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The Lee family does not get to decide if LKY’s home can be demolished

Legally speaking, LKY’s written will to demolish home does not supersede preservation law

PHOTO: FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE – Lee Wei Ling (LWL) has published follow-up updates to the Lee family saga involving siblings Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) and Lee Hsien Loong (LHL).

In two separate Facebook posts published early Thursday morning (Jun 15), LWL threw shade at the Government’s statement on the Ministerial Committee being tasked to oversee the fate of the 38 Oxley Road house, and a later post alluding to LHL’s alleged abuse of power.

The posts were also shared subsequently by LHY and his son, Shengwu Li.

1st post on Ministerial Committee @ 12.20am

2nd post on LHL’s alleged abuse of power @ 1.18am

In case you are new to the Lee family saga, here are some background facts:

  • LWL and LHY, both joint trustees and executors of LKY’s will, had published a statement questioning the motives of LHL with regard to the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road.
  • Both LWL and LHY alleged that LHL abused his power to go against their father’s wish of demolishing the home with the set up of a Ministerial Committee in July 2016.

The first post by LWL implied that LHL may have had a hand in selecting the ministers that makes up the Ministerial Committee, reinforcing her belief that the committee is in cahoots with LHL to act against their father’s will.

It is noted however that in 2015 LHL had recused himself from all government decisions involving the home, and that “in this personal capacity, would also like to see this wish (demolishing the home) honoured.”

LHY was also critical of the Ministerial Committee in an interview with Today yesterday evening (Jun 14):

“Why is there even a Cabinet (ministerial) committee when PM Lee (Hsien Loong) had announced in Parliament that so long as Wei Ling is living there, nothing needs to be done? 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? Frankly it is completely improper to use a Cabinet committee to pursue an issue like this when the proper channel was at the court.

– LEE HSIEN YANG

What is the Ministerial Committee?

According to the Prime Minister’s Office:

The Committee was set up to consider the options for 38 Oxley Road, and the implications of those options. These included looking into various aspects, including the historical and heritage significance of the house, as well as to consider Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking and wishes in relation to the house. The Prime Minister has not been involved in Cabinet’s discussions concerning this Committee. As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all Government decisions concerning the house.

What LHY referred to when he said “the proper channel was at the court”, was LKY’s will that has already obtained the Grant of Probate, which is a court order, authorising an executor to administer the deceased’s estate in accordance to the directions of the will.

The contention is in the demolition wish by LKY. As the court order is final and legally binding, both LHY and LWL took issues with the purpose of setting up the Ministerial Committee in the first place, even insinuating in the second Facebook post by LWL that LHL had abused his authority in the handling of their family home.

Amidst the conundrum, it is important to understand that although LKY’s will is legally binding in the arrangement within the Lee family, it does not supersede Singapore’s preservation law.

LKY’s will vs Singapore’s Preservation Laws

The family home on 38 Oxley Road is subjected to the Planning Act and the Preservation of Monuments Act, with the latter due to the fact that the building undeniably holds significant historical importance. The decision-making agencies are ultimately the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Urban Redevelopment Board (URA).

In this regard, even if LHL had wanted for the building to be demolished as he has asserted previously, the final decision lies in NHB and the URA.

Under the Planning Act, building owners are required to seek the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) approval prior to carrying out works to demolish, redevelop or undertake additions and alterations to their properties.

Under the Preservation of Monuments Act, the National Heritage Board (NHB), under the purveyance of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), can make a preservation order to place any monument under the protection of the Board.

In the book “The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew”, LKY said:

“We made our share of mistakes in Singapore. For example in our rush to rebuild Singapore, we knocked down many old and quaint Singapore buildings. Then we realised we were destroying a valuable part of our cultural heritage… We halted the demolition. Instead we undertook extensive conservation and restoration… The value of these areas in architectural, cultural and tourism terms cannot be quantified only in dollars and cents.”

– LEE KUAN YEW

The URA and NHB has a political duty to step in where necessary to ensure that there are still due processes to follow in the preservation of important sites.

Even if it means overriding a personal will.

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