It is a taken, a belief, that in order for a person to perform the role of checks and balance, that person has to be neutral to be able to act objectively. It is also a practical consideration. The last thing you want is a person in such a position to have kinship relations or be beholden to the parties that the person is supposed to check on. Thus a person coming in from the cold, with no attachment, is the ideal candidate, provided the person has all the qualifications needed. Between one that is completely unrelated versus one that is related or connected, it is clear that the former is best suited for the job.
For many years, an independent director of a listed company, someone who is called such, and must be independent, often are picked and appointed by the management, paid by the management who could fire him at will. Often the independent director could be a family member or a good friend or a close associate. And he is expected to watch over the management and blow the whistle if they did wrong. It looked very untidy.
This was the happy arrangement for many years and nothing or very few things went wrong. Only recently that someone thought it should not be the case and an independent director must be truly independent to act as checks and balance over the management. If past experience over all the years gone by is a good indicator, such a concern for neutrality is superfluous. All or most of the independent directors, despite being handpicked by the management, despite being ‘pally pally’ with the management, seemed to have done their jobs well within the law.
With the new regulations, family members, relations, friends, golfing kakis, would most probably be ruled out from being independent directors. If such a reasoning is extended to the management of an organization, you could not have a CEO being the husband and the spouse being the Chairman or vice versa. Or in a worst case, the Finance Director is the wife, the CEO is the hubby and the Chairman is the father or father in law. Such a situation will undermine all the concerns of independence and transparency and give grounds for suspicion. Then again, given the lack of talented individuals in paradise, if such arrangement is not allowed, most organizations will have problems filling up senior positions. And the alternative will have to be foreign talents.
Our historical and empirical evidences have proven that as long as the person in charge is an honest and upright person, incorruptible, there is no problem even if one is father and the other is son, or between husband and wife. The key is the uprightedness of the person. The rest of the conditions and precautionary measures are hogwash. Just pick a person with good upbringings, all the right values, integrity, all the problems will go away.
The current issue of an Elected President may come under the same scrutiny for neutrality and free from attachments from the ruling govt. The Elected President has a check and balance role over the nation’s reserves that he is supposed to guard against an errant govt. We have 3 candidates that have one time or another been part of the ruling govt. So will they be suitable to place the custodian role to guard their former comrades in action?
The answer is not to worry. It has been proven that an ex PAP member, even cadre member/minister, could execute his presidential duties independently without being corrupted by past relationship. The honourable President Ong Teng Cheong had proven that it could be done. The only condition is the right person, with high personal integrity and a commitment to carry out his duty honestly, righteously, free from any encumbrance or association. It is the person that will determine whether the Elected President will do his job well and as expected of him.
So, all the three ex PAP candidates should have no problem acting the role of an independent Elected President. Their past association is not material. The criteria of neutrality is not applicable, just a myth. They will act independently, like independent directors, watching over the govt, and protecting the nation’s reserves for the good of the people.
With this doubt being removed, the people can go on and vote any of the candidates standing. Go for the one that looks good, look presidential, looks like a president. And we will have a good looking President that can fill our family albums and the pages of the newspaper across the world. Looking presidential is a great quality.