Eligibility criteria should stand the test of time: CJ

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the Constitutional Commission's second hearing on April 22.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the Constitutional Commission's second hearing on April 22. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The question of how much to alter the eligibility criteria for presidential poll candidates came up for discussion yesterday, with the chairman of the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency giving his view on the issue.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said at his commission's second hearing: "What we're trying to do is to examine whether the constitutional provision can be drafted in such a way that it can withstand the test of time, and for that to happen, what we're dealing with is trying to define (the) criteria."

In doing so, the search is for a configuration of criteria that will yield "a pool that's likely to throw up a sufficient number of suitable candidates", he added.

Many who took part in the first two hearings, held on Monday and yesterday, had said the criteria should be made more stringent.

But they also expressed concerns that this could shrink the pool of potential candidates, and urged the commission not to go overboard in raising the bar. They were referring to a requirement that private sector candidates have experience running a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million to qualify.

CJ Menon said: "You can't set the criteria by looking at the individuals and say I think at this level we will have so many suitable candidates, it's because we know exactly who the candidates are. I don't think that's the way to go about it."

Yesterday, lawyer Ranvir Kumar Singh, 57, suggested that the amount be raised to $500 million, using Singtel as a benchmark. He said the company's value had increased five times since the elected presidency was implemented in 1991.

CJ Menon said the $500 million threshold would capture the top 0.2 per cent of firms here - the same proportion captured in 1991 when the threshold was $100 million.

Mr Singh also proposed looking at the net assets, governance record and profitability of companies, to determine if a potential candidate had done a good job.

Commission member Wong Ngit Liong, chairman and chief executive of Venture Corporation, noting it would involve a qualitative change to the criteria, asked if the Presidential Elections Committee would be making more subjective judgments when deciding who qualifies to run.

Mr Singh said the committee's members must be of a high calibre to be in a position to judge.

Another commission member, Mr Philip Ng, chief executive of Far East Organisation, said an issue it was tasked to examine is how to phase in new criteria, if any. Mr Singh said he had not thought about that.

Tham Yuen-C

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Eligibility criteria should stand the test of time: CJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe