In 1991, Parliament passed a Bill to amend the Constitution of Singapore to change Singapore’s presidency to an Elected Presidency.
The Elected President (EP) was given new discretionary powers to safeguard Singapore’s past reserves and to appoint key personnel in government organisations.
One of the less prominent aspects of turning the President’s office into an elected office in 1991 was the creation of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).
What does the CPA do?
Currently comprising of six members and two alternate members, the CPA’s role is to advise EP, particularly regarding the use of his/her discretionary veto powers.
Following the recent legislation in November to amend the Constitution regarding the EP, there will be eight members of the CPA in future.
As the CPA is unelected, its powers to act is constrained. For instance, it does not have the power to block the EP.
The chairman of the CPA also plays an additional role as Acting President whenever the EP is unavailable.
When current President Tony Tan was away on a State Visit to Japan recently (Nov. 28 to Dec. 6), the current CPA chairman, J Y Pillay, stood in for Tan as Acting President.
As Acting President, Pillay hosted Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi when she came to Singapore on a three-day visit in late November.
In the event that the both the EP and CPA chairman are unavailable, the Speaker of Parliament stands in as Acting President.
How is the CPA formed?
The eight members of the CPA are appointed in the following ways:
– EP nominates three members.
– Prime Minister (PM) nominates three members.
– Chief Justice (CJ) nominates one member
– Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) nominates one member
CPA members are initially appointed on a six-year term, and are eligible to be re-appointed on subsequent six-year terms.
Under the Constitution, a CPA member must:
a) be a Singapore citizen who is at least 35 years old;
b) be resident in Singapore; and
c) not be subject to certain disqualifications.
Powers of CPA were recently strengthened
Besides the increase in the number of members in the CPA, the powers of the CPA have also been strengthened.
The next EP would be required to consult the CPA before exercising his/her discretion in respect of all fiscal matters touching on Singapore’s reserves and all public service appointments.
This is not the case at present.
The EP’s decision would be subject to Parliamentary override (by simple majority) where he acts against the CPA’s advice.
However, if the EP was to act with the support of an absolute majority of the CPA, Parliament should not be able to override the President’s decision.