I refer to the article “Parliament: Annual checks of public agencies by Auditor-General ‘not forensic in nature’” (Straits Times, Oct 2).

It states that “The annual audit checks of government agencies by the Auditor-General are not forensic investigations, said Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah on Monday (Oct 2).

The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) merely selects samples from the accounts, looks at them and considers whether the system as a whole is robust, said Ms Indranee.

“And if it picks up a point that the system in itself has got inefficiencies or deficiencies, it will highlight it.”

“That is the nature, not just (of) an audit by AGO, but all audits,” she added.

Ms Indranee was responding to Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) who had asked whether the AGO will direct government agencies found to have lapses to investigate improper payments and recover the money. Mr Png also asked for the basis on which the Ministry of Health (MOH) had concluded that there was no fraud in the ministry’s accounts even though the AGO had found lapses in the ministry.

The AGO had rapped the MOH in July this year for the way tens of millions of dollars were spent in the building of the $800 million Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. The AGO criticised the ministry for “lack of controls and inadequate oversight” of the project, which was completed in 2015 and about half a year behind schedule.

In her reply, Ms Indranee said that an audit can trigger a forensic investigation only if there is a reason to do so, such as when there are conflicts of interest, payment to related parties or if a single person submits a payment request, approves it and makes the payment himself.

Whether a lapse uncovered in an audit leads to an investigation will depend on the nature of the lapse, she added.

Mr Png “may have misunderstood the nature of an audit”, she added.”

I understand that one of the objectives of an audit is the detection and/or prevention of errors or frauds.

As to “There will not be a forensic probe in cases where there are proper procedures and the lapses were due to human error, said Ms Indranee” – if there is no further investigation – how do we prevent “human error” in the future?

With regard to “In the MOH case, the rules and processes were adequate but they were not complied with, Ms Indranee said. “It is quite correct for MOH to say that the audit did not in this case disclose evidence of fraud”” – how can the MOH investigate itself and then conclude that there was no evidence of fraud?

Surely, an independent party has to investigate whether “the rules and processes were adequate” and why “they were not complied with”?

Finally, I do not think that the subject reply in Parliament has adequately addressed the question as to whether “government agencies found to have lapses” will be directed to  “investigate improper payments and recover the money” – and have follow-up reporting as a basic tenet of accountability?


Leong Sze Hian
A.S.S. Contributor

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