Photo from Mdm Halimah Yacob's Facebook page.

Does the Office of the President come with a code of conduct?

Despite having virtually zero political power, the office of the President is still an office that is imbued with prestige in Singapore. The President is after all, still the official head of state in Singapore and that position in itself carries an air of dignity. With that in mind, I query if it is appropriate for our current President to be seen endorsing a particular product over another. Will the President’s endorsement of Milo Kosong provide Milo with an unfair edge over its competitors? Also, does it cheapen the office of the President?

I appreciate that Madam Halimah may well have decided to support Milo Kosong because they had taken up her suggestion of creating a sugar free version of the beloved drink. However, given that she is now the Head of State, she ought to have realised that she no longer has a private capacity. Everything that she does in public will be done and seen to be done as in her capacity as the President of the Republic of Singapore. With that in mind, can the President’s endorsement of a particular product be seen as providing an unfair advantage to Milo? Shouldn’t the office of the President be seen at all times as neutral, above petty commercialism and politics?

Besides, Milo is not the only company that produces sugar free beverages. How do its competitors feel about our President openly favouring Milo? Can this endorsement be deemed anti-competition?

The President’s office is an official position of state. The sitting President is therefore not some sort of influencer or celebrity. In some ways, her public endorsement of Milo does cheapen the dignity of the office. What are the official guidelines that govern the President’s conduct while in office?

I am also unsure as to the appropriateness of the President performing at the President’s Star Charity While it is for a good cause, the office of the President has to take precedence over Madam Halimah as an individual. Should the office be seen as entertainment for public consumption? By all means, the President should say a few words. It is after all a charitable event organised in the name of her office. Singing on stage, however, might be a step too far. There is, after all, a difference between making a speech and performing a public jig.

Some may feel that I am being unduly harsh and perhaps I am. But from my standpoint, the position of the President is an official role funded by the public purse. There should, therefore, be certain codes of conduct that comes with the office. Dignity, Impartiality and respect are part of the office and providing advertising for products, or performing singing acts do not gel with the sanctity of that office.