Accounts of lapses and neglect in public spending by government ministries and departments documented in the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) latest report are shocking. They include (but are not limited to):
The Singapore Police Force overpaying its Volunteer Special Constabulary officers in allowance to the tune of about $2.63 million over a period of seven years.
The National Arts Council unreasonably paying an “exceptionally high” consultancy fee of $410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing S$470,000. Additionally, multiple redevelopment works were carried out before approvals were given.
The Ministry of Manpower buying a computer system for $432,407 only to find that it could not be integrated into the existing system.
The Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore not effectively enforcing conditions imposed in scholarship bonds awarded to foreign students, allowing many of these students to break their contracts.
The Housing Development Board not enforcing carpark-fee collection competently, leading to some motorists evading payment.
The Land Transport Authority not exercising proper control over the collection of tolls at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, resulting in the under-collection of about $13.93 million for FY2014/15.
According to the AGO, these actions, or lack thereof, are not isolated incidents but permeate across multiple ministries, government agencies, and statutory boards.
Ministry of Defence making a $50-million investment in the US without approval.
It stated that, in one case, the “principles of good governance and financial controls were disregarded in several areas, resulting in a lack of financial accountability and, in another, the “large number of instances indicated a breakdown in the controls…”
The AGO report blows a gaping hole in the PAP’s rhetoric that it runs a competent and efficient government. The inadequacies and neglect in public expenditure processes must be thoroughly investigated, public officials responsible for the lapses made to answer for them, and where necessary efforts made to recover the funds.
Most important, Ministers cannot hide behind civil servants. They must lead from the front and come forward to explain to the Singaporean public why such a woeful situation exists and what steps are being taken to prevent recurrences. These are a concern as many similar issues were flagged in previous reports from the auditor-general.
One of them is, of course, Mr K Shanmugam. Before he waxes indignant about the financial lapses in the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council he should, perhaps, expend more of his time and energy putting things right in the Government processes.