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Presidential hopefuls must be very clear about the powers of the elected President: Ng Kok Song


The former GIC chief investment officer said he has submitted his application for a certificate of eligibility via the public sector “deliberative track”, with former minister George Yeo as one of his character references.


Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song speaking to the media after a visit to Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan on Aug 3, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Tang See Kit)
Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song speaking to the media after a visit to Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan on Aug 3, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Tang See Kit)

SINGAPORE: Presidential aspirants must be very clear about the powers of the elected President, which does not include shaping government policies, said Mr Ng Kok Song on Thursday (Aug 3).


The 75-year-old, who is one of four individuals who have announced their intention to run for the Singapore presidency, was asked by CNA for his thoughts on comments made by fellow presidential hopeful Tan Kin Lian earlier in the day.


In a media release, Mr Tan said that he will “work collaboratively” with the government to find alternative solutions to bring down the cost of living, ensure affordable housing and secure stable jobs. He will also “influence” policies if elected, through ways such as using the President’s veto powers to “ensure that government policies align” with his vision and goals.


Speaking to the media after a visit to Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, Mr Ng said: “As presidential aspirants, we must be very clear about what are the powers of the president.”


Noting that the President does not have executive powers, he added: “The President does not have the power to make policies on government spending.


“The President is in a position to approve the budgets of the government and the power he has is when the budget involves a drawing down on the past reserves, then he has the right to ask questions or even to veto it,” he told reporters.


“So, I don't think it’s correct to say that the President will have the executive powers to, for example, ask the government to reduce the cost of living,” Mr Ng said.

But how the President can contribute to the issue of moderating living costs is to safeguard the country’s reserves which play an important role in shoring up the Singapore dollar. Given how Singapore is a major importer, the strength of the local currency can help to reduce costs and keep inflation down.

“When the Singapore dollar is strong, it helps to reduce the cost of living. So indirectly by safeguarding the reserves, the President will be able to contribute to keeping down the cost of living in that way,” he said.

SUBMITTED APPLICATION FOR ELIGIBILITY CERTIFICATE


The former GIC chief investment officer, who announced his bid for the presidency on Jul 19, revealed that he submitted his application for a certificate of eligibility via the public sector “deliberative track” on Wednesday.


“In other words, it is based on my experience and my duration of service at the GIC as the group's chief investment officer,” he told reporters.


Mr Ng retired from GIC in 2013 after 27 years with the organisation. He was appointed GIC's first group chief investment officer in 2007, a post he held until he retired.


Prior to that, he started his career as an investment analyst in the Ministry of Finance in 1970, before moving to the Monetary Authority of Singapore when it was formed in 1971. In total, he spent 45 years in the public service.


Under public sector requirements, presidential candidates must have held office for at least three years as a minister, chief justice, Speaker of the House, attorney-general, chairman of the Public Service Commission, auditor general, accountant general or permanent secretary.

They also qualify if they were chief executives - or the most senior executives, however named - in Fifth Schedule entities, namely key statutory boards and government companies such as the Central Provident Fund Board, Temasek and GIC - and served for at least three years.


Mr Ng's role as chief investment officer does not automatically fall under these requirements.


Under the public sector deliberative track, the Presidential Elections Committee may consider the public service requirement to be met if the candidate has the experience and ability comparable to someone who held public service roles that qualify for the presidency.

Lawyers that CNA spoke to previously said Mr Ng’s eligibility will depend on the scope of his responsibilities in his role at GIC and how the Constitution is interpreted.

“Now that I have submitted my application, we now await the outcome of the deliberations of the Presidential Elections Committee,” said Mr Ng on Thursday.

A candidate submitting an application for a certificate of eligibility is required to have three character references, said Mr Ng, confirming that former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo is one of them.

Mr Ng noted that Mr Yeo has known him for many years “as a friend (and) as someone who was in government (and) who knows of my work in the GIC”.

“He can attest to my moral character,” said Mr Ng, while declining to reveal the identities of his two other character references.


IMPORTANCE OF RESERVES


In between speaking to the media, Mr Ng had a nearly two-hour long question-and-answer session with the members of the Teochew clan association on topics such as the importance of Singapore’s reserves and the role of the elected President.


Apart from keeping the Sing dollar strong, the reserves also serve as the country’s financial defence in times of war.


“I hope that Singapore will never have to go to war and that our country will not be invaded. But if that sad day comes, we will have to depend on our reserves for the financial defence and survival of Singapore.”


In addition, the reserves help to save jobs and support lower-income Singaporeans during “very difficult” economic circumstances, as seen in the draw on reserves during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.


Mr Ng said: “I spent 30 years working at GIC. I helped to increase our reserves by investing them properly and I helped to build up GIC as one of the leading sovereign wealth funds in the world, so that we can take care of our own money. We can invest our own money.


“I do not want the reserves to be squandered … and that is the reason why I decided to come forward to be elected as the President, so that I can help to protect our reserves which are so strategically important.”


Protecting the reserves, he added, means spending on “what is necessary” such as healthcare, education, housing and support for lower-income groups.


“But we should not spend too much. We must try to save whatever we can because the future is very uncertain,” said Mr Ng.


“So that is the job of the president, to make sure that the government does not spend too much and therefore does not save enough for the future.”


At the moment, Singapore has been “very fortunate” to have a government that has been “saving a lot of money” since independence. “The challenge will come when we have a bad government who just wants to spend, spend, spend,” said Mr Ng.


“The President has got to say no. The President can veto if the government wants to spend too much.”

Apart from being the custodian of the country’s reserves, the elected President also has the responsibility of protecting two other treasures of the country - the unity of the people in Singapore and the presence of a good administration.


“Investors (all over the world) want to put money into Singapore … because they admire good administration. So, the President has the responsibility of protecting these three treasures,” he said.


Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song poses for a photo with members of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan. (Photo: CNA/Tang See Kit)
Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song poses for a photo with members of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan. (Photo: CNA/Tang See Kit)

Source: CNA/sk(zl)

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