Candidates with more finance experience than Halimah Yacob disqualified

Candidates with more finance experience than Halimah Yacob disqualified
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In what is not an unexpected outcome on Monday, Halimah Yacob was the only candidate for the Reserved Election to be given the green light by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC).

By default, and since the other two candidates’ application to contest the election were rejected, Halimah Yacob will become Singapore’s 8th President.

She qualifies because of her tenure as Speaker of Parliament from 2013 to August 2017.

The other 2 candidates, Farid Khan and Salleh Marican, did not qualify because they were deemed to have not fulfilled the criterion of having managed a company of shareholder equity of at least $500m.

The Elected President is supposed to be the “second key” to Singapore’s financial reserves, and he or she must thus possess substantial financial knowledge in order to carry out the constitutional duties of oversight.

It is thus ironic that while the two men, who have more financial experience and expertise than Halimah Yacob, are disqualified from running, while Halimah Yacob is a shoo-in although she does not have the financial experience required to carry out the job of the Elected President.

How do we know this? Consider her time spent as Speaker, and the budget of Parliament itself.

Apart from her stints as Member of Parliament and Minister of State, positions which do not qualify her to run for the presidency, her time as Speaker of Parliament would also not qualify her, if we take into consideration the experience needed in financial matters.

There are two aspects to this:

One, her time as Speaker was very short – a mere 41/2 years. In fact, the length of the tenure of those in the public sector who would run for the presidential election was a concern for the Constitutional Commission which was tasked to review the Presidential Election Act.

Under the old rules, before the review by the Constitutional Commission last year, holders of qualifying public office were required to have held the office for at least 3 years.

In its final report submitted to the Government, however, the Constitutional Commission recommended that this be raised to six years instead.

The Commission explained its suggestion:

“This attempts to capture at least some elements of the applicant’s performance. The length of time spent in an office can be an indirect indication of that person’s success in discharging the responsibilities of that office, tending to filter out those who were either removed or not re-appointed because they had been found wanting.”

The Government rejected the recommendation, without much elaboration.

The Commission’s concern is a valid one, especially if you also consider that “the Speaker is overall in charge of the administration of Parliament and its Secretariat.”

So, what sort of budget is the Speaker in charge of or oversees vis a vis the administration of Parliament and its Secretariat?

For this, we refer to the 2017 Government Budget statement here.

It says that the total expenditure of Parliament for the year is estimated to be $40,086,900.

The details of the how the budget is to be spent can be seen here.

Parliament also has a permanent staff of 62.

Budget 2017

So, apparently the Speaker, who oversees the running of Parliament and its Secretariat, is involved in a relatively small organisation whose annual budget is about $40m.

That was how far Halimah Yacob’s financial management involvement would be, one presumes.

This is a far cry from the $500m shareholders’ equity required under the law for qualification to run for the presidency. [This is not exactly a direct comparison but it does give us an idea of the financial management skills required.]

So, on both her time as Speaker and her financial experience as Speaker, Halimah yacob would seem to be entirely unqualified to be the Elected President, or indeed to even qualify to run for the office.

Her lack of financial qualification – a central and fundamental requirement for which the entire Elected Presidency was created in the first place – is even more stark if you compare her to the two disqualified candidates.

Farid Khan is the chairman of Singapore-based marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific. He has been working at the company for more than a decade.

“The firm has about 800 workers in the region, and is part of French company Bourbon, which has more than 9,000 employees worldwide,” the TODAY newspaper reported.

TODAY also said that “the shareholder equity for Bourbon Offshore Asia is over S$350 million.”

So, on both counts – of length of time in the job and the size of the finances – Farid Khan is way ahead of Halimah Yacob.

What about Salleh Marican, the other candidate, who hails from clothing retailer Second Chance?

The founding chairman and chief executive of the company, which he built from scratch more than 40 years ago, has an even more distinguished record than the other 2 candidates.

Listed company Second Chance’s shareholder equity “averaged S$258 million for the last three years”, the news reported.

So, like Farid Khan, Salleh Marican is more qualified than Halimah Yacob when it comes to financial matters.

Unfortunately for the two men, the law was changed last year to increase the qualifying criterion of shareholders’ equity from $100m – which both men would easily qualify for – to $500m.

Halimah Yacob, however, qualifies by virtue of simply having been the Speaker, even if her experience in financial matters is limited and pales in comparison to the other 2 candidates.

So, we have to ask ourselves: what is the purpose of the Elected President? Is it not to be that second key to safeguard Singaporeans’ financial reserves which run into the hundreds of billions?

Why then is someone so inexperienced in financial matters deemed perfectly qualified to be that watchdog over the reserves by the mere fact of having been the Speaker, and even then only for such a short period of time?

It is the height of irony that the PEC, in dismissing Salleh Marican’s application to contest the election, said it “could not satisfy itself” that Mr Marican had the experience and ability comparable to the chief executive of a typical company with a shareholder equity of $500 million.

The very same could be said of Halimah Yacob.