Public accounts watchdog concerned over continuing procurement lapses

Parliament’s public accounts watchdog has expressed concern in a report on Tuesday that despite recent efforts to enhance procurement rules in the public sector, some organisations are still not diligent enough in ensuring compliance.

It sought written explanations from five ministries as well as the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The report is by the Public Accounts Committee, whose eight Members of Parliament scrutinise how public funds are spent.

The committee highlighted that 12 of the 35 observations made in the Auditor-General Report for the financial year 2012 to 2013, “pertained to laxity in the area of procurement”.

These include waiving of competition on weak grounds, allowing bid alterations by certain bidders after the tender had closed, and not disclosing the evaluation criteria upfront in tender documents.

Not evaluating tenders properly and getting approvals retrospectively were the others highlighted by the committee.

“The committee was concerned that even with efforts over the last few years to enhance procurement rules and procedures across the public sector, there were indications that some public sector entities were not sufficiently diligent in ensuring compliance with procurement rules,” the report said.

In addition to the the NRF which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, written explanations have been sought from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Home Affairs.

One lapse was in the tender evaluation of construction works by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). For four tenders totalling $17.38 million, seven of the eight evaluation criteria were not made known to potential tenderers and incorrect information was also given to the quotation approving authority.

The Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for public procurement policies and rules, said that it is requiring all the permanent secretaries and heads of agencies to report on the key findings from the procurement audits and the follow-up action each year.

It is also working with the Public Service Division on providing further guidance on investigations and disciplinary action.

The committee said that a significant proportion of procurement lapses were due to human factors and not the lack of rules and procedures.

It added: “The committee would like to emphasise the importance of public officers having the right values, attitudes, skills and expertise to prevent lapses and fraud.”

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