President appts new CPIB chief – “at her own discretion”

picture credit: Today

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that a new chief of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has been appointed.

Denis Tang Siew Taeng will take over as director of the agency from Wong Hong Kuan from 1 October, said the PMO statement.

The PMO said “the President, acting in her discretion, has concurred with the advice of the Prime Minister to appoint” Mr Tang.

The Straits Times on Wednesday phrased it slightly differently, saying [emphasis added]:

“In a statement, the PMO said that President Halimah Yacob had, at her own discretion, agreed with the advice of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to appoint Mr Tang.”

Former Straits Times journalist Bertha Henson posted on her Facebook on Wednesday that it was “a strange way of putting things”, referring to the Straits Times’ report. She asked if this was the “PMO’s new way of phrasing things.”

Actually, the PMO had said the president was “acting in her discretion”, and not “at her own discretion.”

The PMO was being careful, and accurate, using the exact words of Article 22(1) of the Constitution which grants the president powers on such matters.

Under Article 22(1), “the President, acting in his discretion, may refuse to make an appointment to any of the following offices or to revoke any such appointment if he does not concur with the advice or recommendation of the authority on whose advice or recommendation he is, by virtue of that other provision of this Constitution or any other written law, to act.”

In other words, the president has powers to agree or not agree with the advice of the PM to appoint persons under this part of the law.

One of these appointments is that of the Director of the CPIB.

If the president disagrees with the PM’s advice to appoint Mr Tang, for example, then Parliament would have to decide.

The Istana website explains:

“If the President vetoes any … appointment/removal of any key office holder in the public service or Fifth Schedule entity, and the President’s decision is contrary to CPA’s advice, Parliament may overrule the President’s decision with a two-thirds majority vote.”

The president’s powers are twofold – discretionary and non-discretionary.

Discretionary powers include that to veto or disagree with the Government on the following, and he/she is also obligated to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers on these:

  • All fiscal matters touching on Singapore Reserves
  • All matters relating to the appointment of key personnel in public service or fifth schedule entities

Discretionary powers where the president’s consultation with the CPA is optional:

  • Restraining orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
  • Continued detention under the Internal Security Act
  • Refusal of investigations by the CPIB

The president’s non-discretionary powers, where she has to abide by the decision of the Government, include:

  • The pardon of a convict
  • The PM’s advice on appointments of ministers
  • The Cabinet’s advice on death sentences

Since the Constitution was changed to allow for an elected president with added powers to check on the government, there have not been any disagreement by the president on the appointments of key officers in the Public Service.

President Halimah continues that record.