News of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s dispute with his siblings, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, over the 38 Oxley Road house, has made headlines globally.
The drama first began last Wednesday, 14 June when the siblings released a statement questioning the leadership of their brother. This has now led to a video apology being released by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), with PM Lee saying that he “deeply regret[s]” that the family feud has impacted Singapore’s reputation, and its citizens’ confidence in the government.
“These allegations go beyond private and personal matters, and extend to the conduct of my office and the integrity of the government,” he said. Prime Minister Lee added that as much as he would like to put an end to the dispute, the “baseless accusations against the government cannot be left unanswered” and they “will be dealt with openly and refuted”.
The PM said he will deliver a ministerial statement to refute the charges when Parliament sits on 3 July 2017. He urged all members of parliament to “raise questions for themselves and their constituents”, and urged them to “examine the issues thoroughly”.
“I hope that this full, public airing in Parliament will dispel any doubts that have been planted and strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government,” he said.
The video statement was also posted on PM Lee’s Facebook page. At the point of writing, it generated over 10,517 shares and over 2,000 comments. Many of these statements from members of the public lauded the PM’s courage, transparency and choice of words.
PR professionals Marketing spoke to also commended the move by the PM. Tarun Deo, managing director Singapore and Southeast Asia at Golin said the PM has done the right thing by being forthcoming.
“In his official capacity as the PM of Singapore, because he clearly feels that this episode is an unsavoury one, apologising is the right thing to do. I will give him high marks for that,” Deo said.
“When you look at the other initiatives he has taken such as lifting the PAP whip, and issuing an official statement on 3 July 2017, this moves the conversation into transparency,” he added.
“Clearly this issue is something that you would have best like to keep managed within the family and privately, but now that it is out in the open, the PM has done the right thing,” Deo said. But whether or not the apology will win back the public’s trust, Deo said it might be too soon to tell.
But what is clear is that the PM has separated the personal and professional side.
“He is now moving the discussion forward and trying to make it as transparent as possible,” Deo added. Echoing Deo’s sentiment is Wesley Gunter, PR director at Right Hook Communications. He said:
I think the move is a positive step forward in clearing the air, so people can hear his side of the story.
He added that this move, however, may also open up another can of worms, “depending on how people interpret the response given, which may end up with more back and forth between the PM and his siblings”.
And while the apology will win back the public’s trust “to some extent”, Gunter adds that at least the public can be rest assured that PM Lee’s priority is still to focus on the more important issues at hand.
Ginny-Ann Oh, director at Asia PR Werkz said the “delivery of the ministerial statement in Parliament is a good move”.
“It is, in effect, akin to Singaporeans raising questions and seeking clarification and it is important that they are able to do so,” she added.
Oh described the dispute as a “trying time” for Singapore and said, it has in fact, caused a certain impact on “Brand Singapore” and investors’ confidence in the nation. She said:
Leaders must be able to say sorry when it is necessary.