Has any President ever disagreed or criticised the Government on anything?

I refer to the article “‘It’s been hard work but … very rewarding’” (Sunday Times, Aug 27).

It states that “In his characteristic calm voice, Dr Tan describes the president’s role and responsibilities, making clear the job of governing the country is that of the Government, not the president.

“Safeguarding the reserves”

It led him to initiate the formation of the Istana Heritage Gallery in Orchard Road to make the Istana more accessible and highlight the president’s other critical roles – the ceremonial, like leading the nation in major celebrations and representing it abroad; and the custodial, which involves safeguarding the reserves as well as the integrity of the public service.

However, a very important function of the presidency that is hardly carried out in public view is the custodial role.

Dr Tan says he spends “a lot of time” on it: from reading information papers and briefs from government agencies to discussing fiscal matters touching on Singapore’s reserves with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).”

“Holds the second key to the national reserves”

As to “Under the Constitution, the president holds the second key to the national reserves, accumulated in previous terms of government.

These include deposits with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and assets managed by GIC and Temasek Holdings. No official figures have been made public, but the reserves are valued at several hundred billions of dollars.

Reserves used 55 times without telling anyone?

Dr Tan, a former executive director and deputy chairman of GIC, notes that as a country with no natural resources, “our reserves are the only asset which will see us through a crisis or a difficult time”” – our previous President shocked Singaporeans when he disclosed in an interview just before the end of his last term – that he had allowed the reserves to be used 27 times, without anyone even bothering to inform Singaporeans.

Subsequently, in reply to a question in Parliament – it was revealed that the reserves had in fact been used 55 times without any disclosure to Singaporeans.

Any reserves used in the current term?

So, similarly, how many times (if any) has our current President allowed the Government to use the reserves?

With regard to “The CPA, which was expanded this year from six members to eight members, meets him very often, Dr Tan says. “They give me their views, I join them at meetings with ministers. And they always give me their recommendation on proposals from the Government or the appointment of senior officials.”

Giving his assent to the Government’s annual Budget is another function which Dr Tan does with the close involvement of the CPA.

Dr Tan and the CPA would meet Finance Ministry officials to hear the Government’s spending priorities, and clarify questions they might have on the Budget.

Check and balance on the Government?

This is because after the Budget is presented to Parliament and approved, it goes to the president, who will consult the CPA for their recommendation and decide whether to give his assent.”The actual figures are fairly straightforward. What is less straightforward is understanding the motivation, the concerns of the Government and the issues they see ahead,” Dr Tan says. “Also, (understanding) the implications of some of these expenditures, because they may take many terms of government.”” – if you read the Parliamentary debates when the elected presidency was first proposed – the President’s primary role was to be a check and balance on the Government.

Has the President ever disagreed, criticised the Govt?  

In this connection, how many times (if any) has our current President ever disagreed, criticised or gave negative feedback to the Government, on anything?

Govt is right 100% of the time?

After all, it can’t possibly be that the Government has never done anything or had any policies which were arguably debatable – from the perspective of whether it was 100 per cent good for Singaporeans.

Ever disagree on any key appointments?

Did any of the elected Presidents in Singapore’s history ever disagree with the Government on any key appointments to the public service?


Leong Sze Hian
A.S.S. Contributor

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