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Finance Minister's explanation does not answer question.

Deliberations of President shrouded in mystery

Andrew Loh

The question of how the President approved the Government’s request to use the reserves was brought up in Parliament by Mr Low Thia Khiang, secretary-general of the Workers’ Party. Charging that the President’s second key “unlocks automatically” when the Government asks for it to be unlocked, Mr Low and other MPs asked for more transparency in the deliberations of the President and the Council of Presidential Advisers.

However, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in reply, explained the principles for seeking the President’s approval instead:

First, a government should only draw on past reserves in very exceptional situations, for example, when external events or crises pose a threat to Singapore’s economy or society. Second, the measures to be funded should be of a temporary nature.

The question of what steps the President took, or the process and reasons by which the President approved the Government’s request to use the reserves is left unanswered.

Mr Tharman instead explained that “this is a system that relies on trust in the individuals who are in charge, including those appointed to the CPA and the Elected President.

He further asked:

Do you trust them? Have they made decisions wisely? Has the government been acting responsibly?

The question thus remains: What were the President’s reasons for approving the reserves, and what process did he go through to approve it?

Below is an excerpt from the report by Channel NewsAsia:

"The concern arises over the way the 2—key system operates. It seems the 2—key system operates simultaneously at the same time. When the government key says "unlock", the other key unlocks automatically," said Low Thia Khiang, MP for Hougang.

Mr Tharman said: "This is not a ’wayang’ (show)... The point is: the President, advised by the CPA (Council of Presidential Advisers), makes an independent and careful judgement on the government’s case."

MP for Tampines GRC, Irene Ng, said: "Can I ask the minister whether the process can be refined and improved further so that in future we can make the process more transparent — that the public knows that the institution of the President is one that is strong, and that it can exercise an independent turn of the key."

Inderjit Singh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: "What’s missing is the process that the President took after he got briefed by the government. If we could get a sense of what they discussed and what process they went through to decide, then this may clear many of these questions."

But Mr Tharman said: "I’m not sure why it is relevant. At the end of the day, this is a system that is different from Norway and Australia, where as much detail as possible is provided.

"This is a system that relies on trust in the individuals who are in charge, including those appointed to the CPA and the Elected President. Do you trust them? Have they made decisions wisely? Has the government been acting responsibly?"

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