Gerald Giam calls for transparency in $18 billion defense budget; Defense Minister says audits ensure accountability

Gerald Giam calls for transparency in $18 billion defense budget; Defense Minister says audits ensure accountability

During the Committee of Supply debate for Budget 2023, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, Mr Gerald Giam, called for more detailed information on the budget expenditure for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

“MINDEF’s total expenditure in FY2023 is projected to increase 5.6% over FY2022, on top of an 11.3% increase from FY2021 to FY2022. While I understand the need for military secrecy, can MINDEF minimally provide the estimated expenditure for each of these four items? This is common practice in public budget estimates in other territories, including Taiwan, Latvia, and Finland, all of whom face real and existential threats,” said Mr Giam in his speech on Friday (24 Feb).

He also highlighted the importance of more thorough scrutiny of MINDEF’s budget and expenditure to maintain public confidence in the allocation of the $17.97 billion, which is the highest allocation among all the Ministries, towards achieving its mission.

Mr Giam also expressed his pride in serving his full-time National Service (NS) and completing all his Operationally Ready NS cycles. He acknowledged the need to maintain a strong and credible SAF to effectively defend Singapore, and emphasized that more thorough scrutiny of MINDEF’s budget and expenditure will help maintain public confidence in the allocation of the S$17.97 billion budget towards achieving the ministry’s mission.

In response, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said that MINDEF has a necessary tradeoff between accountability and full transparency, as detailed information can compromise national security.

He emphasized that the ministry is subject to independent audits by the Auditor General’s office, which conducts deep dives into processes to ensure accountability and prudence in spending.

“We have strong internal controls to ensure expenditures are within stipulated reference costs, adhering to rigorous standards when dealing with large-scale projects. Although there is a trade-off between accountability and full transparency, Singaporeans can see where the dollars are going,” said Minister Ng.

The Public Accounts Committee can request additional information after examining Auditor-General’s Office(AGO)’s audits, as it did in this case. With strong internal controls, the ministry ensures that expenditures are within stipulated ranges of reference costs, and procurement processes adhere to rigorous standards, said Minister Ng.

It should be noted that the current Auditor General is Ms Goh Soon Poh, who was appointed to her new role in January 2019 and is the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How.

When asked in Parliament, Minister Chan Chun Sing said, “The audit process generally does not involve political office-holders. There is no conflict of interest generally, between AGO and the ministries it audits. Where there is a potential conflict of interest, there are specific processes to manage these, just as in any professional organization.”

Purchases of F35B fighters and submarines

During his response to Mr Giam, Minister Ng also announced that MINDEF will acquire eight more F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, bringing the total fleet to 12 of the jets by the end of this decade. The acquisition will support the progressive drawdown of Singapore’s aging F-16s, which will retire from the mid-2030s, he added.

“This means that at steady state, the RSAF will operate the F-35 and F-15 fighter planes, the most advanced in the region,” said Minister Ng.

In January this year, a Lockheed spokesperson said that an F-35B — just the airframe and mission equipment — costs US$78.3 million to US$80.9 million (S$105.7  million to S$109.2 million).

It was also reported last December Mdm Ho Ching, the spouse of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, launched two Singapore submarines made by German ship builder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in Kiel.

The submarines are the second and third of four customised Type 218SG submarines built by TKMS for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), and they are expected to be in active service by 2024.

According to a report from, the Type 218SG is a class of submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP), which can allow for superior underwater range and durability, and a minimal rate of instability and thermal signature. This greatly expands the strategic advantage of AIP submarines.

The initial deal for the first two submarines was valued at €1.6 billion (S$2.3 billion), including logistics and crew training, the report added.

On 16 May 2017, Ng Eng Hen announced an order of two more Type 218SG submarines for a total of four. The first Type 218SG submarine, named RSS Invincible, was also launched at Kiel on 18 February 2019 and started its sea trials in September 2020.

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