25 August 2011

Much ado about an Elected President

We hereby state our disinterest and lack of interest in the current election for the Elected President of Singapore.

We might as well vote for a potted plant or a mascot

As the minister of law Mr K Shanmugam has pointed out, the president can be very easily rendered powerless by the cabinet. If the minister - who speaks presumably for the prime minister on this issue - sees the eventual winner of Saturday's election as unsuitable for the post, all respect can go out of the window. The full letter of the law can be ridiculously and unreasonably applied to ensure the president doesn't even have leave to speak to the public on any issue, thank you very much.

Mr K Shanmugam is either the cleverest man in Singapore or its most stupidest man alive. In one single stroke, the minister of law shows any leaders of a future 'rogue government' how to bypass that famed "guardian of the reserves". Either the president is a superman with the power to clamp down the government or he is a potted plant whose presence and function is tolerated by the government. There are no two ways about it - and the law minister and the Ministry of Law has weighed in his legal interpretation that the president is as good as a potted plant. Or a merlion mascot.

The President is guardian of nothing

Once the elected president was the guardian of the reserves of Singapore. Then the constitution was changed so that the president is the guardian of only the current reserves. In one fell swoop, the government negated the meaning of the presidency - though the citizens of Singapore and even the candidates for its 4th election/selection seem unaware.

As 'defined' by the constitution, the current reserves is whatever the sitting government of the day has put in and the past reserves is whatever the government put in the previous parliamentary sessions. Even though the reserves are in fact the earnings of all Singaporeans, the president is only allowed to safeguard, have power and cognizance over the 'past reserves'.

That is all and well if you assume that 'reserves' are money that are locked up safely in a bank. They are not. A large part of our past reserves are in the form of physical assets (like state land) and investments (like shares bought by GIC). Yet investment income and interest is treated as current income, and so are proceeds from sales of land.

In practice, the distinction between past reserves and current reserves is a weak and manufactured one. Need to sell land to keep up or push down property prices? GIC sells off its stake in a bank? You just helped to convert past reserves to current reserves and now the president is guardian of less before the sale.

What does it matter that a president is not guardian of the current reserves? One can imagine a scenario where a rogue government comes into power tomorrow. Why should it rob the entire reserves, killing the goose that laid the golden egg? Why not use the current reserves to ensure that every 5 years come election time, it'll have a private war chest of pork barrel projects to throw at voters? While in between elections, its MPs vote themselves comfortable a pay raise that it will no doubt find some stupid reason to justify? Why should we even assume this isn't already done by the ruling PAP?

My friends, the president is either guardian of all the reserves or he is guardian of nothing. I would have endorsed any candidate who would fight for this in his election platform. No candidate has!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Much ado indeed!

However, must say
it was enjoyable
watching the much
ado going on.