PAP's statements on defence spending not based on fact and reality

Tan Lip Hong and Leong Yan Hoi

During the last elections, a few PAP Ministers had made statements about the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) position on defence spending [1],[2], and recently in parliament, Mr Christopher de Souza, an MP from the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC had again brought the matter up [3].

Historically, Singapore has been spending 4+% of our GDP on defence.

In the world, Singapore has the sixth highest defence spending per capita, after Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States [4].

In ASEAN, Singapore has the highest defence spending of all nations (more than Thailand, more than Indonesia which has 50 times Singapore’s population) [4], making up close to 40% of total spending by all ASEAN nations in 2011 [5]. Singapore is also the 5th largest importer of arms worldwide [5].

The following are the percentage of GDP spent on defence by the following countries in 2010 [4]:

Switzerland 0.8%
New Zealand 1.2%
Sweden 1.2%
Finland 1.5%
Holland 1.5%
Norway 1.6%

Even Taiwan, with the guns of southern China pointing towards it, has managed to contain its defence spending to below 3% of its GDP in the last decade [6].

















The following is the table for defence spending for Singapore from 2001:

As can be seen from the table, defence spending by the government has been steadily declining over the past decade and a half, from about 5% of GDP to about 3% of GDP. As a proportion of the national expenditure defence spending has decreased from about 30% to about 20%.

CEO of Temasek Holdings, Madam Ho Ching broached this subject in her Facebook posting on 8 September 2015, towards the end of the last election [8]:

"Defence spending began tapering down to 4-5% of GDP by the late 1990s through to the 2000s. By FY2010, defence spending was down to 3% of GDP. Wow! Half the share it used to have!

In terms of total expenditure, this means spending on defence went from over 30% of our total expenditure, down to less than 20% projected for FY2015 this year."

She further said:

"So what does this shrinking share of defence spending mean? Is money being released within the main budget to support other programmes and needs?

What were these?

Healthcare is one clear area of increased spending. Healthcare as a % of total expenditure went from 4-5% before FY2000, to 6-7% for FY2000-2008, and gradually increasing each year over FY2009-2014 to reach an estimated 14% of total spending for FY2015 this year.

Healthcare is taking a bigger and bigger chunk of our spending priorities."

And yet, less than a week before that, on 2 September 2015, in the heat of the hustings, then Minister for Environment, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had accused the SDP of being guilty of cutting defence spending to fund health care [1]!

This charge was repeated by then Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, Shanmugam during the campaign [2], and again by MP Christopher de Souza in parliament on 25 January 2016 [3], followed by letters published in the Straits Times [9],[10], again repeating these points.

It is not helpful for the PAP and its supporters to make these partisan statements not based on fact and reality. This does not augur well for serious political discourse in this country.

The reality is that this 4+% spending on defence is unsustainable in the longer term, and despite Dr Vivian sensationalistic pronouncement, his party, the PAP, has actually been reducing defence spending in the past decade, what the SDP has been proposing.

On the contrary, since the implementation of Medisave in the late 80s, the Government has capped healthcare spending below 1% of our GDP (equivalent to spending by sub-Saharian countries). This trend continued till the early 2000s, when it was realized that it was unsustainable. Citizens were going bankrupt paying for healthcare. There was insufficient investment in healthcare infra-structure and manpower, leading to long queues and waiting times and over-loaded hospitals and over-worked staff.

The SDP advocates increased healthcare spending to reasonable levels, and sufficient investment in healthcare infra-structure and manpower. The SDP is not proposing free healthcare, but a National Health Insurance Scheme with affordable co-payment.

It is unfortunate that there remains certain ignorant and ill-informed quarters within the ruling party and their supporters who are continuing to advocate increasing military spending at all cost, at the expense of other national priorities. We are not an autocratic state, wherein defence spending of above 5% GDP remains the norm. And we are not America, who can continue to borrow unlimited amounts of money to finance their military expansionist plans, leaving huge debts for their future generations to shoulder.


Dr Tan Lip Hong and Dr Leong Yan Hoi are members of the SDP's Healthcare Advisory Panel.


[1]. Facebook post, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. (2 September 2015)

[2]. 'No word to describe how shocking some opposition proposals are', says Shanmugam (9 September 2015)

[3]. Don't underestimate need for strong military. The Straits Times. (26 January 2016)

[4]. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Military Expenditure Database.

[5]. Shopping spree. Military spending in South-East Asia. The Economist. (24 May 2012)

[6]. Taiwan Defence Budget.

[7]. GDP figures from:

[8]. Facebook post, Ho Ching. 8 September 2015.

[9]. Don't underestimate need for strong military. Adrian Villanueva. Forum Letters. Straits Times. 30 January 2016.

[10]. Singapore must be like a porcupine. Patrick Tan Siong Kuan. Forum Letters. Straits Times. 2 February 2016.


Perspective Monday, 22 February 2016 SDP Print