TL;DR – A fair and just society, where the same rules apply to everybody.
It has been a while. We thought it was over. But it’s not. The issue of what to do with Lee Kuan Yew’s Oxley house has once again come up.
This time, it started with Mdm Ho Ching sharing an article about cutting off ties with toxic family members. By the way, this is someone who shares a lot of articles on Facebook everyday. We’re talking about tens of article reshares in an hour, and if she reads all that she shares, her interests are very diverse, from health to science to environment to food to giveaways to life hacks.
Maybe there’s no need between the lines of what she shares.
Anyway, The Online Citizen (TOC) wrote an article about that.
TOC just had to stir things up again…
In and of itself, an article in the TOC would not have been a big deal. But TOC just had to repeat certain claims made by Dr Lee Wei Ling that PM Lee Hsien Loong had misled Mr Lee Kuan Yew into believing that the family house in Oxley Road had been gazetted by the Government. The article also made several other allegations that the government had issues with.
PM Lee, through his press secretary, said that the allegations were libellous and asked Terry Xu, the editor of TOC, to remove the article and Facebook post as well as to publish a full and unconditional apology, and an undertaking not to publish any similar allegations.
Not surprisingly, Terry Xu refused.
And now PM Lee is suing Terry Xu.
One wonders, why go through all this trouble for a single house? Why not save Singaporeans all the drama and just let the Lees demolish the house? With the economy going the way it is, doesn’t the government have better things to do?
And I’m sure many people are also thinking in their heads, “Come on, let’s just grant Mr Lee his last and final wish!”
Yes. It would be easier to just leave this as a private Lee family matter.
But is it really a private Lee family matter? Let’s see.
Woe be to you if your property gets conservation status
Singapore has laws that allow the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to give any building a “buildings conservation status”.
So far, about 7,000 buildings have that status. Some of these buildings are shophouses, some are bungalows.
All of these buildings must be retained and restored as far as possible, with careful repair and minimum replacement works unless necessary. There are also strict guidelines on a whole host of things. For instance, shophouses that have the conservation status in core historic district cannot be used for western fast-food restaurants. There are even restrictions on the sort of signages and where the signages can be placed. And if you want to install air-conditioning units, you have to make sure the condenser unit is screened and that it’s not visible from the street.
So imagine if you are fortunate enough to own a nice bungalow. And then one day, you are told that URA has so kindly bestowed your bungalow that conservation status. That’s it. Any renovations you want to do, you have to adhere to URA’s guidelines.
Want to tear down the bungalow and rebuild to something a little more modern, a little more comfortable? Forget it. What’s more, you now have to make sure that your bungalow is continually restored and repaired so that it keeps looking nice and new. And guess what? You get to bear the costs of the restoration and repairs. How would you feel?
You would probably be cursing the government for interfering with what you think are very private matters. You would probably be quite upset that the government is dictating to you what you must to do with the property that you own.
And then you now hear about Lee Kuan Yew’s house.
A house that could possibly be said to be of historical value. And if the government were to simply say “Oh it’s a private Lee Family matter. No need to assess whether the house is of enough historical value to be given conservation status. Let’s respect the wishes of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and just demolish the place. Cos you know. It’s Lee Kuan Yew.”
How would you feel?
You might be quite mad. What, just because it’s Lee Kuan Yew means you give special consideration? How come Lee Kuan Yew’s house, which could be of historical value, suddenly is a solely private matter whereas whereas the government interferes so much with your bungalow?
So you mean there’s one set of rules for the Lee family and another set of rules for everyone else?
Is that what we want our country to be?
Better to have due process to ensure consistency
Or do we want to, as best as we can, ensure that there’s one set of rules and regulations that is applied consistently to everyone?
That is the crux the Oxley Saga. As much as PM Lee wants to be the filial son and follow his father’s wishes, he, and his family, are not above the law. The Lees will still have to submit to the due process, and let all the relevant organisations assess whether Lee Kuan Yew’s house should be gazetted as a national monument.
And part of that due process was forming a ministerial committee chaired by then-Deputy-PM and now Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean to discuss and deliberate on the issue. The due process also includes PM Lee recusing himself from all discussions and deliberations regarding the house.
The committee has released a report with several options for the house, and you can read it here.
You can also revisit PM Lee’s ministerial statement on 38 Oxley Road in Parliament back in July 2017 here. It’s a very long read, but helpful and honest one.
And if after careful consideration, the government decides that there isn’t enough value in gazetting Lee Kuan Yew’s house as a national monument and can be demolished, the government needs to account for how it had come to that decision. So that everyone, especially the people whose properties have been given the conservation status, can be convinced that the laws, rules, and regulations in Singapore apply consistently to everyone.
Even the Lees.
Or perhaps we should say, especially the Lees.
The legacy of Mr Lee is much more than an old house along 38 Oxley Road. Mr Lee’s legacy is Singapore and the values that we uphold. We have built something special in Singapore. A cohesive, multi-racial, meritocratic society.
A fair and just society, where the same rules apply to everybody.
(Featured image via)