Ng Kok Song and his fiancee Sybil Lau arriving at the Elections Department shortly past 10.30 am on Wednesday to pick up an application form for the certificate of eligibility.
PHOTO: SHARON SEE, BT
FORMER GIC investment chief Ng Kok Song picked up his papers to be a presidential candidate on Wednesday (Jul 19), saying that concerns about the integrity of Singapore’s institutions are what convinced him to stand for election.
Ng was speaking to reporters after picking up an application form for a certificate of eligibility from the Elections Department, shortly past 10.30 am. He was accompanied by his fiancee Sybil Lau, his children, other family members, friends and supporters.
Ng, who is now co-founder and chairman of Avanda Investment Management, laid out three reasons for running. First, “Singaporeans want to exercise their right to choose their president” and do not want another walkover.
Second, noting that the president has the role of safeguarding the reserves, Ng said he has been involved in building up the reserves for 45 years at GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
Third, the president must be above politics, said Ng: “I have never been affiliated to any political party. I am independent.”
Responding to questions from reporters, he acknowledged there might be a perception that he is “part of the establishment” because of his work with GIC and MAS.
“But we must make a distinction between establishment and government or the ruling party,” said Ng.
“I have never been a member of any political party. I have never been a member of the People’s Action Party, but it’s inevitable that when you serve in public service at a high level, you interact with ministers (and) with permanent secretaries.”
Referencing the recent “deluge of negative news”, Ng said it is important that good people come forward to serve the country “at a time like this”.
“And you may say the recent developments have in a way made it more difficult for people to come forward,” he added.
In the past week, a graft probe involving Transport Minister S Iswaran as well as revelations of an affair between former Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and fellow Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui that have led to their resignations have gripped the city-state, where such incidents are extremely rare.
Said Ng: “I feel that by coming forward to stand for the elected presidency, hopefully I can set an example, especially to the younger Singaporeans.”
Ng is the third person to have announced his interest in the presidency, following former senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and serial entrepreneur George Goh.
The presidential election is widely expected to be held sometime within the next three months. Applications for candidacy opened on Jun 13, ahead of the expiry of President Halimah Yacob’s term on Sep 13. It is recommended that the election be held shortly after the current president’s term expires, if it has not already taken place.
Asked about what he thought of comments that his candidacy would “split votes” between Tharman and Goh, Ng said coming forward to serve his country at 75 years old would entail some “sacrifice” on his part and “suffering” for his family.
“Would I endure all this suffering with my family ... and sacrifice for the sake of just splitting the votes?” he asked. “No, I am prepared and my family is prepared for us to endure this suffering because we want to serve Singapore – because it is in the best interest of Singapore.”
Ng was with GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, for 27 years before retiring in 2013.
The second of 11 children born to a fish auctioneer and a housewife, Ng won a Public Service Commission scholarship to study physics at the University of Singapore.
He then began his 42-year public service career as an investment analyst at the Ministry of Finance in 1970, before moving to MAS a year later. In 1983, Ng became the founder chairman of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange. Three years later, he joined GIC to manage Singapore’s foreign reserves.
In mid-2015, he co-founded Avanda Investment Management, which services institutional asset owners, including central banks, endowments, family offices and sovereign wealth funds. The company’s assets have reportedly doubled to around US$10 billion since its founding, Bloomberg noted.
However, Ng said his application for eligibility is not based on his company and its shareholder equity.
To meet the eligibility criteria, a potential candidate must have served as chief executive of a company that has at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity and made a profit after tax throughout for at least three years.
Ng said he is applying on the basis of his public service as well as his work at GIC, where he was chief investment officer for six years.
Asked about his fellow potential candidates Tharman and Goh, Ng said he is glad that other good people have also come forward to stand for election.
“We need more of such people to come forward, like me, to serve Singapore,” he said. “But all three of us and possibly others will have to be certified by the Elections Commission as to whether we have the necessary qualifications to stand for president, so I hope to be certified eligible.”
Calling himself “relatively unknown” since he has never been in the political arena, Ng said he is thankful to get help from “a young team of people” on his social media strategy.
“We have many young voters, and it’s very important that I should be able to reach out to them to help them to understand the importance of the presidency.”