SINGAPORE: The Government has accepted most recommendations made by the Constitutional Commission on the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates, although it has “differing views” and will “adopt an alternative approach” to some areas.
In its White Paper published on Thursday (Sep 15), the Government agreed with the Commission that for private sector applicants, only the person holding the “most senior executive position” in a company should be deemed to have the requisite experience and expertise.
The Government also accepted that the qualifying threshold for a candidate’s company be changed from S$100 million in paid-up capital to S$500 million shareholders’ equity. Adding to points made earlier in the Commission’s report released last week, the Government said the size of its reserves has also grown over the last 25 years.
“The weight of the job has increased,” it stated in the White Paper, pointing to how from 1990 to 2015, Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went from S$71 billion to S$402 billion; Central Provident Fund (CPF) balances from S$41 billion to S$300 billion; official foreign reserves from S$48 billion to S$351 billion and Temasek’s net portfolio value from S$9 billion to S$266 billion.
That the company should also have net profitability during the entire period of qualifying office, along with no insolvency process within three years of the applicant ceasing to hold office, were also points accepted by the Government.
It, however, said that to allow sufficient time for calculation, the period of determination for a company’s shareholders' equity, as well as whether it has entered insolvency, should end by the date of issuance of writ, rather than immediately prior to Nomination Day, as suggested by the Commission.
CANDIDATES FROM STATUTORY BOARDS, GOVERNMENT COMPANIES
For applicants from “Fifth Schedule” entities - namely key statutory boards and Government companies like the CPF Board, Housing and Development Board and Temasek - the Government agreed that the terms “Chairman” and “Chief Executive Officer” should be replaced by “most senior executive position”.
It also agreed that the threshold for new statutory boards to qualify for addition to the Fifth Schedule should also be updated to S$500 million in tandem with that for private sector companies. The White Paper noted that the Government also “intends to harmonise the position, so that a uniform framework is applied to all Fifth Schedule entities, regardless of whether they are statutory boards or Government companies".
The Government further agreed with the Commission on the “deliberative track” - which qualifies candidates if they satisfy the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) that they have held an office which has given them the necessary experience and ability for Presidential duties.
Not only will the Government make the necessary amendments to clarify that this deliberative track applies equally to both private and public sector applicants, it will also seek to require that the PEC take their performance into consideration. “The Committee should be able to refuse to certify an applicant if it is satisfied that he has performed poorly in the office he held,” according to the White Paper.
Additionally, the Government agreed with the Commission to allow applicants to aggregate their qualifying tenures - but not across private and public sectors. “Aggregation should be limited to a maximum of two separate periods, during which a person has held a relevant office or offices; and periods of office that are for not less than one year each.”
The Commission’s suggestion to add three members to the PEC - a legal expert nominated by the Chief Justice; a past or current Council of Presidential Advisers member nominated by the Chairman; and a private-sector nominee nominated by the Prime Minister - was also accepted.
Other accepted recommendations on how to enhance the qualifying process included making publicly available the application forms furnished by successful applicants, and for the PEC to furnish - but not publicise - reasons for denying an applicant a Certificate of Eligibility.
“CAUTIOUS, CAREFUL” IN OTHER AREAS
However the Government did not agree with the Commission’s recommendations to remove the qualifying offices of the Accountant-General and Auditor-General. The Commission had said that these officeholders “play ancillary and comparatively narrower roles, compared to the other offices”.
“The Government will retain the existing position for now, and reconsider whether the two offices should be removed at a future point in time,” it said.
Another suggestion by the Commission, to extend a candidate’s minimum tenure in a qualifying office to six years, was similarly rejected. “The Government agrees that it is important that applicants be required to have spent adequate time in a qualifyìng office. At the same time, the precise minimum duration to be set is ultimately a question of balance,” read the White Paper.
“Given the concurrent changes to other aspects of eligibility criteria, the Government prefers to adopt a cautious approach, and retain the qualifying tenure at three years at this time.”
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event on Thursday evening, Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said: "A person who has been in a top job for three years would have had to do a number things in the private sector before he reaches that level, so there would (have been) substantial experience."
Additionally, the Government did not agree with the Commission’s proposal to stipulate that an applicant’s entire qualifying tenure should fall within a 15-year period preceding Nomination Day.
“The Government agrees with the Commission's recommendation to introduce a currency requirement. It is important that an applicant's experience remains sufficiently relevant,” it said. “In setting the ‘look back’ duration, the Government would prefer to proceed cautiously, particularly as it is a new requirement.
“In the Government's view, as long as an applicant's qualifying tenure falls wholly or partly within 20 years of the relevant Presidential election, his experience may be considered suitably current.”
Mr Shanmugam reiterated that the Government took a "slightly cautious approach" when considering suggestions on the eligibility criteria for future Presidential candidates.
Speaking on the Commission's proposal that an applicant’s entire qualifying tenure should fall within a 15-year period, Mr Shanmugam said: "We think that might narrow down the field too much, might be too drastic."
The next step is for the Government to table a bill to Parliament to amend the Constitution, which will then be debated and voted upon. Once Parliament passes the Bill, it will become law.