By Elias Tan
Singapore is relatively stingy: America, Europe and Japan together donated US $76 million to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan while Singapore pledged to give S$50,000. As expected, netizens slammed the government for not doing more to help the victims, it was inevitably forced to increase its donations by six-fold to S$360,000.
In response to a commentary in The Straits Times in 2010 that said Singapore was giving too little to relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the amount or type of humanitarian assistance given by the Singapore Government is not intended to match the scale of a disaster.
But is Singapore really a penny pincher? A look at how much Singapore voluntarily gave Indonesia during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Bandar Aceh and the 2010 Sumatra earthquake tells that Singapore can be generous and helpful. It was a whopping $5 million.
This brings us to the next question: Is Singapore practising favouritism when dishing out aid money? Form a geo-political point of view, Indonesia is important to Singapore. The huge archipelago sits a ferry ride away from Singapore. It is the big brother of Asean and the economic and defence links are important for Singapore.
Besides, Singapore has invested heavily in Indonesia with 142 projects worth US $1.14 billion parked in that country.
While the amount given to the Philippines may be small, the scale of the disaster is much smaller compared to the one which hit Indonesia. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was reported to have recorded more than 130,000 casualties while the figure for Typhoon Haiyan stands at 6,000.
What could have also tilted the balance are reports that the Philippines Government attempted to sell basic items and gave aid to the typhoon victims at discounted prices.
It is time for the government to set out clearly its aid policy. If not, the next aid for the next disaster will revive the old debate of why Singapore does not dig deeper into its pockets.