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PE 2023: How funds will help S'poreans among factors presidential candidates will consider before unlocking past reserves

SINGAPORE — The nature of the crisis that Singapore is facing, how funds would be used to benefit Singaporeans and whether alternative sources of funding have been exhausted are among the main factors that presidential candidates would consider if they were elected to the highest office and ever asked to use the second key to past reserves.

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  • Presidential candidates said if elected, they would consider factors such as how funds would be used to benefit Singaporeans if they were asked to use the second key to past reserves
  • Mr Ng Kok Song, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Tan Kin Lian were answering questions about how they would perform their role as head of state in a live interview on Monday (Aug 28)
  • The three candidates also weighed in on how they plan to involve youths in building Singapore's future
  • They also delivered their appeals to voters as the campaigning period nears the end

SINGAPORE — The nature of the crisis that Singapore is facing, how funds would be used to benefit Singaporeans and whether alternative sources of funding have been exhausted are among the main factors that presidential candidates would consider if they were elected to the highest office and ever asked to use the second key to past reserves.

Mr Ng Kok Song, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Tan Kin Lian outlined these considerations related to exercising one of the key roles of an elected President, during a live forum telecast on CNA on Monday (Aug 28) night.

During the show, the presidential candidates answered a broad range of questions posed to them by CNA presenter Otelli Edwards.

Besides being queried about how they would guard the past reserves, the trio were also asked about how they would connect with young Singaporeans, the politicisation of the Presidential Election and how they intend to perform the role of the head of state as a unifying figure for Singapore.


Asked about the factors they would take into consideration beyond what is briefed by the Government before unlocking past reserves, Mr Tharman outlined three concerns: The nature of the crisis, how the funds will be spent and how fairly will it be distributed.

The former Senior Minister said that tapping past reserves in dealing with a crisis would be useful “only where you cannot see the end of the crisis and you can't see the bottom of the crisis”.

He said it is “critical” that the reserves would be used wisely not only to help Singaporeans and businesses survive, but to also build strength to emerge even stronger from the crisis.

Mr Tharman added that ultimately, the funds must also be distributed fairly.

“So if you're saving jobs, you've got to make sure we help low income Singaporeans, middle income Singaporeans,” he said.

“Don't just favour the big firms, don't just favour those who already have it good. Be fair.”

Meanwhile, Mr Tan said he would consider whether the use of the reserves is proper and in the interest of the people.

The former chief executive officer of NTUC Income noted how the biggest use of past reserves was during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that a large sum of money was set aside, of which part of it “went into banks that were making huge profits, and they were given subsidy (sic) by the Government”.

“I consider that to be not suitable use of the reserves. And I don't want to say that this is looking back with the benefit of hindsight,” he said.

“I think the President should have the ability to understand what is proper use and what is wrong use of the reserves.”

Mr Ng, who is a former chief investment officer at sovereign wealth fund GIC, said that the past reserves ought to benefit both the present and future generations of Singaporeans. Hence, the proportion being saved and spent is a very important consideration for him.

“So I would like to know from the Government, what is the total size of our reserves. How much are you asking to spend out of the reserves?” he said.

Mr Ng added that he would also query whether the Government has exhausted the possibility of raising revenues from other areas before tapping past reserves, and the assumptions it is making with regard to the expected returns on the reserves for the future.

“How does that compare with our historical rates of return on the reserves? So these are issues which I've been quite familiar with while working at the GIC.” 


On how they would connect with the young and involve them in building Singapore’s future, Mr Tan said this can be done best through social media.

“I'm very much up to date with social media, and I therefore will be able to connect with them and hear their views,” said the 75-year-old.

Beyond the digital realm, he said he would attend events for the youth and advise them on how to be prudent in their own finances.

“And I think this advice, young people like very much, (based on) my interactions. So, certainly I think some of these are very practical advice that will reach out to the young people (sic).”

Mr Ng, 75, described the use of social media as the “central thrust” of his campaign strategy which allowed him to reach out to many young Singaporeans in the past three weeks.

He said it was “most important” to inspire hope in the younger generation for the future, as he senses a lot of anxiety among them in this regard.

“They feel that the future is not going to give them as much opportunities as in the past. So we must have this ability to encourage our young, that if they do study hard, if they work hard, Singapore has got plenty of opportunities for them,” said Mr Ng.

He listed three practices and skills that he would like youths to pick up in order to help themselves, namely meditation to help destress, public speaking skills to develop more self-confidence, and personal financial management.

Mr Tharman, 66, said that individual Singaporeans have a lot more potential than is often recognised.

To live up to this potential, he said it takes more than just telling the young that it depends on each individual, but also by “tapping the power of collective support”.

“Peer support, teachers taking a particular interest in the weaker students, giving them a chance. Getting the reserves off the sidelines and letting them play in the first team once in a while, letting everyone be a hero in their own stories. That's the next Singapore chapter,” said Mr Tharman.


With two more days of campaigning left, the three candidates were also asked what they would like to tell Singaporeans before they go to the polls on Friday.

Mr Tan stressed how he would use his “independent mind” to critically examine the Government’s recommendations in tapping the past reserves and appointing key public service officials, and ensure they are in the interest of the people before granting approval.

“I will also use the power of the President to call a commission of inquiry, when needed, to ensure there is transparency and accountability in the Government and the public service,” he added.

Mr Tan said his main concern is that young Singaporeans have to compete for jobs against foreigners, with male citizens in particular being set back for two years due to National Service, amid rising costs. 

He added that he would convey these concerns to the Government “so that our young people can look forward with confidence to the future”. 

Before handing over the time to Mr Ng to answer the question, Ms Edwards reminded viewers that the President cannot express public views on legislation or government policy without being advised to do so by the Government. 

Mr Ng asked Singaporeans to examine his motives for contesting, declaring that he has stepped forward not for money, power or fame, but instead to “serve my country”.

He said that he is concerned about the future well being of Singaporeans and is thus willing to make sacrifices to secure Singapore’s future.

“And I have come forward because I have benefitted so much from what Singapore has given me,” he said.

“I have come forward to say thank you to the people of Singapore, for this opportunity to serve as their President.”

Mr Tharman asked Singaporeans to vote for him “as a vote for an optimistic future”.

He said that while it is easy to become pessimistic when looking at global and local challenges, looking at what fellow Singaporeans can achieve can also inspire optimism, citing sprinter Shanti Pereira and playwright Stephanie Esther Fam as examples.

“Look at all the people who take second chances who continue to inspire me every day, through my years on the ground, working with them,” he said.

Mr Tharman capped off his speech by saying that he has been serving Singapore his entire life and his life is an open book. “You will not get surprises with me. What you see, is what you get.”

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Presidential Election 2023

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