A recent story in The Daily Telegraph suggesting that the UK’s Department for International Development had given £8.7m in aid to Singapore over the last five years caused a bit of a stir. Particularly after it was picked up by The Online Citizen, an alternative news website in Singapore.
The piece by Andrew Gilligan, headlined “Did Britain really need to give millions to the wealthy state of Singapore?”, argued that the new government should abandon its pledge not to cut the overseas aid budget.
He argued that DFID needed a critical examination of its spending, some of which had been wasteful, including the £8.7m supposedly given to Singapore and £40.2m given to China.
Like Gilligan, I was bemused by the suggestion that Britain had given aid to prosperous Singapore. So I checked out the official DFID stats, which do, indeed, show £8.7m given to Singapore over the last five years. (For the official stats, go here and then download table 14.3 – h/t friend and development blogger Francis Bacon.)
But Gilligan should have dug a little deeper.
The above-mentioned table reveals that the bulk of the £8.7m was composed of £8.511m of “aid from other official UK sources” spent in 2005/06.
I checked in with DFID and the British High Commission in Singapore who told me that this £8.5m was not aid for Singapore but was in fact an investment in a developing country business by CDC, the UK government-owned development fund, through a Singapore-based fund.
The rest of the apparent aid to Singapore related to pensions paid to civil servants in Singapore. Press officers at the High Commission and DFID said that “no DFID aid money is currently spent in Singapore”.
So it was all a fuss over nothing.