Friday 3 August 2012

Foldable bikes issue dealt with firmly but fairly

'Did I jump the gun? I don't think so'
National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan believes that 'the public has a right to know'
TODAY, 2 Aug 2012

Although the internal investigation over the National Parks Board's (NParks) controversial purchase of 26 foldable Brompton bicycles was ongoing at the time, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that he did not "jump the gun" by commenting on the matter on his blog.

On July 4 - prior to the Ministry of National Development (MND) concluding there could have been bias in the procurement process and reporting the matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) - Mr Khaw had said that he had been satisfied with NParks' justification for the purchase, which drew flak from the public over the cost.

The bikes cost S$2,200 each and S$57,200 in total.

"Did I jump the gun? I don't think so. There had been many Singaporeans writing to me expressing concern about the issue. The public have a right to know, and I thought that I should share this interim finding with the public, so long as what I disclosed did not affect the ongoing audit," Mr Khaw wrote in a blog post yesterday - giving his first comments on the issue since the matter was referred to the CPIB.

"I wrote then that the decision to buy foldable bikes was justified. However, to signal my dissatisfaction and to convey a public message (not just to NParks but to all MND officers) that we should always seek value for money and ensure contestability when procuring goods or services, I added that I thought the procurement could have been better handled and NParks could have gotten a better deal," he said. 

Mr Khaw also explained what went on in the days leading up to the suspension of Mr Bernard Lim, the NParks Assistant Director in charge of the procurement.

On June 30, Mr Khaw commissioned an MND Internal Audit Team to "dig impartially and more thoroughly into the transaction" as he was "not happy with the procurement outcome".
At the time, he had "no reason to question the integrity of the officer(s) involved".

Meanwhile, from July 14, comments were circulating online on the friendship between an NParks officer and the owners of the company supplying the bikes, which were noted by the audit team, said Mr Khaw.

The MND audit was completed on July 20, and the findings found that, while the reason for the purchase was valid, there were "certain discrepancies which suggest a possibility of bias".

"Over that weekend, I discussed the audit findings with PS/MND (Permanent Secretary of the MND) and we decided to report the matter to and share the audit findings with the CPIB," said Mr Khaw.

The report was made on July 23, a press statement was issued the next day and the NParks officer was suspended from duty.

"This is how the subject was dealt with in MND during the past one month: Firm but measured action, balancing between the resolute pursuit of justice and the need for fairness and due process," said Mr Khaw.

Govt agencies encouraged to alert potential suppliers to opportunities: MOF
By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 1 Aug 2012

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) said that government agencies are encouraged to alert potential suppliers to opportunities that are published on the government's GeBIZ procurement website.

Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday, MOF said agencies may also publicise opportunities on their websites to ensure that there is sufficient attention.

Some had asked if the online tender process encourages widespread participation from suppliers, following the Brompton bike purchase by Nparks in which only one vendor responded.
MOF said that the calling of tenders and quotations through GeBIZ ensures fairness and transparency.

As an internet platform, GeBIZ has wider outreach and also enables suppliers to view the procurement opportunity throughout the tender or quotation opening period, the ministry added.

There are currently over 50,000 suppliers registered with GeBIZ, who may opt to receive alerts on relevant business opportunities through email or RSS.

MOF added that it undertakes regular reviews of public sector procurement rules and guidelines.

A ministry spokesperson said that the ministry is examining the process and, where necessary, will make adjustments to ensure there are adequate safeguards while maintaining operational efficiency.

One corporate governance expert said more companies should be encouraged to sign up as GeBIZ trading partners, to ensure a fairer tender process.

Associate Professor Ho Yew Kee from the NUS Business School said: "What other alternative do you have? You advertise in the newspapers, that's going to be very costly. In anything that you do, there can be the argument that the vendors don't read newspapers, or alternatively, this particular advertisement is too selective. So there's no perfect process.

"I think the way to do this is to encourage more vendors to come onto GeBIZ and then to exercise due diligence, to search that space continuously for opportunities for business."


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