Sunday, 25 June 2017

Bad Blood: The Blind men and the Elephant syndrome.

I get the feeling that July 3 has already started, and it would definitely be more interesting than the actual day, where LHL will be defending his side of the story.

The social media and news have already been busy airing and printing the opinions of both sides, and I should add that the press is rather fair-handed in balancing the different views.

It nevertheless makes for sometimes-surprising-and-sometimes-awkward Ping-Pong-like information exchanges for the general public reader, where one side serves with a forehand twist and the other side hits back with a backhand smack, and so on and so forth. 

Even SMS for Law and Finance Ms Indranee Rajah ("Ms Rajah") has gone on a foray just last night to ask for the identity of the lawyer who drafted LKY's 7th and Last Will. Trust me, the showdown is just warming up before July 3.

Now, PM Lee is keeping mum, preserving or reserving himself for July 3. I guess he doesn't need to talk much in the interim since his cabinet luminaries and the Sovereign Wealth Fund head like TCH, Lawrence Wong, wife Ho Ching, Ms Rajah and Tharman are stepping in to offer their views in support and in vindication of themselves and/or their PM. Of course, to be fair, some of them had to come forward to defend themselves as LHY had fired the first salvo at them.

However, before July 3, it is undeniable that the government are all united behind their PM, that's for sure.  And for Ms Rajah, she is even going the extra mile to make herself part of the family feud in the name of State's interest and public concern to call for investigation of the Last Will. The camaraderie amongst them is thus not only tight, but also infectious and heartwarming.

Personally, it is arguable as to whether they are doing this because he is their boss. But more relevantly, I believe PM Lee is locked in an unenviable position of being both the oldest son of the founding father and the elected leader of the nation. As such, his allegiance and duties to both naturally overlapped and are sadly conflicted.

I also believe that the rivalry between the siblings has already been soured from day one when the joint executors (LHY & LWL) accused their brother/beneficiary of intermeddling, undercutting and disrespecting their authority as their father's officially appointed trustees of his estate. Mind you, the duties and responsibilities of a trustee are onerous and serious.

For their perspective, the protocol was not followed, and was persistently sidelined with apparent impunity, thereby causing them to air dirty linens in public as the last resort.

Of course, the beneficiary (PM Lee) has interest too, and the same should be safeguarded, but the younger siblings must have felt (and are still feeling) that proper channels ought to be followed, whether you are a private citizen or the Prime Minister of the country, or both.

Alas, this siblings' spat is most unfortunate because it has nothing to do with money. They are all immensely wealthy in their own rights, ways and standing even before their respective inheritance share is added into their own net worth. Neither does it have anything to do with prestige, fame or reputation; for they are all secondary concerns, if at all.

However, the perennial dispute has to do with respecting and carrying out their last father's wish, and it is crystal clear that LKY (and his wife) wanted the Oxley house to be demolished. You just can't put any political spin to that last wish to make it go away or to dilute its testamentary resolve.

Putting aside State's interest, the Preservation of Monuments Act, the ministerial committee, and LHL's Statutory Declaration ("SD"), that uncompromising last testamentary wish (and how it has unravelled a family and nation) is sadly the elephant in the cabinet room, and nobody wants to face the issue head on.

Let me explain what I mean by borrowing the Indian tale of the blind men (and woman) and the Elephant where they are all trying in vain to figure out the identity of the animal by feeling only a part of it.

Metaphorically speaking, TCH comes out and feels the trunk of the elephant and explains that he is the one who set up the ministerial committee to try "to understand Mr Lee's thinking on the future of the house".

Yet, we all know it is crystal clear that to the late Mr. Lee, the house has no future to start with (leaving aside State's and public interests of course).

If LKY would have his way with unerring foresight, and knowing how the dispute would eventually threaten his legacy, and most importantly, damage his children's relationship, he would have personally sledgehammered the house down brick by brick - that's what methinks.

What's more, after having felt the elephant's trunk, TCH is still evasive about what is the direct relevance between the suspicion cast on paragraph 7 of the Last Will (as deposed to in LHL's SD) and the committee's deliberation on Oxley's preservation by virtue of legislation and legislation alone, since such matters (that is, the Will's authenticity), if it is seriously contemplated as an issue of concern, should properly be left to the Courts, and not the committee 

(Furthermore, what does PM Lee hope to achieve by raising it privately to the committee - deepening the siblings' feud by spreading out dirty private linens in a private fight? And now, Ms Rajah is raising it in her Facebook knowing full well that such matters should be best left to those with locus standi to start with for the Courts to properly adjudicate).

Mind you, to compound misperception further, the committee will be seen by many to be reporting, directly or indirectly, to their "recused" boss, and not so much to the rightful joint executors, who have been clamouring without much success for some accountability from them.

So, as far as the joint executors are concerned, they felt stone-walled and sidelined by the committee whenever they asked for its member composition, its agenda and update. According to them, it took the committee nearly one year to come out in the open on some of the information they have been requesting for.

One would have therefore expected TCH, after feeling the elephant's trunk, to give an account of that (or to explain why the delay or alleged filibustering), instead of still trying (by executive mandate instead of judicial  due process) to figure paragraph 7 out after more than 2 years of LKY's passing.

I guess to him, the elephant's trunk he touched felt like a snake?

Then comes our law minister. It is his turn to feel the elephant, and he is directed to feel its tail.

Now, according to LWL, he was a very good friend of the family and he was actively involved in advising the late LKY on the demolition clause (and how it was to be carried out), and all the siblings.

As such, it is understandable why they (LHY and LWL) cried foul (or conflict) when they discovered that he was in the committee to adjudicate on its preservation, and possibly, the authenticity of paragraph 7.

