A Tale of Two Jokers

Joker #1: Andrew Kuan

Media reports say that Andrew Kuan is going to make a second bid for President. It adds that he thinks he now qualifies for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) because as CFO of JTC, he was required to present its accounts to the Govt under the JTC Act.

Notwithstanding the public sliming he got from Govt leaders in the last Election, which was quite unnecessary, Mr Kuan appears to have a language comprehension problem.

He was rejected a COE the last time round because the Committee said the position of CFO is not equivalent to that of CEO.

Which part of “not equivalent” does Mr Kuan not understand?

That the JTC Act requires the CFO to present its accounts to the Govt does not make the position of the CFO equivalent to that of the CEO.

The CFO’s main job is to ensure that a company has sufficient funds to run its operations. The CFO also prepares the financial statements and takes responsibility for its accuracy.

That’s why the Act requires the CFO to present the accounts to the Govt. But taking responsibility for the accuracy of the accounts is not the same as taking responsibility for what the accounts show in terms of profit and loss.

That responsibility and accountability rests squarely on the shoulders of the CEO. It is the CEO who has the authority to make strategic decisions, and the responsibility and accountability for a company’s performance.

Thus the Committee’s decision to deny him a COE in 2005 was absolutely right.

If this the only justification he can give after an interval of six years, all it shows is that he has learnt nothing and done nothing to make himself qualify for President.

Joker #2: Tan Jee Say

I don’t know what to say! [stamp feet]

Mr Tan thinks he qualifies for a COE because he was a fund manager for over $100M of assets under management.

The man is a scholar, so he can’t be stupid. So why does he think that a fund manager position is equivalent to that of a CEO of a $100M company, which could easily have a $1B in sales?

First, $100 AUM is really not that big. Second, it’s other people’s money, not equity. Third, a fund manager is not a CEO-equivalent. At best, a fund manager is a good investment adviser/manager.

I’d rather Mr Tan argued that the position of Principal Private Secretary is equivalent to that of a head of a stat board. Anyone who’s watched Yes Minister will agree. He could argue that the Superscale Grade of a PPS is equivalent to that of a Stat Board CEO.

No, I don’t think Mr Tan is serious about his bid.

I think the real reason Mr Tan joined the Presidential race is so that he can have a plausible reason to quit SDP. He didn’t buy in to SDP’s civil disobedience tactic, so this is a face-saving way for both sides to part ways.

Question is, which party will Mr Tan hop to in 2016?


About politicalwritings

Someone who sees beyond PAP and "opposition" in Singapore politics. To understand more please see the Top 10 link below.
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24 Responses to A Tale of Two Jokers

  1. Leow says:

    I disagree with your comments on Tan Jee Say. The job of the President is to safeguard the reserves, much like how a fund managers looks after other people’s money. Tan Jee Say’s argument is therefore quite plausible.

    Instead of aiming your ridicule at the Andrew Kuan and Tan Jee Say, you should cast a critical light on the qualification criteria for the Presidency. It is clear that they are overkill and put in place to ensure that only establishment or ex-establishment folks would qualify.

    • Thanks for comments. I am ridiculing TJS’s lack of understanding of the qualifying criteria as they now stand. I make no comment abt the appropriateness of the criteria. I do note that successful people in Singapore tend to be establishment types. I see nothing wrong in the criteria themselves. The wrong thing I see is anti-PAP types trying to change the Presidency into an opposition position, which is wrong. No matter how much one dislikes PAP, the President’s office is not the right place to “check and balance” the PAP.

  2. Leong says:

    I disagree with both your points that the President’s office is not the right place to “check and balance” the PAP and that there is nothing wrong with the criteria themselves.

    Firstly, unless you are referring to the political power alone, wasn’t the Presiden’t Office set up in the first place by PAP to “check and balance” ANY GOVT of the day especially with regards to our reserves ? Remember one thing, our reserves and public funds are the same and to say that they need separate keys to unlock them is simply bullshit to me. So if the govt is headed by some ‘opaque’ politicians who are up to no good with any of our reserves or public funds, like that of Chen Shui Bian, are you saying that the President can’t even raise any relevant question to serve as a starting point to “check and balance” on any govt, never mind whether it is PAP or otherwise ?

