Tuesday, May 03, 2011

My President's Millions

A few months ago, some people reacted negatively upon learning that the worth of the Singapore President is about S$2.5 million in remuneration. They felt that the pay was unjustified, and that the President didn't do much to be worthy of such an amount.

The President's stupendous silence in the face of this criticism and the fact that he left it to the Executive to defend him also did not help his cause.

I believe the President's worth is defensible.

The President is the Defender of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. Among other things, the President has responsibility for the protection of minority rights. The President can also veto the budgets of the government and key government-linked bodies and the appointments of government nominees to key posts. Singapore's law minister has further explained, "The elected president controls a second key to our reserves so that a government cannot take something that belongs to the reserves and just spend it unwisely - this for our future generation, our children and grandchildren."

Depending on the nature of the matter, his powers are ordinarily exercised on the advice or recommendation of the Council of the Presidential Advisers or the Prime Minister / Cabinet.

However, a political party with a two-thirds majority in Parliament can easily bypass the exercise of some of these powers. In the worst-case scenario, such a dominant party can also amend the Constitution to limit the President's effectiveness.

Given a pliant media that reports in the government's interest and the sensitivities of some of the things that the President does, a lot of what the President does tends to go unreported.

Resultantly, what you find at the end of the day is a great deal of public information about the ceremonial activities of the President.

The President is not to be blamed for the lack of use of his executive powers or the lack of publicity when he does indeed use such powers. In the face of a Parliament where the party in power enjoys two-thirds majority, any such exercise of power can also easily turn out to be an exercise in futility. Thus, in light of the prevailing political climate, the President is best positioned to merely carry out his ceremonial role.

The voter that returns the ruling party with a hegemonic prominence in Parliament must bear this burden of an allegedly unworthy President worth millions.

Dharmendra Yadav

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