The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) has highlighted multiple lapses in public sector spending and governance totalling tens of millions of dollars. The Workers’ Party (WP) believes these are matters of grave public concern and should be adequately addressed by the Government. Of particular concern are recurring lapses taking place under one Ministry.
Ministry of Education
More than half of the scholars selected by the AGO for test-checks failed to fulfil their scholarship obligations to Singapore.
S$511.49 million of tuition fee loans and study loans given out to students of institutes of higher learning are outstanding as at 30 June 2015. In 2010, the AGO flagged out the formula used to calculate fees payable to the banks for perversely incentivizing the banks not to reduce outstanding loans. MOE said that it would review the formula and provided targets to do so each time the AGO followed up since 2010. But the review has still not been completed as at March 2016.
Another worrying trend is the pattern of lapses in procurement, tender, and giving preferential access to a Related Party across several institutions. The AGO found lapses at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in 2012, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Republic Polytechnic in 2013, and now Nanyang Polytechnic too.
Ministry of National Development
The AGO found that HDB had long delays in making final payments to contractors, with some final payments delayed by up to 3.3 years. NParks was also flagged by the AGO for late payments in 2011.
As pointed out by the AGO, late payments could be seen as an unfair business practice and could result in the Ministry paying more due to interest arising from late payments. Late payments also deter smaller contractors from bidding on government projects.
Ministry of Home Affairs
Another matter of concern is the unusual solution by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to amend the Police (Special Constabulary) Regulations (Cap. 235, Rg 3) to regularise its $2.63 million in over-payments to volunteer special constabulary officers over seven years.
While VSC officers deserve recognition for their service, as enforcers of the law, retroactively changing the law to gloss over seven years of lapses makes a mockery of the rule of law. Not only is this highly irregular, it also does not adequately address the weaknesses in internal controls.
Get to the Root Cause
WP calls for transparency on the interventions that will be applied to correct systemic lapses and repair the damage done. For example, will forensic audits be conducted, independent accountants attached to the relevant agencies or liquidated damages pursued?
Getting to the root cause of systemic lapses and instituting preventive and deterrent measures are critical in ensuring that public funds are not misspent.
WP MPs will be filing several questions for Ministers to answer at the upcoming Parliament sitting. We look forward to obtaining more clarity on the root cause of these lapses and remedial actions taken by the Government.
Deputy Chair, Media Team
The Workers’ Party