    We know that the President is SUPPOSED to be in a neutral position making wise decisions in the best interests of all Singaporeans, NOT just the self interests of PAP alone or any other govt of the day, so to speak. If the President can’t even “check and balance” PAP or ANY GOVT of the day for that matter, why do we need to spend probably tens of millions a year to maintain the President and his Office ?

    Secondly the overkill criteria for the President to be an ex-CEO who has managed more than S$100m capital as it tends to limit the choice to a small circle of pro-establishment figures because how may ex-CEOs from private corporations and independent of the establishment can we really attract to a job perceived to be “cutting ribbons and attending ceremonies” ? Moreover It is not as if the position itself requires the President to be running the President’s office as a CEO anyway making day-to-day corporate and executive decisions, why need for a ex-CEO then ? Then why S$100m CEO ? And why S$99m CEO cannot ?

    If there is nothing wrong with the criteria themselves, so are they saying, for example, a retired judge who has never managed S$100m in his entire life does not made a better President than the current one ? This overkill requirement is a bad start to begin with, as it would have excluded many exemplary and selfless persons who would have otherwise given us a better and wider choice to be elected as a good President for the interests of all Singaporeans. And people in the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Teng Xiaoping or even Chen Show Mao can’t even request for the application forms because they will be laughed at like a joker !

    There are so many ambiguous questions publicly raised regarding our the position of our President which have never been addressed by our Govt. But when our Govt seems not too interested to address any of these concerns, it begs the question whether our President’s office was really established for the real good of Singapore and not the self interests of some individual ?

    Maybe LKY can enlighten us in another book the real hard truth about our Singapore’s President ?

    • Thanks for comments. But this post is not about the appropriateness of the criteria, so I will not respond to those comments.

      However, I note that if CEOs of non-GLC’s do not wish to stand for President, it’s not a fault of the criteria themselves. If they don’t want to cut ribbons, that’s their problem.

      The President’s powers are clear– to approve or reject key civil service appts, to order CPIB to continue investigation even against the Prime Ministers’ wish, to release ISA detainees even against the PM’s wishes, and to approve or reject budgets for GLC’s and government bodies when they require a drawdown of past reserves, and to approve any drawdown of past reserves.

      While these budget powers are a check and balance, they are a prudential check and balance– not a political one. In the 18 years of Ong Teng Cheong and Nathan’s presidencies, the Govt has only ever applied to draw down the reserves once, during the global financial crisis.

      In all likelihood the Govt will not need to apply for another drawdown of reserves. Which means Tan Jee Say, if elected, would not have any chance to question the Govt.

      My take on Tan Jee Say, especially the anger he has displayed to date, is that he wants to use the Presidency as a platform to speak out against the PAP. That is wrong.

      The appropriate place to challenge the Govt is in Parliament, not from the Office of the President.

      • Loh says:

        The whole idea of having an elected president is to check a rogue government. How can such a post not be political?

    • If you understand the idea of check and balance, then you’ll know that some checks and balances are non-political. Eg the Court serves as a check and balance on the Govt, ie to make sure everything it does is Constitutional and it does not exceed its powers under the law. But the Courts cannot and do not make political statements about the appropriateness of laws, and certainly it makes no commentary on hot issues such as the mandatory death penalty.

      The President is supposed to discharge his powers in this way too. On a prudential basis. Not a political questioning of govt policy.

      BTW, don’t get conned by the “rogue”/”profligate” govt BS.

  3. Loh says:

    Adding on to what Leong wrote – 2 of our most well-respected presidents, Benjamin Shears and Wee Kim Wee wouldn’t qualify under the current criteria.

    • Some people like you continue to be sore at this. The fact is that Yusof Ishak, Benjamin Sheares, Wee Kim Wee, etc. were just ceremonial presidents. They were well-loved for their humility and their compassion, but they were just ceremonial presidents.

      The world has changed. The President is no longer meant to be just a ceremonial role. Hence there are new requirements for a new role.

