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Former GIC investment chief Ng Kok Song announces bid for Singapore presidential election

Mr Ng Kok Song, 75, accompanied by his fiancee Sybil Lau, 45, at the Elections Department on July 19, 2023.


SINGAPORE – Former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song, 75, confirmed his bid for the presidency when he turned up at the Elections Department (ELD) on Wednesday at around 10.30am, accompanied by his fiancee.

After collecting his forms, Mr Ng told reporters outside ELD that he has three reasons to run for president: to give Singaporeans a choice, because he has been involved in building up the reserves and because he is independent.

Noting the president’s critical role of safeguarding the reserves, Mr Ng said he had helped build up Singapore’s assets in his 45 years in public service: first at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), then at GIC.

Mr Ng, who retired from the sovereign wealth fund in 2013 after 27 years there, is now the executive chairman of investment firm Avanda Investment Management. He co-founded the firm with two former GIC colleagues in 2015.

He emphasised his lack of political affiliations, and that Singapore needs a president who is “independent of any political party to safeguard the integrity of our institutions”.

Mr Ng said he had been mulling over whether to run for some months, and that the “deluge of negative news” about political office-holders in recent days helped him to make his decision.

“I feel that, at a time like this, it is so important that good people should come forward to serve the country, because the future of Singapore depends critically on good people coming forward to serve the country,” he said.

He added that Singapore has given him much, and that at this stage of his life, he has decided to serve his country one more time, with the support of his family, who were with him at the ELD.

“I have never been a political figure – my work has been professional and low-key,” he said.

“I never sought the limelight; I concentrated on my public responsibilities.”

Mr Ng said that while many in the public service know who he is, many Singaporeans do not. “I will put this right in the coming weeks.”

He added: “The people of Singapore do not want another walkover. I am standing so that you can choose your president.”

Mr Ng had told The Straits Times on July 15 that he was “deliberating” running for president, as it was an issue of great national importance and there would be immense personal implications.

About a month ago, on June 12, entrepreneur George Goh said he intended to contest the upcoming presidential election.

Former senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had earlier declared his bid on June 8, and resigned from the Government and People’s Action Party on July 7.

Incumbent President Halimah Yacob has said she will not stand for re-election when her term ends on Sept 13.

Candidates interested in running for the presidency have been able to collect forms from the ELD or download them from its website since June 13.

His background

In 1970, Mr Ng joined the public service as an investment analyst with the Finance Ministry after graduating with a physics degree from the University of Singapore.

The Public Service Commission Scholarship recipient then moved to MAS a year later when it was formed.

In 1986, five years after GIC was formed, Mr Ng joined it to head the equities and bonds department. He was the fund’s first non-expatriate director.

In 2007, he was made GIC’s first group chief investment officer, a post he held until he retired in 2013.

Mr Ng was also the founder and chairman of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange in 1984, which was later incorporated into the Singapore Exchange as its derivatives arm.

Apart from his role at Avanda, Mr Ng’s other commitments now include being chairman emeritus and founder of the Wealth Management Institute that was established in 2003 by GIC and Temasek, and serving on Pimco’s global advisory board.

The board includes the likes of former British prime minister Gordon Brown and former US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.

Avanda has turned a profit in the last three financial years from 2020 to 2022, according to documents obtained by ST from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

It has had an average of about $73 million in shareholder equity in the last three years.

Mr Ng Kok Song, 75, accompanied by his fiancee Sybil Lau, 45, at the Elections Department on July 19, 2023.


Applying under public sector track

On Wednesday, Mr Ng said he was applying for eligibility to run for president based on his public service experience, not his Avanda experience.

“I am applying on the basis of my work at the GIC, where I was the group chief investment officer for six years before I retired,” he told reporters.

Under the public sector service requirement, one pathway for qualification is to have held the most senior executive post in one of the entities listed on the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.

Fifth Schedule entities include the Central Provident Fund Board, the Housing Board, Temasek and GIC, among others.

While Mr Ng’s public service contributions do fall within the 20-year window of consideration, they are not among the stated list of public service roles that qualify for the presidency, as he did not hold the most senior executive post of chief executive at GIC, or at any of the other eligible government-related entities.

But, as with the private sector route, there is a public sector deliberative track where the Presidential Elections Committee can deem a candidate eligible if it is satisfied that his experience is comparable to someone who held those posts, “having regard to any other factors it sees fit to consider”.

The group’s chief investment officer oversees GIC’s total investment portfolio, though how much this constitutes is not publicly disclosed.

While GIC does not disclose how much it manages overall, the Finance Ministry website states that it manages “well over US$100 billion”, or S$132.5 billion.

Some estimates by research companies have placed the figure as high as around US$744 billion.

What else is known about him

In 2013, Mr Ng was conferred the Thomas L. Hansberger Award for Leadership in the Global Investment Profession by the CFA Institute.

He was also conferred the Legion of Honour in 2003 and the Order of Merit in 2011 by the French government.

He received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Singapore Government in 2012.

Outside of his work, Mr Ng is also known as a proponent of meditation.

Past reports have credited him as the one who taught the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew how to meditate, back in the late 2000s.

Mr Ng himself picked up the practice with his late wife Patricia more than 30 years ago, and it helped the couple when she was ill with stomach cancer.

She died in 2005, leaving behind three children – a son, now 50, and two daughters, now aged 47 and 33.

Mr Ng is currently engaged to 45-year-old Singaporean Sybil Lau, who accompanied him to the ELD on Wednesday.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Lau has been managing her family’s wealth since 2009. She is also a board member of SG Enable, the focal agency for disability here.


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