Singapore’s Elected Presidency. Time for a Change.
Honestly, I had no idea what the Elected President (EP) scheme was until that day when I parked myself in front of the TV and listened to President Tony Tan deliver his annual address. “KFC Uncle” then mentioned that the Government might be reviewing several schemes with the EP being one of them.
After some quick Googling, this is what I found out about the EP:
Number #1. The EP refers to an institution where Singaporeans elect a Head of State, otherwise known as the President, who then has custodial powers over Singapore’s past reserves and the appointment of top public service appointments.
Number #2. What this means is that the President gets to have a say in picking our Ministries’ Permanent Secretaries, and he watches over the hard-earned money our forefathers helped us accumulate. He however does not get to make any policies or any executive decisions as that is what our Parliament is for.
Number #3. The President has a team of advisors, known as the Council of Presidential Advisers, who he has to consult when exercising his veto powers on reserves and appointments.
From what I understand, the EP scheme was first mooted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1984. LKY’s argument was simple. In order to prevent a rogue government from destroying Singapore, the country needed two-key safeguards for our reserves, and the integrity of the public service. The President, being the Head of State was seen as the natural person to hold this key.
For a country with no natural resources, protecting Singapore’s national reserves is integral to the continued survival and success of our country. After all, it was the product of Singaporeans’ hard work over the years. To put it bluntly, our national reserves is our natural resource.
The public service on the other hand was also deemed equally important because it was the machinery which kept the country running. Singapore has maintained strict meritocracy and impartiality in the public service and this has been our unique selling proposition to the world. It is because of the efficiency and effectiveness of our public service, that Singapore has been able to prosper. A gatekeeper was thus needed to ensure that if a rogue government was ever to come into power, the public service would not be destroyed.
In 1991, after two White Papers, the Singapore Constitution was successfully amended and the EP came into being. Sitting President Wee Kim Wee automatically assumed the new role. The rest, as they say, is history.
Given that the EP has remained changed for the past 25 years, we believe that there is merit in doing a review at this juncture.
It is interesting to note that this system is quite unique to Singapore. No other country has a President with custodial powers in a Westminster system. A quarter of a century later, it seems justified that the Government is reviewing one of its key tenets of governance. Over the years, changes have been made to the scheme, as the Government tried its best to formulate the best way to execute it. Singapore has grown and prospered tremendously over the years, and it is necessary to ensure that the institutions of governance are refined to serve the interests of Singaporeans.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how to better the EP scheme, while still meeting the original objectives that it set out to achieve.
After all, what good is a government institution if it is outdated?