Council of Presidential Advisers

Elected Presidency: Study on how to give Council of Presidential Advisers greater say

President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the opening of Singapore’s 13th Parliament on Jan 15, 2016.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the opening of Singapore’s 13th Parliament on Jan 15, 2016.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

The council that advises the Elected President should be strengthened to make sure that Singapore's political system continues to be protected by a team rather than a single person, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

This is one of several changes to the Elected Presidency that will be studied by a constitutional commission, he announced yesterday.

The Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) is an integral part of the Elected Presidency, he noted.

It assists and advises the President so that the system relies not on him alone, but rather on the President being "well-advised by a team of wise and experienced men and women".

Mr Lee recalled Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's analogy of the President and the council as playing the roles of "a goalkeeper together with a team of defenders".

But over the years, as the new institutions of the President and the council have become established, Singapore should consider "if the CPA's advice should come to count for more in the decisions made by the President" - to make Singapore's system more stable.

However, even as the review looks at strengthening the council, "a delicate balance" must be struck, Mr Lee said.

The President must retain the right to exercise his veto powers, even if the council advises otherwise, he added.

But a presidential veto supported by the council should carry more weight than a veto which the council disagrees with.

In fact, some parts of the Constitution provide for it, he noted. For instance, the President must consult the council for decisions on Supply Bills, which determine the Government's Budget, or key appointments.

If the President vetoes such a matter and the council agrees, then the veto is final and Parliament must comply.

If the council disagrees, the President can still use his veto, but Parliament can override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

Yet this arrangement does not apply when the President exercises his custodial power elsewhere, noted Mr Lee. "I think we should study if CPA's views should be given greater weight in more areas and, if so, how this can be done."

Constitutional law expert Thio Li-annsuggested another possible change: Ensuring the council has sufficient financial expertise to aid the Elected Presidency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline ''Study how to give council greater say''. Print Edition | Subscribe