The following is a submission by Ravi Philemon to the Constitutional Commission to Review Specific Aspects of the Elected Presidency.
1. Constitutional Limits
Article 21 of the constitution of Singapore outlines the constitutional limits placed on the Elected president. For example, the President must exercise his functions on the advice of the Cabinet or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, in the areas of granting of clemency in death penalty cases. in certain other cases the President must consult the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA) before exercising discretion. The President must also consult the CPA before he approves proposed drawdowns on past financial reserves, and the appointments and dismissals of key office holders.If he does not concur with the recommendations of the CPA, Parliament can override his decision. These limits were carefully considered and placed on the Elected President and there are no pressing reasons to change such limits on the Elected President.
2. Elected President envisioned to be independent-minded
I propose that despite the constitutional limits placed on the Elected President, he was not envisioned to be an extension of the Executive, but to be independent minded. As an example and referencing Article 21(2) Discharge of performance and functions of President, which reads:
“The withholding of concurrence under Article 151 (4) in relation to the detention of or further detention of any person under any law or ordinance made or promulgated in pursuance of Part XII.”
This Article says that where there is no agreement between the Cabinet and the preventive detention advisory body on the detention or further detention of any person, the President’s decision on the matter will be final; and that he can make this decision without consulting or heeding the advise of the Council of Presidential Advisers.
This is a clear example of how Parliament envisioned the Elected president to be independent-minded when it legislated the Office.
3. Elected President not envisioned to be elitist but principled
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Speech in Parliament on 27 January 2016 said that in 1993 there were 158 companies with $100 million in paid up capital while today it is over 2100. I however beg to disagree with the Prime Minister on this point. I do not think this criteria was placed because Parliament wanted to limit the number of candidates who would be eligible to contest for the presidency. If it were so, it would not place such a broad criteria from which candidates may qualify. A person is qualified to be a candidate for election as President if he (besides other criteria) has held office for a period of not less than 3 years in position of seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector as described below:
- as Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary;
- as chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board to which Article 22A of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore applies;
- as chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency; or
- in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organization or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.
If it was meant to be restrictive, Parliament would have left out the clause “as chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency.”
I propose that the ‘$100 million paid up capital’ criteria was proposed because as opposed to a sole-proprietor company, or partnerships, or private limited companies, companies which are not specifically prohibited from dipping into their past profits and reserves; companies incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency, have clear guidelines spelt out in the Companies Act, especially on the Reserve Policy.
This is an important principle the Elected President should have as he or she would be the custodian of Singapore’s Reserves.
4. Election of minority as President
The belief that if not legislated minorities may not be fielded or be elected as President though understandable, is not proven. In the 2011 General Election, the People’s Action Party (PAP) fielded a minority, Mr Michael Palmer, in the Punggol East single member constituency and he won the contest. While writing this email, the local Chinese newspaper, Zaobao, has reported that a minority, Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai, may be fielded as PAP’s candidate in the Bukit Batok by-election. Why would the PAP consider fielding a minority in such a crucial electoral contest if it feels that he does not have a chance of winning?
There are persons from the establishment who are from the minority and highly regarded, for example, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob, and even our Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. In my opinion, all these individuals, though minority, are highly electable as President.
5. Grandfather Clause
I further propose that in the event the Commission decides on changing the existing criteria of qualifications for the Elected President, it should include a ‘grandfather clause’ in the changes which would allow the candidates who qualified to contest in the 2011 Presidential Election to do so at least in the next Presidential Election.