Unscrambling Ministerial Committee on Lee Kuan Yew’s house

By June 19, 2017Current

TL;DR – It’s normal government procedure.

The #FamiLee feud has gone on and on. It almost can qualify for one of them Taiwanese drama series already. Just when you think that it’s about to end, something new comes up, new characters get pulled into the drama, and the story gets dragged out and on.

In one of the latest developments, DPM Teo Chee Hean revealed details about the “secret” ministerial committee that was set up to consider options for Lee Kuan Yew’s house.

What’s the aim of this committee? Why set it up now? Why didn’t the government announce it? Who’s in it? Why are they in it? We help to unscramble it for you.

What’s the aim of this committee?

DPM Teo chairs Cabinet should there be any deliberations on Lee Kuan Yew’s house. To consider the options and the implications of these options, a ministerial committee was set up by DPM Teo.

This committee is necessary because the Government has the responsibility to consider the public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance. And Lee Kuan Yew’s house definitely has heritage and historical significance. Because many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made there by Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders. Yes, that basement dining room.

The committee will look at all the possible options available that would achieve two objectives. First, the options should preserve the heritage and historical significance of Lee Kuan Yew’s house. Second, the options should pay particular attention to respecting Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes. It’s not easy to find options that can meet these two seemingly opposing objectives.

Why set it up now?

Now that we have this committee, does it mean that there will be a decision on what is to be done with the house any time soon? No. Not necessarily.

Anyone with any experience with how the government works will know that committees in the government are often set up to just study the options, analyse the pros and cons and make recommendations.

Not to make decisions.

The options and analysis are then presented and discussed at a higher forum, where a decision is then made. In this case, the higher forum would be Cabinet.

It’s true. The government doesn’t have to set up the committee now. Dr Lee Wei Ling is still living in the house. And DPM Teo has already said that the government will not do anything to affect Dr Lee’s right to continue living at the house.

But… you know… our government is like that super kiasu student in class who will start preparing for an exam way beforehand rather than mug at the last minute. The government just doesn’t want to wait till the time when it really has to make a decision before starting work on coming up with and analysing the options available. This government takes a long-term view and it also ain’t one to leave things to chance, so yes, it will prepare and plan ahead.

Better do it now, then when the time comes, we won’t have to rush. There will already enough material for a robust discussion. And a proper decision can be made then.

Why didn’t the government announce it?

One allegation that Lee Hsien Yang made was that this committee is a “secret” committee. Perhaps he had that impression because there wasn’t any official press release to announce the formation of this committee.

Then again, think about it. The government has numerous committees.

Think of every major, or even not-so-major, decision that the government has made. There’re probably numerous committees set up for each one of them. For example, during the period when there was intense haze in Singapore. There was probably a committee set up to consider if schools should be closed.

It’s just the way the government works. And, really, in the grand scheme of things, this committee isn’t really looking into anything that drastically impacts the future of Singapore. Compare that to other committees that really impacts the future of Singapore, like… the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) for example.

There was an announcement made about the formation of the CFE because it’s an important committee that drastically shapes the future of Singapore. It also needs the input from a wide array of stakeholders. So it made sense to announce the formation of the CFE.

But the committee on what’s to be done with Lee Kuan Yew’s house? The impact of that, really, is rather small, and, at this stage, it really doesn’t need much input beyond the relevant government agencies and the children of Lee Kuan Yew. Hence, is there really a need to announce the formation of the committee?

No… we don’t think so.

Who are the people in this committee? Why are they in it?

The committee includes the following ministers:

  • Minister Grace Fu – She’s the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. National Heritage Board (NHB) is a statutory board under her ministry. As such, her ministry is responsible for heritage preservation.
  • Minister Lawrence Wong – He’s the Minister for National Development. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is a statutory board under his ministry. As such, his ministry is responsible for optimising land use in Singapore.
  • Minister Shanmugam – more about his involvement later.

The committee has tasked various agencies to study the options. The agencies probably include NHB and URA. Some have asked why we need to have a committee of ministers if government agencies are already studying the options.

That’s because NHB’s position would probably oppose URA’s position. As such, they need their ministers to present their positions, elaborate their options, come together to work out a consensus and come up with options that satisfies the positions of both NHB and URA.

What about Minister Shanmugam?

What’s he doing there? He’s the Minister of Law. More than that, he’s also an accomplished lawyer. In 1998, he became one of the youngest lawyers to be appointed as senior counsel. So he’s probably in the committee to advise it on legal matters surrounding Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

But Minister Shanmugam brings more to the committee than just his official capacity. As Dr Lee Wei Ling said this in a recent post:

Minister Shanmugam is a personal friend of the Lees’. The Lees, including Lee Kuan Yew, consulted him regarding Lee Kuan Yew’s will. And he gave them his views. That means that Minister Shanmugam can possibly provide the committee with a very intimate perspective of Lee Kuan Yew’s wish regarding the house.

But isn’t there a conflict of interest with Minister Shanmugam’s involvement in the committee? Of course not. When Minister Shanmugam gave the Lees his views, they weren’t his clients. He gave them his personal views, not as a lawyer. So there is no conflict of interest. This was clearly
explained by Minister Shanmugam in his Facebook post:

Time to move on… maybe?

While it is important to think how best we can preserve our heritage, in the grand scheme of things, this issue isn’t the most important issue that our government has on its plate.

The economic situation is still quite gloomy. There still has a lot of work to be done to make our economy more productive, to transform the various industries, and to create good meaningful jobs. We still have come up with and put in measures to ensure that our growth and our prosperity is inclusive.

Or, as Minister Shanmugam said in his Facebook post:

“The government has serious business to attend to relating to the welfare of Singaporeans.”

So let’s move on. That’s what Lee Kuan Yew would have wanted. That’s the best way to #respectLKY.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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