life”, and hence had them grow up in the family home.

PM Lee also witnessed key political developments at 38 Oxley Road. During the 1955 election, postmen, union leaders and the founding members of the PAP would sit at the verandah dealing with “Vote for PAP” election bills, as documented in the book “Men in White”. In his eulogy to his father, PM Lee described feeling “excited by the hubbub at Oxley Road” when the house served as an election office during voting seasons.

3. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has publicly expressed hopes for the demolition since 2011

According to Ms Leo, the seemingly earliest documented instance of Mr Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling for the demolition of 38 Oxley Road was in 2011, during an interview with journalists from The Straits Times for the book “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”. The issue came up when he was pressed on his thriftiness.

The then Minister Mentor revealed that he had owned the jacket he was wearing for over 15 years. When questioned on why the house had not been renovated or upgraded, he then volunteered that he had told the Cabinet to demolish it after his passing.

4. There are competing “values” in deciding whether to preserve the house

As Ms Leo noted at the start of her paper, the question of whether to preserve 38 Oxley Road is “emblematic of the difficult task facing heritage decision-makers, where there exists a multifaceted group of stakeholders who present competing, conflicting, or contradictory values, interests and positions”.

As illustrated in her diagram above, the house carries significance in the historic, social, symbolic, architectural and political regards. In the economic sense, it may go both ways. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, ever the pragmatist, was particularly concerned that it might be costly to upkeep a house with no foundation. He also noted that demolishing the house would probably raise the property value of his neighbours’ houses, and ease restrictions on how much they could build.

5. Taken at face value, LKY’s Will may seem incongruous with the principles that he himself espoused

In line with Singapore’s first national shared value of “nation before community, and society above self,” many stakeholders have argued that preserving 38 Oxley Road “is a matter of national interest that should take precedence over an individual wish for its demolition. The quandary here, though, is that this wish to demolish the house was put forth by the very person whose association forms the basis of those [same] values, which warrants its” preservation for future generations.

Thus, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish to demolish the house may seem “out of character with his longstanding political mantra and the country’s foremost shared value of putting nation and society above self.” As Boston Globe journalist, Neil Swidey, wrote, “Lee’s demolition demand put his prime-minister-son in a jam, since it contradicts the founding father’s longstanding premise that Singaporeans should think of the state first and themselves second. Following Lee’s death, even the dutiful Strait Times [sic] quoted preservation specialists arguing that the greater good would be served by denying Lee’s last wish.” (Jun 20, 2015)

6. But upon closer look, his Will – while personal in nature – might not have been self-serving, as it was aimed at serving the collective national interest

It has become clear that his Will, while it may be seen as having “certain individual interests, is not totally self-serving after all; besides a concern for privacy, which may be seen as the most personal of his interests, Mr Lee Kuan Yew also requested the demolition of his house based on the fact that it could save public spending on renovating or maintaining it, and more importantly, that it would free up a prime downtown area for economic growth and progress.”

Ms Leo added: “Thus, even if Lee Kuan Yew’s will is, in a literal sense, an individual private wish, the underlying interests for his position on demolishing the house may equally be aimed at serving the collective national interest.”

“Just as other stakeholders argue for the preservation of the house to transfer the value narratives comprising associational, heritage tourism and branding, educational, and nation-building values to future generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s economic arguments constitute a value narrative rooted in pragmatism that similarly works toward a future public good, albeit a different vision of what that might be.” She elaborated.

7. There are indications he may have been open to a “surrogate” memorial

In an interview with The Straits Times (2011), Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously said of his desire for the house to be demolished: “I don’t think my daughter or wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past.”

In bringing up the concept of photos, Ms Leo notes that Mr Lee Kuan Yew may have been open to documentations and “surrogate” memorialising of the house and its history. She adds that policymakers may then strike a balance between Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s desire to demolish and the public interest in preserving the house, by working on more elaborate “surrogate” memorials.

As she writes: “While Lee Kuan Yew was strongly against personal hero-worship, he was not averse to the creation of a memorial that would honor the contributions of the team of founding figures and most importantly, the values upon which they built and governed the country.”

