Sunday, August 7, 2011

PE: President constitutionally obliged to act on advice of Cabinet: President Nathan

SINGAPORE: Amid ongoing public discussion on the role of the Elected Presidency, President S R Nathan has reiterated that the office has its constitutional obligations.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Mr Nathan said these include acting on the advice of the Cabinet and of the Council of Presidential Advisers on matters under the Constitution.

In his 12 years in office, Mr Nathan said there was never any occasion in which he had to demand information from the government.

He said: "I have absolute access. Every Cabinet meeting, every Cabinet paper has been sent to me so that have opportunity to look at them beforehand. And when I have questions and when I meet the Prime Minister or the Senior Minister periodically, we do exchange views. What I have in mind, I'll raise with him, and what they have in mind they'll raise with us, beyond the formal exchange of information."

The President has to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers when exercising his custodial and discretionary powers.

In 2009, with a global crisis in the horizon, Mr Nathan and the Council requested to be briefed by the Ministry of Finance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and relevant agencies on the potential impact on Singapore.

Mr Nathan later approved the use of past reserves to fund measures to fight the recession.

He said: "We knew that we were in a state where inevitably we had to do something. So at that stage, the government came up with the proposal of the Jobs Credit Scheme and the bank guarantees. We in our judgement and the Council of the Presidential Advisers in their judgement, felt that we had to respond and that's when the process worked. We had a formal letter from the government explaining what they wanted, and also what it was to do with the way to alleviate the consequences of this downturn. That was the stage when the Council recommended that I approved it and I did it."

The President also does not act independently when asked to grant pardons on the death penalty.

Mr Nathan said: "One would like us to and like me to exercise it freely but I've got to act on the advice of the Cabinet as provided by the Constitution. However sympathetic you may be, one has to think of the overall good of the community as against an individual. I know it is a painful exercise."

Mr Nathan said he understands the expectations that people may have of the President but he said it is not his place to comment on their views.