      Why can’t you accept that?

      The President is not just meant to cut ribbons any more. It’s to ensure the govt is not corrupt (ie blocking CPIB investigations or appointing incompetents or its own cronies to key civil service positions) and not reckless (ie spending well beyond its means by drawing down on past reserves).

      Wee Kim Wee et al never had to perform such functions.

  4. Leong says:

    If you think that this post is not about arguing the appropriateness of the criteria, it would have serve you better in your argument if you have not commented that there is nothing wrong with the criteria themselves. Now that you are unwilling to respond to take your arguments further, it gives me the impression that you are not being objective in your arguments about TJS either.

    You can’t have the cake and just eat it, too.

    • The original post was not about the appropriateness of the criteria themselves. In my reply I did state I do not find anything wrong in the criteria. Since you want me to state the reason, it’s very simple– this is a custodial position to hold prudential checks on the Govt. No different from a key appt such as a Court of Appeal judge who also holds the power to check the Govt. We require that such Judges be appropriately well-qualified to assume their posts. I do not see why we should expect any less of the President.

      As to whether the criteria should be $100M or $99M, these are nitpicking. Those who complain why it should be $100M or why the position should be CEO not CFO or why it should be three years minimum and not two years are missing the point. And that is, whatever cutoff point you set, someone will be cut off, and that person and his supporters will not be happy.

      As to whether fund managers should be qualified for the job, please remember that this is not a fund manager’s job. The President has no say in how GIC funds are managed, and he can’t even question Temasek on its returns. His only job is to assess the merits of any drawdown of past reserves.

      As mentioned, in all likelihood the PAP may never turn to the President for a drawdown of past reserves in his six years of office. But he can overrule the Govt on key civil service appts, ISA detentions and CPIB investigations.

  5. Loh says:

    So Temasek can lose all our money in bad investments and the president can’t do a thing about it? Then what’s the use of his custodial powers?

    You have bought into the ruling party’s propaganda. Just imagine for a moment if the Workers’ Party had won the election and became government. Do you think the PAP would stll insist that the president has to act on the advice of the cabinet and has no real powers to instigate anything? Come on……

    • You are mistaken.

      1. If WP comes into power, then PAP can’t say anything, so there’s nothing for them to insist.

      2. The Constitution is very clear on when the President has to act on the Cabinet’s advice and when he has discretion. That is not for the PAP or any other party to say. If you don’t understand this, please consult a Constitutional lawyer.

      3. Temasek can lose every single $$ and the President has no powers to question. If you don’t understand this, please consult a Constitutional lawyer.

      4. Lastly, I do not buy into the “rogue/profligate” govt crap from the PAP for a very simple reason. A govt does not have to dip into past reserves to do nasty things. If the govt has not enough money, it can simply raise taxes. The President can’t stop that. Or the Govt can borrow and have the budget go into deficit– the President can’t stop that either. It’s just like what the US Govt does every year, deficit spending.

      Or it can cut the size of the Civil Service, to reduce costs. Or it can reduce spending, eg spend less on education or healthcare, etc. even if it means worse services for the public.

      It can do 101 things the President cannot question, and the small Opposition in Parliament is too weak to check.

      That’s why I personally don’t think too much of the President’s role. I think it’s a waste of good money. I’d much rather have a strong opposition able to check the PAP effectively.

      Notwithstanding the above, as the role currently stands, there are some powers the President has, and if these are serious powers vested in one person to be exercised only at his sole discretion, with no judicial review possible, then it is reasonable to have eligibility criteria for such a person.

      But I’m not going to comment on the appropriateness of the criteria themselves.

  6. Loh says:

    So if you don’t believe the purpose of having an elected president is to check a rogue government, why do you think LKY pushed so hard for the post to be created in the first place? Why did he want to create an elected presidency when at that time, no one else saw a need for one?

    • This post is about why Tan Jee Say wants to run despite not meeting the criteria for President.

      I’m not going to digress into LKY’s motivations.

      Anyway, I don’t know LKY enough to guess him.

