Two speakers urge focus on 'right experience'

Mr Teo asked whether it would be enough for candidates to declare the scope of their corporate duties to the poll panel.
Mr Teo asked whether it would be enough for candidates to declare the scope of their corporate duties to the poll panel.

In deciding whether a private-sector person is suitable to run for president, the focus should be on whether he has the right experience, said two speakers yesterday at the hearing on the elected presidency.

This experience cannot be determined just by looking at the size of the companies he has run, said former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan and executive chairman and co-founder of listed Raffles Medical Group Loo Choon Yong.

Instead, the eligibility criteria for such candidates should be refined to get at the substance of what he did in his corporate role, they said.

Under current laws, a private-sector person must have been the chairman of the board or chief executive officer of a company with a paid-up capital of $100 million to stand in presidential elections.

But Mr Dhanabalan, who is a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and the Presidential Council for Minority Rights as well as a former chairman of DBS Group Holdings and Temasek Holdings, pointed out that paid-up capital indicates the size but not the complexity of a company.

He suggested taking into account factors such as a company's annual revenue and number of employees.

Dr Loo said shareholders' funds or net tangible assets should be used instead of paid-up capital. He proposed raising the figure to $500 million.

In earlier hearings, some speakers had said that beyond a certain point, a company's size is not relevant in determining a potential candidate's experience.

Dr Loo disagreed, saying the president, as custodian of Singapore's reserves, should have experience in dealing with large- scale financial decisions.

Citing his own experience, Dr Loo, who is also chairman of industrial developer and landlord JTC Corporation, said he "agonised" more when he was faced with decisions involving billions of dollars, compared to tens of millions of dollars.

"If you are not used to making these decisions, when you go through the paper... the numbers have no meaning," he said.

"It's not just how big your company is, it's also how complex and whether you are the one used to making these decisions," he added.

Both men suggested that a company's board chairman, who typically does not run the company day to day, should not automatically qualify, but be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Commission member Eddie Teo, chairman of the Public Service Commission, asked if it would be enough for candidates to declare the scope of their duties to the Presidential Elections Committee.

Mr Dhanabalan said it might suffice, but warned that an impressive curriculum vitae may not be a good reflection of a person's experience.

Dr Loo suggested that the declaration be made under oath. "If later on, it is found... he lied under oath, then there are penal sanctions. That will sober up anybody who wants to make a (false) declaration," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Two speakers urge focus on 'right experience''. Print Edition | Subscribe