Inauguration of President Halimah Yacob

President Halimah vows to exercise independent judgment

President Halimah Yacob, accompanied by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, inspecting the guard of honour during the welcome ceremony for the new President at the Istana yesterday.
President Halimah Yacob, accompanied by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, inspecting the guard of honour during the welcome ceremony for the new President at the Istana yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

President Halimah Yacob pledged yesterday to exercise independent judgment in her role as steward of Singapore's reserves and the integrity of the public service.

"In exercising my custodial powers, I will use my independent judgment, consulting the Council of Presidential Advisers, and working closely with the Prime Minister and the Government," she said in her inaugural speech after she was sworn in as President at the Istana.

Besides being a symbol of national unity, the President holds the second key to Singapore's hard- earned reserves and has the power to approve or block key appointments in the public service.

Madam Halimah addressed these aspects of her role when she spoke on stewardship, a value shared by Singaporeans and embodied by the presidency.

She said Singaporeans have benefited from the hard work of earlier generations and inherited a prosperous and well-developed city, a clean and efficient system, and strong shared values.

"Now, it is our responsibility to steward this island nation well, so we can pass on to future generations a better country, a more robust system and a stronger commitment to our values," she said.

This includes taking care of an ageing population and growing healthcare needs, preparing workers and businesses for new jobs and opportunities, and dealing with divisive forces sweeping the world - including the twin threats of extremist terrorism and Islamophobia.

To plan for the future and build for the next generation, Singapore has to invest in its economy and people, Madam Halimah said.

She said projects in infrastructure, education and healthcare as investments will improve the lives of Singaporeans, make them more productive and create more opportunities for the next generation.

"But they also cost billions of dollars. Budgets will be tight," she added. "We need to grow our economy so as to generate more resources to afford these programmes and investments. We will also need to husband our reserves carefully."

These reserves have been built through the hard work and careful stewardship of successive governments and generations of Singaporeans, she said, adding: "Income from the reserves is an important source of government revenue. But the reserves themselves must not be used, except for very good reason."

Another asset is an honest and capable public service, which enables Singapore to do well as a nation and hold its own against international competitors, Madam Halimah said.

"I will do my duty to ensure that new appointments to critical posts measure up to our high standards of integrity and ability. The public service must maintain its high quality and standing in order to continue to serve Singapore well," she added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Madam Halimah's wealth of experience in public service would have prepared her for these duties.

He said she would have to make independent judgments, taking full advantage of the advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers, when exercising her custodial powers.

"At the same time, the President has to work closely with the Government for the two-key mechanism to function properly. I look forward to establishing such a relationship with you, just as I did with your predecessors," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'President Halimah vows to exercise independent judgment'. Print Edition | Subscribe