The powers of the Elected President are set out in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and these powers largely fall into two categories - discretionary powers and non-discretionary powers.
The President has the power to veto or disagree with the Government’s proposals in the following areas:
- Use of Past Reserves – i.e. Reserves not accumulated by the Government during its current term of office.
- Appointment and removal of key office holders in the public service and in the statutory boards and Government companies which are listed in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
- Changes to investment powers of the Central Provident Fund Board
- Restraining Orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (Cap. 167A)
- Continued detention under the Internal Security Act (Cap. 143)
- Refusal of investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB)
The President’s discretionary powers provide an important check and balance to the Government with regard to preventing the misuse of the nation’s reserves and ensuring that the public service is impartial.
The President must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) on matters relating to Past Reserves and the appointment and removal of key office holders (Article 21(3) of the Constitution). On other areas involving the President’s discretionary powers, consultation of CPA is optional (Article 21(4) of the Constitution).
If the President vetoes (i) the Government’s budget (on the basis that it is likely to lead to a draw on Past Reserves) or (ii) the appointment/removal of any key office holder, and the President’s decision is contrary to CPA’s advice, Parliament may overrule the President’s decision with a two-thirds majority vote.
On other matters involving the President’s discretionary powers, the President’s decision is final.
Protection of Past Reserves
The President acts as the guardian of Past Reserves – reserves that were accumulated before the current term of the Government, including reserves accumulated by key statutory boards and Government companies (SBGC) listed under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
SBGCs include GIC Pte Ltd, Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Central Provident Fund Board (CPFB) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) .
The President may exercise his discretionary power and veto any budget or specific transaction (such as the giving of guarantees or raising of loans) of the Government or a Fifth Schedule SBGC if, in his opinion, the proposed budget or transaction is likely to lead to a draw on the Past Reserves.
The President does not direct the operations or the investment strategies of the Government or the Fifth Schedule SBGCs. However, in the case of the CPF Board, the President can veto any Bill passed by the Parliament that directly or indirectly affects the Board’s investment powers.
Appointment of Key Office Holders
In the interest of ensuring the impartiality of the public sector, the President has the discretionary power to veto the appointment or removal of —
(i) key office holders in the public service listed in Article 22 of the Constitution (such as the Chief Justice, Judges of the Supreme Court, Attorney-General, Auditor-General, Director of Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, Chief of Defence Force and Commissioner of Police);
(ii) any chairman, board member or chief executive officer of a Fifth Schedule statutory board (Article 22A of the Constitution); and
(iii) any director or chief executive officer of a Fifth Schedule Government company (Article 22C of the Constitution)
ISA detention orders, CPIB investigations and restraining orders in relation to maintenance of religious harmony
The continued detention of a person under the Internal Security Act (ISA) requires the President’s concurrence if the Government disagrees with the recommendation of the advisory board (established under the ISA) that the person be released (Article 151(4) of the Constitution).
Investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) may be carried on with the President’s concurrence under Article 22G of the Constitution notwithstanding that the Prime Minister does not consent to such investigations.
Restraining orders made under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) must subsequently be confirmed by the President. The President also has the power under Article 22I of the Constitution to cancel or vary a restraining order if the advice of the Cabinet on the matter differs from the recommendation of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony (established under the MRHA).
Non-discretionary powers of the President refer to matters in which the President has no discretion and must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister. For example, the President must act in accordance with the Cabinet's advice regarding the pardon of a person convicted of an offence. The President must also act in accordance with the Prime Minister's advice on the appointment of Ministers.