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Annual audit highlights several public sector lapses
SINGAPORE'S chief auditor has completed the annual audit of the country's public sector, uncovering irregularities and lapses in various ministries and statutory boards. The 72-page report for the 2014/15 financial year, signed off by auditor-general Willie Tan, was submitted to President Tony Tan Keng Yam on July 1 and presented to Parliament on Monday this week.
Many of the lapses were related to slip-ups in procurement and tenders, while others involved poor management of contracts, lack of oversight and poor financial administration.
In his report, Mr Tan singled out four areas which public sector entities could pay greater attention to and make improvements.
These include the way grants are administered; the tendering and management of revenue contracts; the management of contract variations; and related-party transactions.
He also expressed "concern" over the lack of documentation on decisions, actions taken and matters with significant financial implications in the areas audited.
As public sector entities award a significant amount of contracts for vendors to operate businesses on the entities' premises, Mr Tan said that it was important they uphold the principles of transparency, open and fair competition, and obtain the right approvals for the award of contracts.
The Infocomm Development Authority, for instance, was found to have used funds totalling S$9.3 million from the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Finance for two projects without first getting the green light from the two ministries.
These projects were to revamp the Singapore Science Centre's Hall of IT Exhibition, and to develop the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre.
The Auditor-General's Office (AGO), meanwhile, also discovered that the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) erred in how it administered three different government grants.
Besides failure to ensure that its programme partner and training providers followed the audit requirements for the use of the grants, there were also over-disbursements of grants worth S$170,100 and delays in the recovery of unused grants estimated at S$461,000.
As a result, the AGO said that "there was a risk that grants disbursed might not have achieved their intended purposes", and that any delays in submitting audit reports would impede WDA's ability to take prompt corrective action on any reported lapse.
The National Parks Board (NParks) was rapped for awarding a contract without going through the proper tender process.
In managing the development of the Gardens By The Bay project, NParks allowed a consultant to begin services without getting approval to call a limited tender, inviting instead only that particular consultant to bid.
In doing so, NParks was deemed to have "prematurely communicated" that it had intended to award the contract worth S$2.37 million to the consultant. This meant there was no assurance that NParks had obtained a competitive bid for the tender, said the AGO.
NParks later explained that it faced a tight time-line and acknowledged that it should have highlighted to the relevant authorities that more time was needed and called an open tender instead.
The auditor-general noted that the audits give assurance to the President and Parliament on the proper accounting, management and use of public resources. "In the process, they strengthen the accountability of public sector entities as custodians and stewards of public resources," said Mr Tan.
He added that as the AGO's audits were conducted on a test-check basis, they do not reveal every single problem out there. " However, they should help to uncover some of the serious lapses. The irregularities and weaknesses uncovered do not necessarily reflect the general state of administration in the entities audited, but point to the areas where improvement should be made in the accounting, management and use of public resources," he said.