In his parliamentary address on Apr 13, 2015, PM Lee announced the formation of a Founders’ Memorial Committee to look at the idea of building a memorial commemorating the country’s founding fathers. He emphasised that it “need not be a grand structure” but should be “a place where we and future generations can remember a key period i n our history, reflect on the ideals of our founding fathers, and pledge to continue their work of nation-building”.

8. The outcome of reconciling the competing values has been falsely framed as a demolish vs. preserve dichotomy

This dichotomy can be seen as two different ways of protecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy: (1) preserving physical association with Mr Lee vs. (2) forwarding pragmatic values associated with Mr Lee:

For preservation – Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived here and this is where history was made, where the nation was born. Its association to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and related historic events bring about numerous values to the site, which should be preserved.

For demolition – Pragmatism and progress over sentiment, which does not rely on or militates against that association for its transmission to the future. Instead, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is preserved differently as forwarding different values that are ingrained in a pragmatic outlook on progress. Centred on maximising land value and economic growth, this approach relies largely on redevelopment of the 38 Oxley Road site rather than the preservation of its history.

9. A possible outcome – and the most effective in reconciling competing values – is the middle way of redevelopment with some form of preservation

Four physical scenarios:

  1. House remains on site and is preserved on site
  2. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation on site
  3. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation out of site
  4. Redevelopment with no preservation on site or out of site

The first three physical scenarios include some form of preservation and the last three include the redevelopment of the site. Scenarios 2 and 3 are therefore possible options where two goals of preservation and redevelopment overlap.

The values of the site “may be transmitted to future generations in a variety of ways that do not necessarily rely on the preservation of all or any of 38 Oxley Road’s physical attributes. Thus, an informed decision must look beyond these attributes in order to determine how these values are really spatialised in potential outcomes”.

From the above diagram, “it is evident that the most extreme physical scenario groupings had the fewest potential outcomes, while the two groupings in the middle had many more options. This immediately reveals how much potential for compromise is lost when the 38 Oxley Road case is framed as a dichotomy between preserve-versus-demolish positions as opposed to a spectrum of possibilities.”

Ms Leo further elucidated on the fact that “the options that capture the most values and most effectively negotiate between the competing value narratives are those which fall in the middle categories”. She said that “it is right between the two hybrid scenarios that the most creative and comprehensive combinations can be reached, through a redevelopment of the site with some form of” preservation occurring on site and out of site.

10. Such a compromise had been suggested before – reproduced here:

“I propose that historians and academics [A] properly document and catalogue all the items in the house. The ones of historic value should be [B] placed in a museum. Then, I propose that [C] the entire basement – which had the most historical significance due to the founding of the PAP – be recreated in the museum with the original furniture and fittings. Once that has been done, [D] the house can be demolished, and the site should be converted into a park, called the Lee Kuan Yew Memorial Park.

“This proposal will ensure that (1) the historical value is preserved and can be taught to future generations in the museum; (2) his wishes to destroy the house are respected, and (3) the address 38 Oxley Road will not be used for any other occupant and will be a place of national remembrance.”*

*This was written anonymously on the online Dialectic Forum in 2015.

In other words, in this proposal, historic associations will be upheld, while being in line with the pragmatic impulse of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

 

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)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

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FINALLY some light is shed on the ministerial committee. It was set up and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean. (The Straits Times, Jun 17) The committee includes Minister for Culture and Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

And now, there’s the revelation that the Mr Shanmugam had previously corresponded with the younger Lee siblings on the house and is now sitting on the committee. In a brief Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam shot down Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s suggestions of a conflict of interest as “ridiculous”. DPM Teo Chee Hean has also said that there is “nothing secret” about the committee.

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The developments have drawn even more high-profile names into the saga, joining a motley mix including Singapore’s new Attorney-General (A-G), several lawyers and a personal aide. If you’re losing track of who’s who, we’ve got a list of the key actors and some questions that can be asked of them right here:

Cabinet ministers: Mr Lawrence Wong, DPM Teo Chee Hean and Mr K Shanmugam

In a joint statement on Jun 14, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling raised a serious allegation against PM Lee that also involved Minister Wong.

