Legislative changes aimed at allowing the President and ministers to accept appointments in foreign and international organisations in their personal capacities, if it is in the national interest for them to do so, were proposed in parliament on Monday (Nov 6).
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) tabled amendments to Singapore’s constitutional laws, saying in a media release that accepting such positions can enhance Singapore’s international standing and help to advance the national interest.
Foreign and international organisations typically invite individuals to serve in their private instead of official capacities, PMO said.
However, the Constitution currently does not empower the President – as the head of state – to take up public roles where he acts in his private capacity.
If passed, the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill will enable the President to perform such roles when the Cabinet advises that it is in the national interest to accept and hold that role, PMO added.
Aside from this, in order for the President to take up such roles, he or she must not be prohibited under the Constitution from performing the functions of that office.
For example, Article 19A(1) bans the President from actively engaging in any commercial enterprise.
PMO said the Cabinet may also, from time to time, advise the President against saying or doing anything in performing the functions of such an office. The President must also relinquish an office if the Cabinet advises him or her to do so.
The current President, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, was sworn in on Sep 14 after winning a landslide victory at the Sep 1 polls. The former Senior Minister resigned from all positions in the government and the People’s Action Party to stand in the presidential election.
In 2017, he became the first Asian to be appointed chairman of the board of trustees of the Group of Thirty (G30), an independent global council of economic and financial leaders. He is still holding that position.
Mr Tharman also currently co-chairs the Global Commission on the Economics of Water as well as the advisory board for the UN Human Development Report, and is on the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees.
He became the first Asian chair of the International Monetary and Financial Committee in 2011, holding the role till 2014.
SIMILAR FRAMEWORK FOR MINISTERS
On Monday, PMO noted that ministers are not legally prohibited from serving in foreign and international organisations in their private capacities.
This is subject to Article 33 of the Constitution, which bans ministers from holding any office of profit or actively engaging in any commercial enterprise.
Nevertheless, PMO said the Bill puts forward a similar framework for ministers “to ensure more comprehensive coverage”.
Under the proposed constitutional amendments, ministers can accept and hold an office in a foreign or international organisation in their private capacity if they are not prohibited under Article 33 from performing the functions of that office, according to CNA.
The Prime Minister must also consider it to be in the national interest for the minister to accept and hold that office, and give permission for the minister to do so.
Furthermore, PMO said the Prime Minister may, from time to time, instruct the minister against saying or doing anything in performing the functions of such an office. Ministers must also relinquish an office if the Prime Minister instructs them to do so.
If the President or a minister accepts or relinquishes roles in foreign and international organisations in their personal capacities, this must be published in Singapore’s government gazette.
The Bill will be debated at the next parliamentary sitting.