The are no two ways about it. The secret stays secret.
Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh tried again in Parliament yesterday, asking to be enlightened about the size of Singapore’s reserves.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat considered the question superfluous, telling the story told before of why it could not be answered, for national security and strategic reasons.
He told Pritam off: “It is neither in the interest of Singapore or Singaporeans to repeatedly ask about the size of our reserves. We are in the middle of a storm, and I’m very disappointed that Mr Pritam Singh has used this occasion to raise this question again.”
We can trace it all back to more than 20 years ago, when President Ong Teng Cheong’s dispute with the government started after he ordered a report on the national reserves. He was met with a stone wall, the government declaring that it would take 56 man years to produce a dollar and cents value of its assets.
As President Ong would later recount: “I had a job to do, whether the government liked it or not . . . You see, if you ask me to protect the reserves, then you’ve got to tell me what I’m supposed to protect. So I had to ask.”
After his six-year term ended (1993-1999), President Ong was told that the cabinet would not support him for a second six-year term. He maintained that he did not need the cabinet to support his re-election bid, but an anguished and dispirited President Ong eventually decided not to contest against the government’s candidate S R Nathan.
So it doesn’t matter whether you are the President of Singapore, vested with veto powers over the spending of national reserves or the leader of the opposition elected into Parliament to be a bridge between the people and the government. You can ask till the cows come home but you will still not get an answer.
The size of Singapore’s reserves – like the salary of Ho Ching – shall remain a state secret.