  7. Daft Singaporean says:

    Whether these are jokers or not is immaterial. The minimum Singaporeans should demand for is a total accountable and transparent government to its people and only to its people. Whatever PAP did or is going to do to perpetuate its rule has violated this minimum requirement that Singaporeans are demanding. EP is just another wayang and worthless except its cost of more than $4m a year. I will not vote just because PAP created an EP for this reason. Singaporeans should ignore and not go to such a wayang poll so that a strong signal can be sent to this opaque government to protest for its abuse of constitutional amendment and citizen rights. The only good thing this EP bring is an extra public holiday.

  8. tk says:

    Well wayang or not is immaterial now. The EP is still going ahead, so I’ll play along.
    Nathan say the more the merrier.
    I say the more they reject, the messier it will be (for PAP).
    Bring on the show, and I’m just really glad that TJS or TKL or TCB, we will get to test the legitimacy of PEC and they better play fair and open to the citizens. If we end up with TT or just two contestants, we will at least gain some insights into this whole farce which has been largely opaque and a circus so far.

  9. Chee Ken Wing says:

    I don’t think TJS and AK are “jokers”. Without these people applying, there will never be clarity on the qualifying criteria. Just what is this supposed to mean in terms of qualification of candidates who have been active in the private sector?

    (iv) in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.

    If nobody is ever able to qualify based on (iv), then they might as well make an amendment to the Constitution to remove it entirely.

    • Thanks for comments. But I doubt these two jokers are doing this to “clarify” the criteria for us.

      • Lee says:

        politicalwritings says:
        “I’m not going to digress into LKY’s motivations.
        Anyway, I don’t know LKY enough to guess him.”

        And somehow you know these two men well enough to guess their motivations… Hah. Regardless of what you think their true motives are, they have certainly done an excellent job in bringing up the issue of the unfair qualifying criteria (of which I, and I believe most other Singaporeans, have been previously unaware)

        politicalwritings replies:
        “Thanks for comments. I disagree that the criteria are unfair. You expect a Supreme Court judge to be well-versed in law, don’t you? You expect an architect to have good professional qualifications, right? So a president whose key role os to safeguard $$ reserves and protect the integrity of the civil service ought to have high qualifications.

        “You see this position as a political position to challenge the PAP. Thus you think the criteria are designed to keep out opposition candidates.

        “But I don’t see a role for the President to challenge the PAP. Indeed, it would be sad if the President was constantly fighting the PAP. That’s not the role of the President. That’s the role of the Opposition, and it is why they are called Opposition.

        “That’s why I don’t see these criteria as unfair.”

  10. useless president says:

    The President Of Sin is useless in my opinion as a citizen.
    He cannot act independently.
    The President Of Sin has to be ‘guided’ by presidential
    advisers and whatever he(the President) initiates can be
    nullified or disapprove by the Cabinet with a majority
    opposing the President’s decision.

    • Thanks for comments. But you’re wrong on the last pt. The President’s discretionary decision cannot be challenged by the Cabinet. However, I think it’s possible for a 2/3 majority to overturn. That’s why its so impt to have more than 1/3 opposition in Parliament.

  11. useless president says:

    In any case, it is always wise not to give any single political party the majority in any general election.
    Just a personal view, by the way.

  12. limcy says:

    whether all four Tans get the COE is nice to watch and PEC will have to track carefully. In Singapore, nothing happen suddenly, evertything is planned for, we will have election, no walk
    over this time and my take that only two tans will get the free COE TT and TCB as PAP will still
    feel safe even if TCB wins. TJS is too dangerous and TKL is un-predictable. The best is TT wins
    and we can all close shop and wait for another 6 years. Then, he will apply again to re-run and we
    will have to wait long long for next Tan Ku Ku to come up.

    Anyway, it is nice educational experience on what EP is and the whole country and citizen will be
    more aware of its roles and responsibilities.

  13. snkbc says:

    Mr Andrew Kuan & Mr Tan Jee Say certainly are not jokers. They are Singaporeans, availing themselves to Singaporeans offering more political choices. In fact I think they are honorable and brave.

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