A penny for your scorn

In its infinite wisdom, the Singapore government has thrown a smashing US$50,000 into the burgeoning humanitarian relief fund for Haiti. Not sure how the economics work on this one – not nearly enough to buy a place in the hallway of meaningful charity, whilst paying handsomely for heaps of scorn and a smattering of embarrassment.

Money always strikes a chord with Singaporeans, so quite a few found understandably the gall to express their disbelief at the scale of their government’s charity. Most prominently, the Straits Times‘ resident propagandist columnist Chua Mui Hoong shook a figurative head of disappointment at her leaders’ parsimony in her page two op-ed in the 23 January edition.

But her token act of public dissent was swiftly snuffed two days later, when Sudesh Maniar, director of public affairs at the Foreign Affairs ministry penned an elaborate riposte in the Straits Times forum page, duly trotting out the moral highground trope.

In the midst of the official crossfire, armchair critics (see: bloggers and Facebook trolls) tossed in their pennies’ worth of scorn and sarcasm.

With plenty of noise already out there, I thought I might throw a little curveball into this debate – a possibly useful ivory-tower-esque thought exercise, calculating various countries’ aid contributions to Haiti as a percentage of their 2008 GDP.

For Singapore, that’s 50 grand out of US$182 billion, which comes out to a gargantuan 0.000027 per cent. I was suitably impressed.

Then I did the same for a selection of other government donors (aid pledges and 2008 GDP are expressed in US dollars, based on exchange rates correct as of 26 January 2010):

China – 0.0003%  (US$13.3m out of US$4.33tn)

Ireland – 0.0010%  (2.8m out of 282bn)

New Zealand – 0.0011% (1.4m out of 131bn)

UK – 0.0012%  (32.5m out of 2.65tn)

Australia – 0.0013%  (13.5m out of 1.02tn)

Taiwan – 0.0013%  (9m out of 713.7bn)

Japan – 0.0014%  (70m out of 4.91tn)

South Korea – 0.0016%  (15m out of 929bn, combination of government and private sector donations)

There seems to be a trend here, although just how the other governments managed to independently gravitate towards this 0.0012 per cent figure remains a mystery to me.

Equally intriguing is New Zealand’s contribution, which is substantially higher than Singapore’s – specifically, 28 times Singapore’s aid contribution in absolute terms and nearly 41 times in percentage of GDP terms. All that despite the comparatively smaller size of their economy and slightly smaller population (about 4.35m to Singapore’s 4.99m).

One might have hoped that some public dismay and official shame might trigger supplementary contributions (Japan had upped their donations to US$70m from an initial US$5m, while China and Taiwan continue to one-up each other on relief contributions), but it seems that Maniar’s missive pretty much put paid to that.


~ by spiegel2071 on January 26, 2010.

3 Responses to “A penny for your scorn”

  1. can u calculate our total contribution to foreign aid too? 😀

  2. Been a long time since i read something that’s written by someone with real brains… refreshing … 🙂 Thank you

  3. […] wrote about Singapore’s response to that humanitarian disaster…rather disapprovingly. US$50,000 isn’t much to shout […]

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