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6 times Auditor General Office Singapore exposed government bodies that failed to ‘Ownself-check-Ownself’

By Zat

In 2015, Goh Chok Tong, in an interview said:

“For many years, the PAP was the only party in Parliament. Had the PAP gone corrupt in those years? Had the PAP let the people down? We are our own checks, the integrity of our leaders and our MPs… not this seductive lie of check and balance.”

This was the birth of the Singaporean slang ‘Ownself-check-ownself’ that has been spoken of widely, and now understood to mean being in charge of checking your own actions and being accountable to yourself.

So, how effective is an ‘ownself-check-ownself’ government organisation? Where public monies are involved, the Attorney General Office—an independent body appointed by the President of Singapore—is tasked to hold accountable the efficacy of how government ministries spend public funding allocated to them.

The AGO reports are publicly available and accessible to anyone who wishes to scrutinise the discrepancies found during the year’s audit of government bodies. Below is a short list that we found to be the most interesting to study either by the sheer value of money involved or by the seriousness of the offence.

In today’s slang, these are the 6 times the AGO said, no.

The S$880,000 Bin Centre at Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall

S$880,000 is 222 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2015 of S$3,949.

Ministries involved:
National Arts Council (NAC) headed by Grace Fu
Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) headed by Grace Fu
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) headed by Yaacob Ibrahim

Credit: mrbrown.com

Report of the Auditor-General, 2015/2016, pg 8

AGO found that the NAC had paid a consultancy fee of S$410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing S$470,000. There was an inadequate assessment on the exceptionally high consultancy fee, at 87.2 percent of the cost of construction.

Response by MCCY, pg 31, pt 16

MCCY said that the construction of the bin centre was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services, and effort to coordinate with multiple parties. It acknowledged that the cost assessment could have been more robust.

In response, AGO noted that these reasons were not cited in the approval paper for the drawdown of funds. There was also no documentary evidence that these reasons were indeed considered at the material point in time.

The S$80,744 mobile subscription of 28 unused mobile lines

S$80,744 is 20 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2015 of S$3,949

Ministry involved:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) headed by Vivian Balakrishnan

Report of the Auditor-General, 2015/2016, pg 21

AGO’s audit revealed that MFA did not regularly monitor the usage of and reviewed the need for mobile lines. AGO found that MFA continued to subscribe to 28 mobiles lines that were no longer needed, resulting in wastage of public funds amounting to S$80,744.

Eleven of these lines were not used for more than two years, and for the remaining 17 lines, the officers to whom the lines were assigned had either left MFA or been assigned other lines (for overseas posting) three months to three years earlier.

Response by MFA, pg 22, pt 50

MFA informed AGO that it is taking steps to tighten its processes. It has since terminated the 28 mobile lines that were no longer needed. MFA also informed AGO that it has put in place processes to monitor the usage and review the need for mobile lines annually.

MFA plans to put in place a process to trigger the termination or assignment of lines when officers leave MFA. MFA also indicated that it has since reminded its officers to verify invoices against the contracts.

The S$432,407 computer system bought but left unused for 1.5 years

S$432,407 is 109 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2015 of S$3,949

Ministry involved:
Ministry of Manpower (MOM) headed by Lim Swee Say

Report of the Auditor-General, 2015/2016, pg 26

AGO found that MOM bought a computer system, a Document Generator System (DGS), for S$432,407 for integration with its Foreign Domestic Worker System (FDWS) only to find that it could not be integrated.

The DGS had been left unused since November 2014, for 1.5 years as at the time of the audit.

AGO found that MOM, in its tender evaluation, failed to evaluate whether the DGS could integrate with the FDWS. MOM only found out in November 2014, when the DGS was delivered that it could not be integrated with the FDWS. MOM then decided not to use the DGS as it would not be cost-effective to make the required modifications.

AGO noted that there was no documentary evidence that MOM had put up any plans to redeploy the unused DGS assets. There were only some working-level discussions on the redeployment, which eventually did not materialise.

Response by MOM, pg 26, pt 73

MOM acknowledged that its evaluation should have been more robust and that it could have taken more active steps to explore redeployment of the DGS assets to other government agencies MOM informed AGO that it is currently exploring the redeployment of the DGS assets within MOM.

The S$200,000 extra payment for grass-cutting services over 6 years

S$200,000 is 47 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2015 of S$4,232

Ministry involved:
Ministry of Defence headed by Dr Ng Eng Hen

Report of the Auditor-General, 2017/2018, pg 18

AGO’s audit revealed overpayments of grass-cutting fees at a camp over the period of the six years covered by AGO’s checks. The total overpayment was approximately $0.2 million or about 27 per cent of the total payment of $0.7 million for grass-cutting services.

The overpayments, which arose due to overstatements of the grass-cutting areas, were repeated monthly over the six-year period covered by AGO’s checks.

Response by MINDEF, pg 18, pt 22-23

Following the audit observation, MINDEF informed AGO that DSTA and the contractor had conducted an on-site verification to ascertain the grass-cutting areas and found that the contractor had indeed overstated the areas in the past. DSTA would recover the overpayment from the contractor after the amount has been determined.

DSTA would also impose contractual penalties on the contractor for over-claiming and on the FMA for failing to properly check the contractor’s claims.

MINDEF also stated that to prevent the recurrence of such overpayments, DSTA would put in place various enhancements to its contract management processes.

The S$6.1 million rent-free use of ICA photo booths to a recreation club due to ‘historical legacy’

S$6.1 million is 1,441 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2017 of S$4,232

Ministry involved:
Ministry of Home Affairs headed by K Shanmugam

Report of the Auditor-General, 2017/2018, pg 26

AGO found that ICA had given the right to use its premises to operate photo booths to a recreation club without any competitive process and without charging any rental.

ICA’s direct allocation of premises to the club had deprived other potential operators of a fair chance to bid for the right to use the premises, and this had subjected ICA to an allegation of lack of transparency and mismanagement of Government premises.

Not charging the club market rental was also contrary to Government’s instructions that Government premises be rented out at market rates. Based on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ estimate, the rental forgone was $6.10 million.

Response by Ministry of Home Affairs, pg 27, pt 54-56

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and ICA said the practice was a historical legacy—MOF had given approvals in 1981 and 1984 for the club to operate photography services at the then Singapore Immigration premises and for the profits from operating the services to be credited to the club.

ICA also explained that it had continued the practice as MOF did not explicitly rescind the approval.

Following the audit, ICA informed AGO that it would no longer directly allocate the space to the club from 1 July 2018. It would also follow the Government’s instructions on revenue contracting in appointing the operator if there is still a need to let out the space for photography services after 1 July 2018.

S$13.93 million of uncollected toll at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints

Ministry involved:
Ministry of Transport headed by Khaw Boon Wan

S$13.93 million is 3,527 times the median gross monthly income from work of full-time employed residents in 2017 of S$3,949.

Report of the Auditor-General, 2015/2016, pg 48

AGO found that the collection of toll at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints were weak. As a result, there could be a potential loss of revenue of about $13.93 million in the financial year 2014/15.

During its site audit, AGO observed that there was no effective system at the immigration booths to ensure that vehicles were allowed to pass through only after the applicable fees were paid.

While LTA had put in place certain measures to detect non-payment of fees, AGO found that these measures were ineffective as vehicles could slip through without paying the requisite fees.

Response by LTA, pg 48, pt 79

LTA agreed that there was a need to review the controls and enforcement over revenue collection at the Checkpoints. LTA also informed AGO that it had and would continue to work with the relevant authorities to enhance the system to address the gaps in controls.

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