Thursday, 21 September 2023

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George Goh stands firm on his eligibility for Singapore Presidency

SINGAPORE — Entrepreneur and presidential aspirant George Goh has emphasised that his bid for the Singapore presidency was not on a whim, and he has been advised that his professional experience qualifies him as a candidate for the upcoming Singapore presidential election.

In a statement on Thursday, the 63-year-old’s media team, said that  “a team of professionals, including lawyers, to gauge his qualifications for the post and has been advised that the stable of companies which he manages, taken together, would enable him to qualify under Article 19(4)(b).”

“Mr Goh did not enter the contest on a whim. It was a decision made seven years ago after he observed that changes to the Constitution stacked the odds against a private-sector candidate, especially businessmen, contesting the election,” Mr Goh’s media team said.

The team added, “Mr Goh is mindful that it is up to the PEC (Presidential Elections Committee) to decide his eligibility, and he will not publicly disclose further details of his case beyond the comments above.”

George Goh owned more than 100 companies, says media team

In Mr Goh’s press release to the media on Monday, it was stated that he has owned more than 100 companies, including five that he listed on the stock exchanges of Singapore and the United Kingdom, in addition to acquiring two other companies, which were also publicly listed.

In total, they have a collective market capitalisation value of S$3.15 billion. While none of his companies individually meet the S$500 million equity requirement for a candidate from the private sector, Mr Goh plans to submit the records of all companies he has been associated with to the Presidential Elections Committee.

Based on the annual reports by Ossia International, where Mr Goh is the group executive chairman, its shareholders’ equity averaged about S$50 million from 2021 to 2023. The other being Hatten Land Limited, with RM328.9 million (S$95.7 million).

The other companies Goh is known to be associated with had lesser shareholders’ equity.

Section 4(b) and Section 5(b) of the Article 19 of the Singapore Consitution outline the qualifications needed for a candidate from the private sector to run for the presidency.

Section 4(b) stipulates that:

  1. A candidate must have served for a minimum of 3 years in a position in a private sector organisation.
  2. The Presidential Elections Committee must determine, based on the nature of the position, the size and complexity of the organisation, and the candidate’s performance, that the candidate has comparable experience and ability to a person who has served as the CEO of a company with at least the minimum required shareholders’ equity and meets the qualifications under paragraph (a).
  3. The Committee must also be satisfied that the candidate possesses the experience and ability to carry out the duties of the office of the President, considering any other relevant factors.

Section 5(b) imposes restrictions on relying on service in two companies:

  1. If a candidate wants to rely on their service as the CEO of two different companies, the periods of service considered must be the most recent ones at each company, disregarding any period of service less than a year.
  2. Each company must, on average, meet the minimum shareholders’ equity requirement for the periods of service under consideration.
  3. Clause 4(a)(iii) and 4(a)(iv) apply to each company without modification.

Depending on the interpretation of Section 19(5)(b), the provision seems to restrict the reference of companies to a maximum of two that have an average of S$500 million.

Goh firmly believes in his qualification

Mr Goh reiterated his belief on Tuesday after collecting the application form for the Certificate of Eligibility, “I believe I am qualified.”

At a doorstop interview outside the Elections Department at Novena, Mr Goh told the media, “In due course, I will submit the number of companies I founded, incorporated, am a shareholder of, am a founding member of… I’ll compile them and submit to the Presidential Elections Committee.”

Unfazed by the listing of Ossia International on the SGX-ST watch list, Mr Goh dismissed its potential impact on his candidacy, assuring, “This is only one of the listed companies… it’s not going to affect my eligibility.”

When queried about the implications of not “clearly qualifying” on his credibility and chances, Mr Goh reemphasised his belief in his ability to meet the criteria. “In due course… we will know the answer,” he confidently stated.

The PEC, as demonstrated in the case of Mr Tan Jee Say during the 2011 Presidential Election, holds the power to grant a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to Mr Goh. The committee previously deemed Mr Tan’s position at AIB Govett (Asia) Limited as one of comparable seniority and responsibility to a Chief Executive Officer.

Furthermore, the Committee opines that Mr Tan’s company, despite not meeting the S$100 million paid-up capital requirement, is an organization with complexity comparable to Singapore-based companies with a paid-up capital of S$100 million.

If he eventually qualifies, Mr Goh will compete against Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who announced on 8 June his intent to resign from the Government and the People’s Action Party on 7 July to contest the election.

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