Debate on motion to increase Singapore’s World Bank subscription

I support Singapore playing a bigger role in international organisations like the World Bank. However, I would like more clarity on why our subscription needs to be increased by such a large amount, and how Singaporeans will benefit from this change.

Delivered in Parliament on 21 January 2014

Mr Deputy Speaker,

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance is seeking Parliament’s approval to increase Singapore’s membership subscription limit to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (or IBRD) from the current US$40 million to US$672 million.

The IBRD – commonly referred to as the World Bank – is an important international development institution that focuses on uplifting poor and vulnerable communities in the developing world. It aims to promote global collective action on issues like health, trade, agriculture and climate change; strengthen governance and anti-corruption efforts; and prepare for crises.

Singapore has been a member of the World Bank since 1966. We have in the past benefited from World Bank loans for infrastructure development projects. Between 1963 and 1975, Singapore received 14 loans from the World Bank for port expansion, sewage, power, telecoms, education and environmental management. These included US$15 million for the Port of Singapore Authority and another US$15 million for Pasir Panjang Power Station.

Now that we are a developed economy, I think it right for us to contribute back to the development of other countries by supporting the work of the World Bank. As a responsible member of the international community, we should play our part to help alleviate poverty in our world.

Our current subscription limit is US$40 million. This limit has not changed since 1966, when we were much smaller and poorer. Considering our economy has grown a lot since then, our current subscription appears relatively low. We have one of the lowest subscriptions among the 188 member countries in the World Bank.

Having said that, the quantum of the proposed increase in our subscription limit is not small. It is going up from US$40 million to US$672 million – an increase of almost 17 times. Can I ask the DPM how the Government arrived at this quantum?

I understand that voting power at the Bank is allocated based on the capital stock held by each member. Is the increase in our subscription intended to strengthen our voting power or increase our influence at the Bank?

If so, can the DPM explain what tangible benefits it translates to for Singaporeans? Does it make much of a difference if we raise our vote share from the current 0.05% to 0.25%, and is it worth the full US$672 million?

What will be the frequency of the payments of our subscriptions, and under what extreme circumstances that the DPM mentioned will Singapore have to make a full subscription? Will be be obliged to contribute the full subscription if the Bank calls for it?

Sir, I support Singapore playing a bigger role in international organisations like the World Bank. However, I would like more clarity on why our subscription needs to be increased by such a large amount, and how Singaporeans will benefit from this change. Thank you.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.