Dr Tony Tan as activist President
Aren’t Presidents supposed to be neutral on policies? As Minister Shamugam today reiterated:
LAW Minister K Shanmugam said on Friday that the process of direct elections does not change the scope of the Elected President’s powers as set out in the Constitution.
And the Constitution states that the President can speak on issues only as authorised by the Cabinet, he said at a Institute of Policy Studies forum.
Conservative voters might fear an activist President. Most people would cite Mr Tan Kin Lian as an example of a likely activist President if he won the race. But what about Dr Tony Tan? Yahoo News SG reported today that Dr Tony Tan had said the following:
“With my background in these areas… I believe that I will be able to make a contribution to and help the government and ministers involved in this to understand the situation better,” he said, adding that his experience as executive director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) has given him “intimate knowledge” of the global financial market.
Did I just read that correctly? Did Dr Tony Tan just say that he would want to give his views on the economy and he wants to help the government understand the situation better? I thought Presidents can’t say anything on issues unless the Cabinet allows them to? What kind of advice and views would someone like Dr Tony Tan give to the government? A hint: Dr Tony Tan also said the following:
“(Further appreciation of our currencies against the U.S. dollar) is serious because if that happens, the competitiveness of our economy is at stake,” he continued, noting that even at the current level of 1 U.S. dollar to 1.20 Singapore dollars, analysts predict that the margin of value will decrease further.
“It is difficult for our countries to cope if this appreciation is rapid, because you can raise productivity, you can raise skills training but you can’t do it so quickly, all of this takes time,” he said, adding that Singapore’s government is aware and is taking note of these concerns.
Get that? He said the strengthening SGD was bad for the economy, and that it made Singapore uncompetitive. Why is Dr Tony Tan allowed to prejudge MAS, Singapore’s central bank? Has MAS or Finance Minister Tharman issued any statement that they want to rein in the strong dollar? If not, why is Dr Tony Tan saying this? Will Dr Tony Tan, as President, undercut the authority of the central bank by announcing to the public that he feels the SGD needs to be weakened? Can anyone imagine the Emperor of Japan saying he feels the yen has appreciated too sharply? Or Queen Elizabeth saying that the Britain ought to devalue the pound? If you were an investor, how would you have reacted today if you heard that Dr Tony Tan, the de-facto establishment-backed candidate, say that the SGD should not appreciate further?
Apart from that he also said:
During the session, Dr Tan agreed with participants that the labour shortage is an issue that needs to be resolved by the government in order for local start-ups to flourish.
“Agencies and ministries like MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) and EDB (Economic Development Board) who are responsible for bringing foreign investments here should keep in mind the limited pool of labour which is available,” he said, although acknowledging that Singapore is already fortunate, given its low unemployment rate in comparison to countries such as Spain, where unemployment could range between 15 and 20 per cent.
Is Dr Tony Tan sending a signal that the government should open the floodgates to foreign labourers to ease labour shortage? Whatever happened to the supposed neutrality the office of the president is suppose to have?
At the end of the day it is blindingly obvious, and has been said before, that not even the establishment or the PAP ministers believe the President should be neutral. Dr Tony Tan’s surprisingly sharp activist-like statements recently shows that not even he believes that the President ought to be neutral or not interfere with government policies.
Moral of the story: You are only an activist if you disagree with government policies, but not if you advocate them long before they’re officially made public.