The Myth of the Lee Family’s Public Service
Last week I published a blog post, “How Many More Years Will Go by Before We Learn How Much the Lees Have Paid Themselves While in Public Office?”https://kenjeyaretnam.com/2019/05/20/how-many-more-years-will-go-by-before-we-learn-how-much-the-lees-have-paid-themselves-while-in-public-office/. I said there that I have been questioning since at least 2010 Ho Ching’s suitability to lead Temasek and asking for her remuneration to be disclosed.
Now Haseenah Koyakutty, who previously was head of Channel News Asia’s Indonesia bureau, has tweeted about how as a state media employee she asked Lee Hsien Loong way back in 2004 just (before he became PM after the ten-year interregnum of Goh Chok Tong’s premiership) about the conflict of interest (I would call it corruption) of appointing his wife to be head of Temasek. She says he was extremely displeased and later a civil servant told her he went ballistic.
In my article “Should PM Lee Be Forced to Reimburse the Taxpayer for His Wife’s Earnings at Temasek?” I said:
After her (Ho Ching’s) prudent decision to get married to Lee Hsien Loong in 1985 her career path definitely assumed a more vertical trajectory, like her husband’s. She joined Singapore Technologies as Director of Engineering before becoming President and CEO of Singapore Technologies in 1997. She joined Temasek as Executive Director in 2002 and then, suspiciously, 11 days before her husband became PM on 12 August 2004, she was appointed as CEO of Temasek.
The sense of entitlement to accumulate wealth while in public office is not something new and in this, as in everything else, Lee Hsien Loong is only imitating his dad. Lee Kuan Yew liked to cultivate the humbug that he was somehow sacrificing himself for Singapore’s benefit. One of his more sickeningly narcissistic quotes is shown below:
Of course LKY sacrificed nothing. Before the 1976 GE, he famously derided the Opposition as men who, as regards their own personal fortunes, had failed to accumulate anything. My dad’s rejoinder was acerbic and cut through the cant: “Mr LKY has arranged his affairs brilliantly. His wife is Senior Partner of Lee and Lee, which has a monopoly on conveyancing work for the HDB. His brother is head of Tat Lee Bank, which was given a licence by MAS when many other banks were refused.” My father later got sued by LKY and LKY’s relative on the High Court bench ordered him to pay $130,000 in damages plus costs. My father was forced to sell our family home.
LHL continues in this fine tradition of hypocrisy that he is somehow selflessly serving Singapore while making much less than he would make in the private sector. The Lees often point to the examples of Western politicians who have accumulated fortunes after they left office and justify paying themselves better than any other politician in the developed world by saying they are denied those opportunities as they cannot retire lest Singapore collapse. However those Western politicians, like Barrack Obama, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, slightly distasteful though it is, have at least made their money after relinquishing their hold on the levers of power. The Obamas also have huge star power which our PM and his wife lack.
As long as Ho Ching’s compensation remains a state secret and the family’s assets are shrouded in secrecy, we can justifiably deride PM Lee’s symbolic 30% salary cut after GE2011 as a meaningless charade meant to pull the wool over the eyes of Singaporeans. We should rightly be concerned that his reluctance to leave office may be to secure his wife’s position for many more years at the head of Temasek and to get an agreement that any successor will not probe too deeply into the accounts both of Temasek and GIC.
If I were in Parliament I would now also be asking about the Lees’ use of Temasek’s Gulfstream. Has this been approved by Parliament and has this been purely for state business or have there been personal trips as well? If so, have the Lees reimbursed Temasek or is Ho Ching entitled to use of the company jet for personal business under her employment contract?
Finally Singaporeans are getting wise to the fact that Lee Hsien Loong’s earnings as PM may only be the tip of the iceberg. Until the Government and the Lees come clean on their total earnings and assets we should rightly be sceptical of any claims that they are putting country before self. Public service is a myth for naive Singaporeans along with the $15 ITE handbag.