Friday, 10 June 2011

Why You Should Always Do Your Homework

OR have egg on your face.

Former senior minister S Jayakumar spoke to the media after the launch of his book "Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience", Prof Jayakumar said he was "surprised and disappointed at statements made by some potential candidates on what they would do if elected as the next president".

Prof Jayakumar was involved in drafting the White Papers and constitutional amendments on the Elected Presidency when he was the law minister in the 1980s.

He said some candidates seem to imply that the president is a separate centre of power, distinct from the government and that he has certain executive powers. Prof Jayakumar said this is not the case.

He said: "The president does have some discretionary custodial powers in a few areas, mainly the protection of reserves and key appointments."

He also has some custodial powers over detentions under the Internal Security Act, Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) investigations and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony restraining orders, said Prof Jayakumar.

He added: "But even in those few areas, the president has no power to initiate decisions or policy. He only has blocking powers. 

"Other than those specified areas, in all other areas, the president under the Constitution must act on the advice of the Cabinet. That is the clear legal position." 

Prof Jayakumar said it would be good if Singaporeans, especially candidates, are clear about the role of the president - what he can do and what he cannot do. "Otherwise, there may be wrong expectations about the role of the president, and we should avoid that," he added.

Prof Jayakumar’s comments on the role of the elected president also echoed the argument made by President SR Nathan.

Speaking at the end of his state visit in Mauritius on Tuesday, Mr Nathan reminded those who wish to see a more aggressive President as a check on the government that the role is one circumscribed by the Constitution.

When asked about the comparisons of his tenure with that of his predecessor, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong who had disagreements with the PAP government over the presidential powers, he said, “I know the limitations of the Constitution and what you have to do. I am not there in a boxing match.”

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