Should the late Lee Kuan Yew’s storied bungalow be demolished or not?
Singaporean officials tasked with studying future options for the property at 38 Oxley Road this week listed tearing it down as one of three ways forward, but his two younger children Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang say anything short of demolition would be an affront to their father’s final wishes.
Their comments on Tuesday put on display their continued divisions with their elder brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the house, 10 months after the three siblings stunned Singaporeans by bitterly quarrelling in public over the issue.
Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling said in a statement that the report released on Monday by a ministerial committee studying future options of the house did not “accurately represent Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes”, which they claimed was an unflinching desire for the house to be torn down after he died. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, died at age 91 in March 2015.
Lee Wei Ling, the middle child, slammed Premier Lee and his government for “an unbelievable lack of intelligence” in a separate Facebook post.
“It would require unbelievable lack of intelligence or determined denial to not understand what Pa and Ma so unambiguously wanted,” the 63-year-old neurologist wrote.
“It seems my big brother and his committee have achieved that distinction with amazing ease.”
The ministerial committee said that outright demolition, a complete preservation of the home as a national monument, and a partial preservation of the basement dining room were the three options a future government could consider when the time came to decide the fate of the property.
The committee said the bungalow’s “architectural, heritage and historic significance” meant there was a case to be made in favour of preservation, even though the patriarch had voiced his wish for demolition.
Apart from the so-called demolition clause in Lee’s final will, the committee said it scrutinised two other pieces of evidence in deliberations: a note he sent to the Cabinet and his endorsement of refurbishment works.
The demolition clause stipulated that if the house was not torn down, it was “never to be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants”.
“I would ask each of my children to ensure our [Lee and his wife] wishes with respect to the demolition of the house be carried out,” it said.
Those who say the house must be preserved cite the fact that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), co-founded by Lee, held key meetings in the basement of the property in its early years in the 1950s.
The house – near the city state’s Orchard Road shopping district – is also one of 16 remaining colonial-era bungalows of its kind, according to the National Heritage Board.
Still, the two younger siblings – trustees and executors of Lee Kuan Yew’s estate – say these arguments do not override their father’s wish for the century-old bungalow to be demolished after he died.
The house was built at the turn of the 20th century by a Jewish merchant, the elder Lee wrote in his memoirs.
Lee moved into the house with his mother soon after the second world war.
After returning from law studies in Britain in 1950, he married his college sweetheart Kwa Geok Choo and moved into the house with her.
Lee has said in public that he detested the way the homes of national figures such as India’s founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru were left in “shambles” after they were converted into tourist attractions.
“Combined with Lee Kuan Yew’s numerous and unwavering public statements on the matter, there is more than enough documentary evidence for a future government to understand – and hopefully grant – our father’s last wish,” the two siblings said in their statement.
The two younger siblings last June triggered the saga, now widely known as the “Lee family feud”, by accusing their brother on social media of abusing his executive powers to scuttle their efforts to demolish the property as their father wanted.
Premier Lee later went before parliament to dispel these allegations and offer assurances that he had recused himself from the government’s decision-making process on the issue.
He also said the government would not change the status quo of the house – it is owned by Lee Hsien Yang and occupied by Lee Wei Ling – as long as Lee Wei Ling continues to live there.
In a Facebook statement after the ministerial committee’s report was released, the prime minister said in his personal capacity he accepted “the committee’s conclusion on what my father’s wishes were regarding the house”.
He added: “I hope that when the time comes to decide on what to do with the house, this report will help the Government of the day to make an informed decision that both respects my father’s wishes and is in the public interest.”
The siblings’ statement took a veiled dig at this position.
“[Lee Kuan Yew] wanted demolition unwaveringly, and stated his wish repeatedly in private and public,” they said. “He did not want his home made into a shrine. His legacy is Singapore itself and not his old house.”