They said: “We were shocked to see that Hsien Loong had used his position as Prime Minister to obtain a copy of the Deed of Gift from Minister Wong, which Hsien Loong then passed to his personal lawyer to advance his personal agenda.” Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had executed a Deed of Gift in 2015 with the National Heritage Board for a public exhibition of items from their family home. PM Lee has denied all allegations, while Minister Wong has not responded to this.

After PM Lee posted his summary of Statutory Declarations on Facebook, Dr Lee Wei Ling promptly responded by sharing three screenshots of private correspondences involving Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, and Mr Shanmugam, amongst others. One of the emails shows an intriguing email from Mrs Lee Suet Fern to Minister Shanmugam about persuading Dr Lee Wei Ling to reconcile with her father (read about it here).

Even DPM Teo was briefly mentioned in the PM’s summary of his Statutory Declarations. PM Lee said that: “I was so struck by the sequence of volunteered statements that on 23 April 2015, 11 days later, I recounted to DPM Teo Chee Hean in my office what had happened at the reading of the Last Will, including what LSF had said.”

And now, there’s the DPM’s latest announcement of his and the two other Cabinet ministers’ role in the ministerial committee. In response to this, Mr Lee Hsien Yang questioned if Mr Shanmugam had a “conflict of interest” in advising on the “options to help achieve [Mr] Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes, and the drafting of the demolition wish” while being part of the committee. Mr Shanmugam has blasted his allegation: “I was already a Cabinet Minister when I spoke with some members of the Lee family — at their behest — and gave them my views. They were not my clients. Nothing that I said then precludes me from serving in this Committee.”

It has not been confirmed that a copy of the Deed of Gift was handed over to Minister Wong. Would there be a paper trail to indicate the handover? Is there any documentation to show on what grounds the G took over the Deed of Gift?

Ms Kwa Kim Li

Managing partner of Lee&Lee Advocates and Solicitors, and the niece of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wife Mrs Kwa Geok Choo. She prepared the previous six versions of the will.

Previously, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in a Facebook post: “Stamford Law did not draft any will for LKY. The will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee. Paragraph 7 of the Will was drafted at LKY’s direction, and put into language by Lee Suet Fern, his daughter in law and when he was satisfied he asked Kim Li to insert into his will.” However, Ms Kwa has told The Straits Times that she did not prepare the last will. (Jun 16)

To this date, it is still unclear who drafted the final will. At around 2pm today (Jun 17), Mr Lee Hsien Yang explained that “My father’s Final Will of December 2013 was a reversion to his 2011 will on his express instructions. The 2011 will was drafted by Ms Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee[…]” PM Lee and Ms Kwa have not responded to this.

According to PM Lee’s Statutory Declarations, Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email on Dec 16, 2013, 7.08pm to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and copied Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Kwa. The email contained a previous version of the will stating that all three children would receive equal shares. Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave each child an equal share in the estate under the first will. Ms Kwa was allegedly out of the loop, and replaced by Ms Wong Lin Hoe, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s private secretary, after LHY emailed Mr Lee Kuan Yew that Ms Kwa was “away” and that it’s not “wise to wait till she is back.” PM Lee claimed that the next day, Ms Kwa told Mrs Lee Suet Fern that “she did not seem to have received this email.” This has not been confirmed by Ms Kwa.

If Ms Kwa did not receive the email from Mr Lee Hsien Loong about the changes for the last will, was she in Singapore during that time or overseas? Were there any other attempts to contact her? Since Ms Kwa drafted previous versions of the will except for the last one, it would be relevant to ask her this: Why did Mr Lee Kuan Yew remove the Demolition Clause in the fifth and sixth will?

Ms Wong Lin Hoe

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s long-time private secretary. She helped to make arrangements for the last will after Ms Kwa was out of the loop on Dec 16, 2013. The last will included the Demolition Clause that was previously removed from the fifth and sixth wills.

The clause is the most contentious part of the will. PM Lee said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew “gave instructions to remove the Demolition Clause.” In a speech to the parliament, PM Lee said that in Dec 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew attended a “special Cabinet meeting” to “discuss 38 Oxley Road.”

