To me, the starting point of any resolution to the 3-week old dispute is for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to abide by the law. He should respect it, honour it and accept it. By this, I mean PM Lee must – not should or otherwise – must accept the probate on Lee Kuan Yew’s will that has been ordered and issued by the court.
This is how the rule of law works – when the courts have ordered something to be so, it must be adhered to, respected and honoured. Otherwise, the rule of law breaks down.
The court has granted probate on Lee Kuan Yew’s will, and as such it is to be honoured. Unless and until Lee Hsien Loong, or anyone else, can show that the will’s validity is questionable, any attempts to cast doubt on it should be treated as contempt of court.
PM Lee has raised doubts about what he described as “troubling”circumstances surrounding the creation of Lee Kuan Yew’s final will, involving in particular Lee Suet Fern, the wife of his younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang.
However, what PM Lee has insinuated – apparently an act of fraud on Lee Suet fern’s part – is nothing more than that, a suggestion without concrete evidence. In fact, there is no evidence of any wrongdoing at all.
One man’s suspicions, especially if it is based on personal differences of opinion on an issue, should not be allowed to undermine a court’s decision, even if that person is the Prime Minister of Singapore. PM Lee also claims that his father had changed his mind regarding the demolition of the house. The place to submit such a claim is in the courts.
Again, however, PM Lee has provided scant evidence of this to settle it conclusively. And again, the court has already declared Lee Kuan Yew’s will – in which he states he wants his house demolished – as his final and authentic wish.
If PM Lee feels there is anything amiss with Lee Kuan Yew’s final will, he should file a case with the courts. There is no other way around this, especially not by making public but unsubstantiated insinuations about the will.
Under Singapore’s law, a person has 6 months after the grant of probate to lodge any complaint with the courts. In this case, PM Lee has long passed that time frame, since probate on Lee Kuan Yew’s will was granted in October 2015.
PM Lee said he did not want to contest the matter in court because he has hoped to settle the matter privately with his siblings. Even so, the time for challenging the will is over and PM Lee must abide by the law. He cannot think that his reason – that he had wanted to settle the matter privately – grants him special privileges to cast doubts on the will after the time frame has expired.
So, Singaporeans must insist that the leader of the nation, who himself has said many times that no one – “not the Prime Minister or the children of the founding Prime Minister” – is above the law, that he must abide by the law. That must be the starting point of any resolution to the dispute, so that we all deal with the matter with some basic agreement.
Agreeing to abide by the law, one would think, would not be an issue with PM Lee, or his siblings.Once this first step is agreed upon, then the second step can happen – PM Lee must accept that the house, which he has since sold to his younger brother, is now in the hands of the executors of Lee Kuan Yew’s estate, that is Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.
PM Lee, who has also said he has removed himself from all decisions regarding the house, must then allow the executors to discuss the fate of the house with the relevant authorities, be they the National Heritage Board or the Founding Fathers Memorial committee, or even the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or others. PM Lee would have absolutely nothing to do with these at all.
The third step that should happen is the dismantling of the Ministerial Committee which, if PM Lee abides by the court’s order on probate, would be redundant. The committee would be redundant because Lee Kuan Yew’s wish would no longer be in doubt – this is one of the purposes for which the committee was set-up, to know the “thinking” of Lee Kuan Yew regarding the fate of his house.
The only person disputing the validity of Lee Kuan Yew’s will, it is to be noted, is PM Lee. Since he would abide by the law, the court’s order on probate, he would no longer be disputing the will. Lee Kuan Yew’s will – a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased – would therefore be the final proof of his “thinking” on the fate of the house.
The Ministerial Committee would no longer need to spend time and effort to determine Lee Kuan Yew’s “thinking” on it. As for the committee’s other terms of reference (TOR), they too are redundant.
As DPM Teo Chee Hean outlined in Parliament, the TOR of the committee are to assess:
(i) the historical and heritage significance of the property
(ii) the wishes of Mr Lee Kuan Yew in relation to the property,
(iii) the possible plans for the property and the neighbourhood, and the options to move forward.
The first two points are obvious – all Singaporeans know the historical and heritage significance of the property. There is no need to pretend we do not know this. The second point, as detailed above, is redundant since PM Lee is the only one who has raised doubts about it. And if he abides by the law and the court’s decision on probate, there is no question about Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking.
So, we are left with the third TOR.
DPM Teo himself has said that there is nothing for the government to do about the house at the moment, and that the decision on this may be required 20 or 30 years from now, depending on when Lee Wei Ling no longer lives in the house.
The government has also said any decisions on the house would be taken by a future government; and that a decision now is unnecessary as it would not be binding on a future government anyway.
As such, there is only one purpose for the ministerial committee. DPM Teo explained this in his speech in Parliament: “Some of us in Cabinet, including me, also felt that it would be a useful element if a future Government deciding on the House had a set of options that came from ministers who had personally discussed this matter with Mr Lee.”
A way around this is simple: let the ministers make representations to an independent, external body such as the National Heritage Board (or any other) which would be authorised to look into options for the house.
Letting such a task be undertaken by another body other than a ministerial committee removes any doubt that the committee was set up to allow PM Lee to circumvent the court’s order on probate by using administrative channels to subvert it.
So, in my opinion, the problem with the whole dispute is that PM Lee refused to abide by the court’s order on probate, giving rise to allegations and insinuations of possible fraud (by PM Lee) and abuse of power (by his siblings).
While the above suggestions may not solve all the issues – both personal and public – they may however give us a better starting point. Singapore is a land based on the rule of law, and it is incumbent and absolutely necessary that the leader of the nation respect, honour and abide by the same rules and laws as every Singaporean does. He is not above the law, and should not be granted special privileges to question it without providing concrete evidence.
So, PM Lee should accept that Lee Kuan Yew wanted his house demolished – as Lee Kuan Yew himself set out and made explicitly clear in so many ways, in his book, in his private communications with his three children, in the public testaments of all his three children including PM Lee, in interviews, in 3 letters to the Cabinet, in PM Lee’s speech in Parliament 3 weeks after Lee Kuan Yew’s death, in his codicil, and in his own final and binding Last Will.
Once Lee Hsien Loong accepts and abides by the law, we can then have a starting point to resolving the conflict.
No man must stand above the law.
And oh, those asking or suggesting that Lee Wei Ling moves out of the house so we can all merrily demolish it and build a memorial to honour Lee Kuan yew – shame on you for not realising that the house is not just a physical building to Lee Wei Ling.
It is a place, a home, where she lived in for more than 60 years, where she grew up in with her parents, where she was born in and where she saw her father care for her mother in her dying days. And you want her to move out because you want this inconvenient issue settled asap? Why? Because it is an embarrassment to us all? That is such an insensitive thing to do, it is really appalling.
You say you want to honour Lee Kuan Yew and his wish; but you ignore the fact that Lee Kuan Yew also had another wish – that Lee Wei Ling be able to live in the house for as long as she wants.
For those who think she should move out asap, please do take some time to ponder what a home is.