Defence and healthcare spending not mutually exclusive: Ng Eng Hen
- POSTED: 18 Jan 2014 00:49
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Singapore's spending on defence and health care are not mutually exclusive -- this was a point made by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at a monthly forum at the National University of Singapore on Friday.
SINGAPORE: Singapore's spending on defence and health care are not mutually exclusive -- this was a point made by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at a monthly forum at the National University of Singapore on Friday.
Dr Ng was responding to a question on whether the proportion of the national defence budget to that of health is "misaligned", and how the government should justify its defence spending.
The government set aside about S$12 billion on national defence last year, in comparison to about S$6 billion spent on healthcare in 2013.
Speaking to some 300 staff, students and NUS alumni at the monthly U@live forum, Dr Ng said that the priority is to have an economy that produces enough wealth to satisfy not only defence and health needs, but also those of education, and to strengthen social safety nets.
He pointed out that in the last decade, there are very few countries that can match Singapore's fiscal strength, even as the government has increased spending on social issues.
Dr Ng said: "The day that our economy doesn't grow, then we are not only talking about how to cut defence, (but also) how to cut health, how to cut education, how to cut housing. That's exactly what is happening in Europe."
Dr Ng added the fundamentals that has got Singapore to where it is are very precious, rare and hard to get the right balance. It can be lost very quickly, as it has happened in many countries in Europe.
When asked why Singapore's defence budget continues to be significantly higher than some of its neighbours, Dr Ng said a key consideration is the image that is projected beyond Singapore shores. This is especially important given rising tensions in the region.
Dr Ng said: "There's a saying that the stronger you are, the less enemies you have, and I think that's true. But I will also tell you that compared to five to eight years ago, I have a less tough job of convincing people that we are vulnerable. Particularly because over the last five years, our region has changed.
"In my defence meetings now, my call to my fellow defence ministers (is that) we really need to get ourselves off the newspapers. Because every week there is one or more defence-related articles about tensions rising in the region."
However, Dr Ng stressed that Singapore spends a lot of time on defence diplomacies such as joint exercises and being transparent. It is also a very strong leader in the field of military to military cooperation.
The forum was moderated by NUS alumnus and former Nominated Member of Parliament, Viswa Sadasivan. Mr Viswa is also Chairman of the U@live Organising Committee.
U@live is a monthly forum that features members of the NUS alumni community. Previous guests include Speaker of Parliament Madam Halimah Yacob, and Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. The U@live series is organised by the NUS Office of Alumni Relations, and it is now into its fourth year.