After the meeting, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote to the Cabinet: “Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”

However, in a joint statement released by Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was reportedly “despondent” and told Dr Lee Wei Ling that: “I should not have listened to Loong and gone to meet Cabinet.”

PM Lee said that he “only learnt about the contents of the last will on April 12, 2015, when it was read out to the family.”

PM Lee also claimed that at 8.12pm, Dec 16, 2013, Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email to Ms Wong and copied Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mr Bernard Lui, a lawyer from Mrs Lee’s law firm, Stamford Law Corporation [now Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC]. In the email, Ms Wong was reportedly informed that Mr Lui “had the will ready for execution” and that Ms Wong could contact Mr Lui “to make arrangements for the signing of the will.” The next morning (Dec 17), two lawyers from Stamford Law Corporation, Mr Lui and Ms Elizabeth Kong, witnessed Mr Lee Kuan Yew signing the last will. PM Lee claimed that Ms Wong was not present at the signing of the last will.

Later in the afternoon, Ms Wong emailed Mr Lee Kuan Yew stating that “We have received a faxed copy of the signed document for Mr Lee to re-read in the office”. Questions were raised by PM Lee on how Ms Wong would know that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had read the will, if she was supposedly not present when Mr Lee Kuan Yew signed the last will. It is not confirmed if Ms Wong was there to witness the signing.

Mr Lucien Wong

At around 7am today (Jun 17), Mr Lee Hsien Yang once again retaliated in a Facebook post. This time, he showed a comparison of contradictory statements by PM Lee on how Mr Lee Kuan Yew felt about having monuments to himself after his death. What’s noteworthy is the second quote from a letter by A-G Wong to the lawyers of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling. A-G Wong was PM Lee’s personal lawyer at that time. He was recently sworn in as A-G on Jan 16, this year, and will be serving a three-year term. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is led by the A-G, and is the principal legal adviser to the government.

Along with this picture, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in the post: “Lucien Wong was LHL’s personal lawyer, and now the Attorney-General of Singapore.”

And from the younger siblings’ joint statement referencing the Deed of Gift: “However, after the gift’s acceptance we soon received letters with spurious objections from Hsien Loong’s then personal lawyer, Lucien Wong. Lucien Wong was made Singapore’s Attorney-General in January 2017.”

There’s an insinuation that A-G Wong may not have been appointed for purely meritocratic reasons (read more here).

It behoves the AGC to issue a public statement to clear his name and office. Why is A-G Wong still silent?

Stamford Law Corporation lawyers

Mr Bernard Lui is a partner in Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, formerly known as Stamford Law Corporation. In an email Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent to Ms Wong, which she copied to Mr Lui, it was mentioned that Mr Lui “had the [last] will ready for execution.” The email also instructed Ms Wong to contact Mr Lui directly to “make arrangements for the singing of the will.” Mr Lui, together with another lawyer from Stamford Law, Ms Elizabeth Kong, went to 38 Oxley Road on Dec 17, 2013 to witness Mr Lee Kuan Yew signing the will.

Mr Lui and Mr Ng Joo Khin, also a lawyer from Stamford Law Corporation, were present for the reading of the last will on April 12, 2013. At the reading, PM Lee reported that Mrs Lee Suet Fern said that while Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked her to prepare the last will, she did not want to be “personally involved”. Thus, she got Mr Ng to handle the preparations for the last will instead. However, while reading the email correspondence on the preparation of the final will, PM Lee said that “there was nothing to show that Mr Ng Joo Khin [NJK] had been involved in the preparation of the Last Will as LSF had claimed during the reading of the Last Will.”

According to Ms Lee Suet Fern’s email, Mr Lui had the final will ready. Surely he should know who drafted it? Or the other lawyer who witnessed. Do either of them know who drafted the will? And finally, a question for all who were involved: Have any of them been summoned by the internal ministerial committee to give statements?

More questions are raised as both sides continue to hurl allegations at each other. So far, PM Lee has raised suspicions about the involvement of Mrs Lee Suet Fern in preparing the last will. While Mr Lee Hsien Yang has maintained that Stamford Law did not draft the final will. More significantly, we now know more about the ministerial committee.

