An Elected President Will Not Contribute To Ensuring Transparency over Our Sovereign Wealth Funds nor will it provide any meaningful Check and Balance on the ExecutivePublished: 25th August 2011
This coming presidential election is clearly significant. Firstly the people have not voted in 18 years , secondly it comes at a time when we will probably enter a double dip recession and thirdly it comes after the May GE when the PAP lost 6 seats to the opposition.
It is gratifying to see that there are four candidates in the race giving the people a semblance of choice but The Reform Party is concerned that the eligibility criteria are skewed against women and Malay minority candidates. The nature of the selection in any case means that the people are voting on a selected Presidential candidate and candidates are frequently prevented from running -just as The Reform Party’s founder JB Jeyaretnam was prevented from running in 1993.
This Presidential election has so far been characterised by much confusion and disagreement about the constitutional role, rights and powers of the President. Significantly there has been no debate over the role of a selected CPA and its check on the power of an elected President. Our country’s written constitution has been amended so often since 1946 (many more times than the U.S. constitution in 200 years) that it remains debatable whether any discussion based on a constitution that can be changed so frequently has much validity.
As it stands now the President has no power to act as any check and balance on the role of Parliament especially in relation to dipping into past reserves. It is true that he can veto the recommendation of the CPA but in this case his veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The PAP look set to hold a two thirds majority for most of the length of the next Presidency making the veto merely hypothetical. Significantly the institution of the Elected Presidency does not provide powers for oversight over how the reserves are managed in the first place. Deficit spending falls within his purview but he has no powers to prevent the reserves being frittered away through bad or risky investment decisions.
In reality the President does not even have the right to a precise breakdown only to a simplified, consolidated, audited statement of assets and liabilities. As we know from past experience, too much probing by the President can be met by simple stonewalling or by pointing out the Constitutional restrictions. When it comes to access to detailed information it appears that the President has less access to specific information than any amateur investor in a publicly listed company.
The lack of oversight of Temasek and GIC make nonsense of the President’s supposed powers to prevent the squandering of the reserves. The Reform Party has since 2009 (advocated a much more radical solution, a solution that guarantees transparency. We propose to give Singaporeans a direct stake in both Temasek and GIC, ideally through the mechanism of a public listing and the distribution of shares, though other forms are possible. By doing this we would impose market discipline on both companies and force them to reveal much more about their investment strategy and valuation policies.
There has been some complaint that the people and the candidates are sullying the Elected Presidency by using it as an excuse to continue the campaigns from GE 2011, even though the people have already spoken. If this is the case then it is because 40% of the people voted for the Opposition but only received 6 out of 87 seats in parliament due to PAP engineering via the GRC and other mechanisms. The Government has further contributed to this situation by not calling Parliament to sit, thereby denying a further outlet for the peoples’ voices to be heard.
The Reform Party states in its constitution that it exists to promote a truly democratic Singapore based on fundamental constitutional reform. We want a fully elected and sovereign Parliament as the voice of the people with the executive made answerable to Parliament for every decision and policy of the executive and an independently appointed judiciary to uphold the constitution and protect the citizens’ rights from any interference by the executive.
The current powers vested in the President are in our view an infringement on the powers of a sovereign Parliament (should that parliament be fully, fairly and openly elected). It is our view that the President’s role should be re-instated as a purely ceremonial one. That is to say we wish our President to be a ceremonial Head of State representing, rallying and unifying the people. Particularly in the difficult times many are now facing. Until constitutional reform comes about we will welcome any President who is able to further true democratic development in Singapore by any (legal) means at his disposal. Even though that may mean stepping over the bounds of what is normally expected from a candidate in a Presidential election.
We wish the candidates good luck on Saturday!
Released by Kenneth Jeyaretnam on behalf of the Reform Party on 24th August 2011