SINGAPORE: A heated competition seems to be unfolding among four Presidential hopefuls regarding their capability to safeguard Singapore’s past reserves.
On Sunday (13 Aug), Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song in an interview highlighted his extensive 45-year experience in shaping Singapore’s past reserves through public service roles, positioning himself as uniquely advantageous among competitors.
He pointedly emphasized that comprehending the intricacies of safeguarding Singapore’s past reserves is “not easy to understand”.
While Ng acknowledged that former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is well-versed in the complexities of this task, he expressed his belief that the remaining potential candidates, Entrepreneur George Goh and former CEO of NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian, have yet to exhibit a comprehensive understanding.
Both Tan Kin Lian and George Goh rebuffed Ng’s statement, asserting their ability to effectively protect Singapore’s past reserves.
Tharman: the President needs to understand the economic and reserve-related issues
Even Mr Tharman himself weighed in on the debate. In a recent interview with The Straits Times on Friday (11 Aug), he emphasized that the power to release reserves isn’t the sole consideration.
The President must also comprehend the economic and reserve-related issues involved.
Tharman stressed that the decision-making process regarding reserves involves more than simply holding a “second key,” in which The government presents the situation to the President, and the latter decides whether to release the reserves or not.
“You’ve got to have a dialogue with the Government on it. And it helps to have a background where you have been deeply involved in economic policy. In fact, social policies as well are relevant, ” Mr Tharman said.
Furthermore, he underscored the need for an understanding of how to preserve reserves in a manner that serves both present and future generations, given the inevitability of future crises.
Tharman says decisions on reserve usage require “considered and calibrated judgments”
Tharman asserted that the President’s decisions on reserve usage require “considered and calibrated judgments”, rather than hasty reactions during times of crisis.
“How do we be fair to the current generation and future generations, both by protecting and using the reserves wisely in the future? We started now with Singa bonds for long-term infrastructure. That may not be the last of them,” he says.
Tharman said the President’s role in safeguarding reserves will only gain significance due to the impending challenges.
Tharman says his values remain ‘uncompromised’ all these years in government
Tharman Shanmugaratnam highlights his consistent independence and commitment to practical idealism throughout his career. He outlines his journey from youthful idealism to making adult decisions, including joining the government despite past disagreements.
“I’ve not had to compromise, all these years in government. I’ve never had to compromise my values and my basic motive for being in politics, which is to build a fairer and more socially just society. ”
“So when I say I am independent-minded, this is not something that I’m suddenly springing up with because of the presidential election. ”
“It goes back to my youth, it goes back to my career in the civil service, including the ups and downs I had, and how I stood my ground all the way through,” Tharman remarks.
Netizens expressed skepticism about Tharman’s independence from the PAP government
However, in the comments section of The Straits Times’ Facebook post, several netizens expressed scepticism about Tharman’s independence from the PAP government, considering his resignation from the PAP Cabinet in June to contest PE 2023.
A netizen questioned the extent of Tharman’s effectiveness and independence in fulfilling the role of a check and balance to the PAP-led government once elected as president.
The comment added that looking back at the tenure of Singapore’s inaugural elected president, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong, often revered as the ‘People’s President’, may offer some insights.
While Tharman asserted in his interviews with The Straits Times that he and his PAP colleagues ” spent hours debating issues”, a sceptical comment pointed out a lack of instances where Tharman criticized policies during his time in office since 2001.
Meanwhile, a self-identified Taman Jurong grassroots leader shared personal experiences of interacting with Tharman, and recalled a memorable instance during a grassroots dinner in a General Election year when Tharman acknowledged the presence of capable individuals within the Opposition and expressed hope for their contributions to the nation’s progress.
A comment suggests that Tharman’s role might be better suited as a Senior Minister or even Prime Minister, given that the presidency is often seen as ceremonial.
Interestingly, an earlier post by Tharman’s fellow presidential hopeful, George Goh, provided his perspective on the metaphorical representation of the President’s role as the ‘second key’ in terms of safeguarding reserves.
In this analogy, the primary key belongs to the PM and the cabinet, while the secondary key is positioned as the actual safeguard and oversight.
George Goh then asked, “Would you choose two other candidates whose key is exactly the same as the top key/executive? Or would you choose a truly different key?”
Tharman’s past role in releasing reserve twice amidst crisis
In times of crisis, Tharman’s involvement in the use of Singapore’s reserve was notable.
In 2008, during the global financial crisis caused by the United States housing bubble burst, he was the finance minister proposing a S$4.9 billion draw from past reserves to support jobs and encourage lending.
Additionally, he held a senior minister role, advising Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on economic policies during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
The government’s proposal to access S$69 billion of reserves to preserve jobs and lives was met with his guidance. Ultimately, S$39.7 billion was utilized from the reserves.
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