'Sound governance' key to social security

Mr Tharman, speaking at the annual dinner of the Economic Society of Singapore at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel yesterday, said the Government, the Council of Presidential Advisers, the elected president and Parliament each play a crucial role in sustai
Mr Tharman, speaking at the annual dinner of the Economic Society of Singapore at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel yesterday, said the Government, the Council of Presidential Advisers, the elected president and Parliament each play a crucial role in sustaining a system of checks and balances.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Tharman says proposals on elected presidency improve the system of checks and balances

Singapore's ability to provide a robust social security system rests on its "sound governance", and this has to be guaranteed for the long term, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

This is why the proposed changes to the elected presidency are important, as these proposals improve Singapore's system of institutional checks and balances that will keep good governance going, he said.

Mr Tharman made this point at the end of a 40-minute speech which charted the Government's strategy to make sure that Singaporeans have enough money to live on well into retirement.

He laid out the strategy's three key thrusts: help seniors get some income from the homes that they own; let people earn higher returns on their Central Provident Fund savings; and enable people to work for as long as they would like to.

But all this is possible only with sound governance, he told 500 economists and guests at the annual dinner of the Economic Society of Singapore.

Singaporeans are guaranteed returns on their CPF savings because these are backed by a government with a triple-A rating, he said.

Singapore also gets a significant part of its revenue - about 18 per cent this fiscal year - from the income it gets from investing the reserves under the Net Investment Returns Contribution framework.

The Government, the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), the elected president and Parliament each play a critical role in sustaining this system, added Mr Tharman.

He listed three ways the proposed changes would improve how key actors play their part to check and balance one another.

One, the president has to be well qualified to have the judgment to assess the Government's proposals on how it spends its Budget.

The president also needs to be able to assess all other proposals related to the use of Singapore's past reserves, and to approve key appointments in the civil service.

Among the changes proposed by a Constitutional Commission was tightening the criteria candidates need to meet to run for president.

Two, the CPA provides a deep reservoir of expertise for the president to tap on and can serve as a sounding board for him or her.

The commission also recommended that the CPA's size and structure be strengthened.

Three, Parliament might also get more power vis-a-vis the president.

The commission recommended that Parliament be given the power to override the president in specific situations to break an impasse.

For instance, if the CPA agrees with the Government's proposal but the president vetoes it, Parliament can seek to override the president and break the impasse.

The Government will respond to the proposals by the commission in a White Paper tomorrow.

At the end of the day, said Mr Tharman, these changes must seek to achieve "a system of checks and balances which gives the Government enough reason to pause before making proposals that risk not passing muster with the CPA and the President".

"But at the same time, it must be a system that allows the business of good government to continue. That is the balance we have to find."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline ''Sound governance' key to social security'. Print Edition | Subscribe