Simplifying the Oxley conundrum

Let’s try to make the issue surrounding the Oxley house very simple. There are two time periods for the reader to consider:

a.) Before Mr. Lee’s passing and,

b.) After Mr. Lee’s passing

For the purposes of this article, we’ll look squarely on the issues that took place at a.) Before Mr. Lee’s passing. We do this because this is most important factor on the entire case. It is important to understand this first and foremost before one looks at the wills, because the circumstances surrounding those wills are befuddled with “he says, she says” and until a court of probate is convened, it is not likely to to get any clarity as to the direction of those wills.

Now, apart from representations from Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s three children in their personal capacities, a Ministerial Committee (which excludes PM Lee) also studied various options for the Oxley house. The Committee relied on the “objective evidence” placed before it in reaching its views. Three documents are of particular importance:

1.) Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s memo on the 27th of October 2010 (alternative media only discusses this memo)

2.) Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s letter to the Cabinet dated 27th December 2011 (many alternative sites leave out discussion of this)

3.) The renovation/redevelopment plans for 38 Oxley Road which Mr Lee Kuan Yew submitted to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in March 2012, and obtained approval for.

On the 27th of October 2010, Mr. Lee drafted a memo that says the Oxley house should be demolished. The memo contain words that Singaporeans should be very familiar with as clips of the video have been repeated many times on local channels.

The memo says:

“I have discussed this with my family many a time. They agreed with me that 38 Oxley Road should not be kept as a kind of relic for people to tramp through. Take photos of it or whatever else they want, but demolish it after I am gone.

I have seen too many places which are kept frozen in time. My most vivid memory is that of Nehru’s final home, that of the British Naval Commander of the Indian Ocean fleet in New Delhi. It was once a grand building. Kept as a monument with people tramping in and out, it became shabby. It is not worth the restoration, unless they restore it just for people to look at it.

38 Oxley Road has no merit as architecture. So please respect my wish to have it demolished when I am no longer around.”

It is a selfless, though practical request…as is befit of a practical man. However, it is also a request that contains an inherent problem: it is not his wish as to what is to be done with the house. Rather, it is the wish of people through an elected government. The Singapore that he has built contained several pieces of legislation that puts the power of land acquisition and heritage preservation in the hands of the government of the day.

Aware of this fact, he had a meeting with the Cabinet in July 2011. The late Mr. Lee presented his views and wanted to know what the ministers had to say about the Oxley house. Which gives us our next piece of evidence in the form of a letter dated 27th December 2011. 

The letter read:

“Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”

Mr. Lee then put the plans for preservation into action.

In Jan 2012, Mr Lee Kuan Yew approved detailed plans to entirely overhaul the interior living areas while retaining the external structure and the basement dining room. The renovation plans appear to have been specifically prepared with conservation requirements in mind. The plans were then approved by Mr Lee Kuan Yew for submission to the URA in March 2012, and he affirmed these plans in April and May 2012 after the URA’s approval was obtained.

Mr. Lee and the Cabinet Ministers knew that in actuality, Mr. Lee had no control of the house. It would be up to the government of the day to decide. The government of the day may not be the PAP and it quite certainly is not going to be the ministers we know today or can forsee in the near future. The house is going to be occupied by Lee Wei Ling until she passes on, this is likely another 20 or 30 years on. 

No man is above the law.

Mr. Lee’s earlier wishes to demolish the house, no matter how much his family wants to comply with, cannot be decided on by his family. It will be dealt with the law, the government will have the final say. This is the rule of law, this is what he stood for and thus, his simple letter to Cabinet on the 27th December 2011 with a few practical instructions. 

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