Presidential Elections Committee refutes George Goh’s claims regarding eligibility rationale

SINGAPORE: In a recent turn of events surrounding the upcoming presidential elections, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) has countered businessman George Goh’s claims regarding the rationale behind his eligibility rejection.

“On Friday (18 Aug), amid rising media attention, the committee emphasized its stance on the decision regarding Mr Goh’s application for a Certificate of Eligibility, which is required for a candidate to run for the presidency.

Goh, the founder of Harvey Norman Ossia, stood out as the only aspirant among the four public bidders for the Singapore presidency who did not receive the said certificate.

The three other candidates who got their COEs include Ng Kok Song, former GIC chief investment officer; Tan Kin Lian, ex-NTUC Income chief executive; and ex-Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In a statement released by Mr Goh’s media team earlier on Friday, it was alleged that the PEC adopted “a very narrow interpretation of the requirements without explaining the rationale behind its decision.”

In detail, the statement from Goh’s team argued that the PEC dismissed a “very strong case” that illustrated Mr Goh’s vast experience in managing five companies, all of which purportedly fulfilled the shareholders’ equity and profitability benchmarks.

According to Singapore’s Constitution, presidential candidates from the private sector must have a minimum of three years of experience as the CEO of a company.

This company must have maintained an average shareholders’ equity of at least S$500 million and consistently turned a profit.

Mr Goh had applied for eligibility via the private sector “deliberative track”, specifically under section 19(4)(b)(2) of the Singapore constitution, citing five companies he spearheaded over three years, with a claimed cumulative shareholders’ equity of S$1.521 billion.

However, some analysts have previously voiced uncertainty regarding whether an applicant can amalgamate the average shareholder equity from various companies to meet the outlined criterion.

The ambiguity arises from the Singapore Constitution‘s reference to “a private sector organisation”, as opposed to multiple “private sector organisations”.

Notably, before the 2016 revisions, the PEC could have had the discretion to evaluate Mr Goh’s application as it did for Mr Tan Jee Say in the 2011 Presidential Election. But in its current phrasing, the PEC is bound by the definitions within the constitution.

In a bid to address the controversy head-on, the PEC, in a media release on Friday night, announced its decision to publicize its letter to Mr Goh.

This letter would shed light on its rationale for denying him the certificate of eligibility.

In the release, the PEC emphasized that the Constitution mandates the committee to gauge whether an applicant has derived experience and capability from directing a single, prominent private sector entity.

“The experience and ability that comes from managing multiple smaller private sector organisations is not equivalent to this,” stated the PEC.

The committee’s evaluation determined that the five companies presented by Mr Goh did not qualify as “a single private sector organisation”.

While the Elections Department made it clear on Friday morning that reasons for any rejections wouldn’t be disclosed publicly, following the 2016 Constitutional Commission’s guidelines, it did note that unsuccessful contenders, like Mr Goh, could access the Committee’s reasoning and subsequently opt for disclosure.

The rationale behind this practice is to prevent potential contenders from being deterred due to a potential “fear of embarrassment”.

Reacting to the PEC’s verdict, a disheartened Mr Goh remarked, “it is a very sad day.”

Nevertheless, he expressed no remorse over his decision to participate. Mr Goh also mentioned an advisory group comprising “top people in Singapore” that had bolstered his confidence in qualifying.

Challenging the PEC’s decision during a press conference at his residence, he said, “Are you saying they’re all wrong? Cannot be. They’re all from the system. I cannot accept the decision given by them. I personally think it’s not a fair decision.”

PEC statement_18 Aug 2023

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