Mr Lee adamant about having his house demolished

Mr Lee adamant about having his house demolished

Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew knew about calls from the public to turn his home at 38, Oxley Road into a museum and a memorial to him, but he was adamant the house should be demolished after his death.

He wrote formally to the Cabinet at least twice to put his wishes on the record, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament yesterday.

The first time was soon after his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in late 2010.

The second time was after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011, said PM Lee, who is Mr Lee's elder son.

In a statement delivered in Parliament, PM Lee said his father's position on 38, Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and added that Singaporeans should respect his wishes.

Mr Lee, who died last month, stated in one of his books in early 2011, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, that the house "should not be kept as a kind of relic".

He was averse to the idea as he had seen too many other houses of famous people "kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out", and they invariably "become shabby", said PM Lee.

PM Lee's mother, Madam Kwa, also felt strongly that the house should be demolished, he said.

But since some people wanted the house preserved, Mr Lee's view sparked a public reaction.

That was the reason that, in December 2011, PM Lee held a special Cabinet meeting to discuss 38, Oxley Road. Mr Lee attended the meeting at his invitation.

"The ministers tried hard to change his mind," PM Lee said.

After the meeting, Mr Lee wrote the Cabinet a letter, in which he acknowledged their unanimous view that 38, Oxley Road should not be demolished.

He wrote: "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."

But when he made his will two years later in December 2013, he stated that he wished for his house to be demolished after his death.

His children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, were appointed executors of his will.

They revealed this in a statement on Sunday and, yesterday, PM Lee weighed in.

"If and when Dr Lee Wei Ling no longer lived in the house, Mr Lee had stated his wishes as to what then should be done. At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the government of the day to consider the matter," he said.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) asked if Mr Lee's home could be photographed and recorded on video and other digital media formats, so that Singaporeans could tour the house virtually.

This would respect Mr Lee's wishes while preserving the house's heritage value at the same time, they said.

PM Lee replied that the building has been documented and photographs of it published, especially of the dining room, where important meetings took place.

He added: "If you go on what Mr Lee has said publicly, I think in the Hard Truths book, he said: 'Whatever you want to do after I'm gone, take pictures, if you like, then demolish the building.' That's on the record. His will follows that. We have to go in accordance with his wishes."

charyong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 14, 2015.
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