But having felt the tail, our law minister essentially only has one word to his siblings and former friends, "ridiculous". Nothing much was said to assure the siblings. As such, I think the siblings must have felt that it was a betrayal.

I guess to the law minister, the elephant's tail he touched felt like a rope?

Then, in comes Ho Ching who feels the knee of the elephant but fails to identify the animal correctly too. 

She did not directly reply to LHY's question addressed to her: "It is deeply troubling that someone can represent the PMO despite holding no official position."

All Ho Ching said is that she was doing some housecleaning at that time (when parties were away) when she discovered some "small interesting items" belonging to her father-in-law. She then passed them to NHB without seeking approval from the joint executors.

I guess to Ho Ching, the elephant's knee she touched felt like a tree?

As for Lawrence Wong, he feels the elephant's body and calls it a rough wall. 

The siblings has accused him of brushing aside their concerns about the composition of the committee, and then changing his mind that ran counter to the terms of the Deed of Gift settlement agreement with NHB - the apparent stringency of its terms notwithstanding.

Finally, Ms Rajah is last on the list. She feels the elephant's ear and struggles to identify the animal. Instead, she calls for further enquiries into the circumstances surrounding the Last Will. 

Mind you, her call is not illegitimate, but the protocol and procedure are questionable. As the SMS for Law and Finance and a senior counsel herself, she should have known the proper forum for challenging Wills. 

Further, she then defended TCH's rationale for considering PM Lee's SD questioning the validity of paragraph 7 on demolition. By doing so, she has conveniently avoided the questions raised by LHL and LWL, that is, the "secrecy" of the committee, its agenda in the light of PM's SD, the stonewalling, and the possible conflict which made the siblings uncomfortable. More importantly, is the executive committee set up as a judicial panel to decide on the validity of the Will instead of a proper Court of Law?

I guess to Ms Rajah, the elephant's ear she touched felt like a broad fan?

Lesson? Just one.

Well, I always believe in calling a spade a spade. The issue here is not about identifying the elephant correctly (since the men in the parable are blind). Metaphor aside, the issue here is about refusing to see what is right before their eyes (for highly intelligent and respected individuals with normal sight).

Worryingly, for some of them, they do not see that their participation in the debate or feud before July 3 runs the risks of being perceived by the public as a biased attempt to shoring up support for one side against another. This only unnecessarily deepens the siblings' wedge further. At times, silence is golden for those who are not directly caught in the cross-hair of the flying accusations and allegations.

The issue is also about the inescapable mismatch (or shortfall) between the ideals of public office and the fallibility of the human agents occupying it. The reality is, we can't always live up to the ideals even in the best of efforts and intentions. The mismatch/shortfall is natural, expected and understandable. 

Sadly, as public office holders, we always want to project the image of incorruptibility, unimpeachability and beyond reproach. Whiter than white remember? (More like white-washing instead).

The people or voters unrealistically and unfailingly expect it, and the politicians are therefore expected to deliver it by all means conceivable whether virtuous or less so. But it is exactly this desperate attempts to close the unavoidable only-human mismatch/shortfall and project that invulnerability image at all costs that destroy both the office-holder and the trust the people reposed on him.

As such, the desperate bridging of this mismatch/shortfall can wreck havoc in the mind of the public office holder, and deepen the cognitive dissonance or perpetuate the self-delusion or confirmation bias. 

We are only humans after all, and we stumble and fall occasionally. Politicians, pastors and common folks, we are all fallible. We bleed when we fall down, and at times, we crash and breakdown too.

In the premises, to say, insist or paint an impression that one side of this siblings fallout is unimpeachable, fully exonerated, and blameless, and the other side is deeply flawed, wholly mistaken, and fully blameworthy, is to perpetuate this insidious mismatch or delusion, and fall into its trap.

Nothing can be resolved if each fraction keeps insisting they are right and blame the other fraction for everything. It is also highly impossible to maintain that uncompromising position given that the mutual incrimination between the siblings seems to point to shortcomings, misunderstanding, personal faults and errors of judgment on BOTH SIDES.

And now, to rope in reinforcements from and for one side by presenting one side of the story to the exclusion of the other (or at least to be perceived that way) is never a wise step towards bringing closure to the largely private dispute. It only escalates the feud and divide the family further.

Alas, to me, the issue has never been in the first place about preserving the Oxley house by virtue of legislation, or in the interest of the State.

The issue however is first and foremost always about, on the one side, complying with father's wish, carrying it out, and respecting the roles of the joint executors, and on the other side, seeking understanding to preserve the Oxley house, discussing and reconciling father's wish with the possible preservation of Oxley house in a private, frank and amicable manner, and giving each side the time and space to consider and resolve the issue, and most importantly, doing all that while bearing the founding fathers' overriding goal in mind, that is, always be protecting and preserving family relationship and the nation's peace, stability and harmony.

In other words, all parties are to never lose sight of the big picture. And on this, I take my cue from Ho Ching, whom I guess felt the elephant, and for a brief moment of clarity caught her true image, when she said this to the younger siblings:-

"I hope that whatever you are upset about, you will have the heart to remember what papa and mama would have wanted most for the family and for Singapore."

Well, methinks that big-hearted mindset applies to the other side of the divide too. It thus takes an open mind, a forgiving heart and deep understanding to call an elephant an elephant, deal with the issue at hand, and hopefully, move forward from there. And it always, without fail, proceeds with an apology from both sides to kick-start the road to personal and national recovery. 

Because ultimately, we do not want to end up "demolishing the family just so that the house could be preserved for posterity." Cheerz.

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