 

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)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Deanna Nabilah and Sharanya Pillai

IN A recent salvo against the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Yang insisted that the last Will of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew is “final and legally-binding”, because it had been granted probate in Oct 6, 2015. Since then the word “probate” has dominated the news, being frequently used by the younger Mr Lee and his sister as a defence of the need to demolish 38 Oxley Road.

But is it impossible to challenge the probate in court? Lawyers TMG spoke to noted that it is possible to mount a challenge, just that there would be significant challenges.

1. What exactly is a grant of probate?

Wills are meant to be relatively straightforward documents, laying out the division of assets of the deceased. But not everything always goes to plan. This is where probate – a court process establishing the validity of a will – comes in handy.

According to lawyer Alyssa Mundo, who focuses on family law at Yeo & Associates, a will may not be fully recognised if it is not properly executed as per the Wills Act – for instance, if “there wasn’t any witness to the will” or the will was not carried out proper. Applying for a grant of probate in such cases would then require the will to be “proved” as valid and accepted as reflective of the deceased’s final wishes.

Corporate litigation lawyer Ronald Wong, from Covenant Chambers, explained that there are two different ways to prove a will in probate applications. The “common form” is a “straightforward application”, while the “solemn form” involves calling on witnesses to testify that the will represents the intentions of the deceased testator, and that the testator had the capacity to make a will.

The latter is an option for Executors of a will who foresee that the validity of the will might be questioned or challenged in future, he noted. If a will is proved by solemn form, this means that it becomes harder to challenge the grant of probate. It is not clear which form of probate was granted for Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

2. Under what circumstances can probate be challenged?

The grant of probate can be revoked or amended if there are “sufficient causes”, according to the Probate and Administrative Act. However, Ms Mundo said that even that would be hard to prove because the “part on ‘sufficient causes’ is not defined in the act [Probate and Administration Act]”. The court also has discretion in such cases.

She added that the courts have, through previous cases, regarded “sufficient causes” as “undue and improper administration in total disregard of the interests of the beneficiaries.” The test is an objective one, which means that the court will evaluate if a reasonable person in the Executor’s position may have acted a certain way.

Some possible grounds for challenging probate include arguing that the will was forged, that the deceased lacked “mental capacity”, or that someone had exercised “undue influence on [the] deceased [such] that he or she was not really operating out of their free will at that time”, Mr Wong noted.

The Wills Act provides a guideline that probate can be challenged up to six months after it is granted. But lawyers interviewed by The Straits Times noted that one can still challenge a probate beyond that time frame, if “special reasons” are provided. (Jun 17) The final decision however, still depends on the discretion of the court.

3. Could conflicts of interest be an issue in this case?

Lawyers TMG spoke to declined to comment on the specifics of the Lee siblings’ dispute. But when asked if getting a relative to draft a will may present a conflict of interest, Mr Wong said that may not necessarily invalidate the will.

“[Beneficiaries] and certain immediate family members of the beneficiaries under the will are not supposed to be witnesses to the will,” he said. “But there is no necessary impairment of the deceased’s intention or will-making power as it were, just because the person drafting the will was a family member of a beneficiary, or there is some so-called potential interest in it.”

“However, a beneficiary or immediate family member of a beneficiary drafting the will may raise suspicious circumstances which make it harder for the party proving the will.”

Ultimately, challenging a probate still “goes back to the question of whether the will reflect the deceased person’s intention, and whether he was under any undue influence, or duress or whatever that impairs that intention”, Mr Wong added.

Much of the Lees’ public spat now centres on who drafted the final will. In his Facebook note, the PM raised suspicions about how the final will was drafted by Stamford Law, as Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s firm was then known. Mr Lee Hsien Yang then shot back neither his wife nor his company were involved in drafting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

It remains to be seen how this conflict of interest element of the case might play out, as the saga continues to unfold.

 

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)FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  12. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  13. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)“We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image from Google user Nick Youngson. CC BY-SA 3.0 

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