Thursday, 7 July 2011

Presidential Election Watch Part II - Tony Tan As EP - Too Close For Comfort ?

As outgoing President SR Nathan seems to start "campaigning" for a pro-establishment President, i.e., to support Dr Tony Tan, let me start to write about what I think about the 3 President hopefuls.

With his ringing endorsement of Tony Tan's candidacy, President Nathan warned of the danger of having a leader who bows to populist pressure and once again reminded Singaporeans to look at the big picture in relation to government decisions that had proven to be for the good of the nation in the end. This sounds like the signature tone of the PAP Government.

He reiterated that Singapore needs leaders with "strong character and vision who resist populist pressures and the temptation to sacrifice the long-term interests of the nation in response to those who merely snipe without having to take responsibility".

Is the President's message made both in support of his own "unchallenged" tenure and also Tony Tan's not so transparent independent candidacy? Although Tony Tan has declared his independence, the overwhelming endorsement by his old and new PAP comrades so far speaks of the intimate proximity of his candidacy with the ruling PAP party which is desirous for a "easy, smooth and efficient" handover. After all, Tony Tan had just handed over his GIC vice-chairmanship and the chairmanship of SPH, a wealthy public-listed GLC.

Is this closeness between Tony Tan and the PAP Government and Party then too close for comfort? Let me illustrates and query further.

Before Tony Tan announced his candidacy, DPM Teo Chee Hian spoked on "Why President isn't like an MP" [My paper, 20 Jun 2011].

While an MP should work with residents, be active and be on the ground, the President has a different role to play, he said.

Mr Teo explained: "He needs to be measured, considered, and at the same time, also a unifying factor at a higher level for all Singaporeans.

"This is not a general election...electing an MP is different from electing a president."

"It is important that voters and Singaporeans understand the differences, so that they will be select the appropriate person."

Firstly, how could we use the DPM's words now to "measure and consider" Tony Tan as a  candidate? This should be fair considering the closely knitted kinship between the DPM Teo and Tony Tan's families through the OCBC link.

Tony Tan was the Chairman of SPH Ltd, upto 1 July 2011; which not only control our main stream media but also made aggressive pursuits into the commercial property market in Singapore.

One such aggressive acquisition is a sub-urban mall developed by the HDB, The Clementi Mall. SPH Ltd through its indirect subsidiary SG Domain Pte Ltd (SGDPL) and the direct subsidiary of SGDPL, CM Domain Pte Ltd (CMDPL); acquired the mall from the HDB at S$541,898,000. The bid was 41.8% higher than the next lower bid at S$382 million. The winning gap of S$159.89 million was almost equivalent to the lowest bid submitted by Sim Lian Holdings @ S$170 million. The No. 2 ~ No. 5 bids were from S$382 ~ S$303 million (avg of about S$343 million). You can read more about the bids here at this link published by HDB InfoWEB. You can read about SPH Ltd's press statement (10 Nov 2009) about the successful tender and acquisition of Clementi Mall here at this link.

Yes, this was transparent matter as SPH Ltd is a public listed company. But note that SPH Ltd had paid some 57.7% higher than what seems to be the average market price at S$343 million submitted by the competitors.

What led SPH together with its equity partners and stakeholders in CM Domain Pte Ltd, namely NTUC Fairprice and NTUC Income; to put up such an aggressive acquisition? Note : The 2 residentail blocks attached to the Mall still belong to HDB and the Bus Interchange and attached shops still belong to the LTA.

And this all had happened just before the Mid-Nov 2009 APEC Meeting hosted in Singapore when PM Lee and other Asian leaders were all talking about "the fear of asset bubbles" in emerging Asian economies. Read this report by The Wall Street Journal, "Bubble Fears Surface at APEC Gathering" (14 Nov 2009); here at this link. Note this was reported 4 days after the announcement of the successful acquisition of Clementi Mall by SPH Ltd.

As Chairman of SPH, did Tony Tan safeguard the interest of the stake-holders, particularly SPH shareholders who were investing in the shorter term? And why such a high excessive bid for the HDB to make such a huge profit?

While managing the GIC, was Tony Tan just as aggressive in his investment strategy? Are our reserves which includes our CPF monies then safe-guarded? What difference would it make now that he has resigned, and that he might take over as "guardian angel" of our reserves if he is indeed elected as President?

Now, you will know why I feel uneasy about his closeness with the PAP if he is elected President?

Note : Next, I will be writing about Tony Tan and our past CPF rate cuts.

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