Singapore’s government has proposed legislative reforms to the nation’s Constitution, which, if passed, will allow the President and ministers to accept appointments within foreign and international organizations in their personal capacities.
This move, initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and presented to parliament on Monday, is said to amplify Singapore’s diplomatic influence and serve the national interest more effectively on the global stage.
The proposed amendments, encapsulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill, address the current constitutional constraints that prohibit the President from participating in public roles in a private capacity.
The changes seek to empower the President to take up such roles based on the Cabinet’s advice, aligning with the national interest. Furthermore, these roles must not conflict with existing constitutional prohibitions, such as engaging in commercial enterprises, which is currently barred under Article 19A(1) of the Constitution.
The Cabinet’s role is also highlighted in these amendments, as it will provide guidance to the President on actions and statements in these roles and possess the authority to advise the President to relinquish any such position if deemed necessary. This aspect, according to PMO, underscores the government’s intent to maintain a balance between the President’s autonomy in these roles and the overarching national priorities.
Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s President since 14 September, following a sweeping victory in the elections, has been an exemplar of Singaporean leadership in global organizations.
Even before his presidency, he held esteemed positions, such as the chairmanship of the G30’s board of trustees, co-chairing the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, membership on the advisory board for the UN Human Development Report, and involvement with the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees.
He currently holds these positions despite the constraints in the constitution.
Mr Tharman’s tenure as the chair of the International Monetary and Financial Committee from 2011 to 2014, marked as the first Asian to hold this position.
Parallel to the President, the Bill also proposes a similar framework for ministers, who are not currently restricted from serving in foreign and international organizations privately.
However, they are still bound by Article 33 of the Constitution, which prevents them from holding any office of profit or engaging in commercial activities.
The Prime Minister will have the responsibility to assess whether it is in the national interest for a minister to accept and hold a position in such capacities and is authorized to permit or instruct ministers regarding their roles.
The PMO clarifies that these constitutional amendments aim for comprehensive coverage across high-level government roles, ensuring that Singapore’s engagement on the international front is both effective and transparent.
To this end, any such appointments or resignations by the President or ministers will be documented in the government gazette, providing an official record of Singapore’s expanding diplomatic endeavours.
While Singapore is honored to have a President who is internationally recognized, netizens have questioned the legality of amending the constitution to accommodate such roles, given that Mr Tharman was already holding these appointments prior to his swearing-in as President.