Friday, 19 July 2013

AGO Report FY 2012/13: Auditor-General flags procurement lapses

Some firms may have enjoyed unfair advantage because of that, says report
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2013

SOME companies could have enjoyed an unfair advantage in tendering for public sector contracts because of the failure of certain public bodies to follow procurement policies, according to the Auditor-General's latest annual report.



Among the largest tenders in which the bidding process was deemed unfair was a $19.14 million project by Republic Polytechnic to develop an integrated academic system. After the deadline, it allowed one vendor to submit a revised proposal.

It was a substantial change from the original tender, but the fact was not disclosed to the tender-approving authority and the company got the contract.

Auditor-General Willie Tan noted that the polytechnic did not consider re-calling the tender or inviting other shortlisted tenderers to submit revised bids, though this is required under government rules.

Such procurement lapses - which took up a significant portion of the 63-page report for the financial year starting in 2012 - happened despite efforts to tighten the rules in the last few years.

Without open and fair competition, Mr Tan said, there would be no assurance that public sector bodies could secure competitive prices for goods and services.

In another case, the Media Development Authority negotiated with a vendor for a revised proposal to organise the $4.57 million Film Festival.

The vendor's earlier bid was the highest among three bidders.

It then submitted a new bid, which became the lowest, after the closing date for the tender. It was awarded the contract.

One case involved a $283.36 million tender for building works by the National Research Foundation where the scoring method used was not established upfront and made known to tenderers.

Another example involved irregularities in a Ngee Ann Polytechnic tender that could have reduced its chances of getting a more competitive price.

The $528,120 tender was for the supply and managing of graduation gowns to the polytechnic's Consumer Cooperative Society. The society's key positions of president, chairman and directors are held by senior polytechnic staff.

The Auditor-General reiterated that public sector entities should ensure that transactions with related parties "are at arm's length and be seen to be so", as public funds are involved.

Four other areas where public sector bodies could devote more attention and improve internal controls were also highlighted.

These were the monitoring of contractors' performance, oversight of projects managed by external consultants, management of stocks and stores, and management of computer access controls.

For instance, inspections of 41 chalets under the Public Service Division showed certain areas were not properly maintained.

These chalets, rented to civil servants for recreation, were to be maintained by a contractor for four years, beginning from 2010, in a contract worth $13.07 million. Checks found that furniture was dirty or damaged, there were insect hives, and electrical sockets were exposed.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Trade and Industry, called for more vigilance and the setting aside of more resources to ensure contractors deliver work to the promised standard.

This, he said, is even more important amid the tight labour market and many public sector projects involving contractors.

The Auditor-General also singled out Muis for "laxity in monitoring and collection of debts".

As of July 2012, it had $24.68 million in debts owed. The money - which comes from the community - was mostly loans and advances to mosques, madrasahs and Muis' subsidiaries.

All in, the report cited lapses in eight ministries and 11 statutory boards. These include the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Ministry of Defence and Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The lapses, however, do not necessarily reflect the organisation's general state of administration, the report said, but "serve as pointers to areas where improvements should be made in the accounting, use and management of public funds and resources".





HDB to keep tabs on carpark wardens
More HDB and URA carparks to get electronic parking system
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2013

BAD news for drivers trying to park for free - illegally. The Housing Board (HDB) has promised to step up its carpark monitoring with tighter checks, after an unsatisfactory report card from the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) on Wednesday.

Also, both HDB and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will be implementing electronic parking systems at more carparks.

The AGO's annual report found that both statutory boards had been lax in monitoring their parking wardens: Some of them failed to check all vehicles; others did not turn up for duty at all. They were hired under contracts.

AGO's 88 surprise checks found five instances where patrolling officers were not present at their patrol sites, despite indicating that they were.

It also found 26 instances where wardens did not inspect all vehicles in the carparks, although they were required to do so.

An HDB spokesman said it would be conducting more checks on wardens to ensure compliance.

It will also introduce e-parking systems at "more carparks where it is technically feasible to do so". URA will do the same for all of its 200 off-street carparks where feasible.

E-parking systems have already been implemented at 368 of the existing 1,800 HDB carparks.

These systems deduct parking charges from a CashCard inserted in the in-vehicle unit of a vehicle leaving the carpark.

This minimises the need for attendants to manually check if parking coupons are properly displayed.

"It is important for HDB to hold the service providers accountable for compliance with contract requirements. Otherwise, HDB would not be getting full value for the public funds spent," said the AGO report.

HDB's six carpark enforcement contracts are worth $37.24 million. The board will impose charges on the service providers.

However, the report noted that previous penalties imposed by URA on its contractor had not resulted in any improvement. The figure amounted to less than 4 per cent of monthly payments.






Agencies expected to rectify weaknesses

WE THANK Mr Cheng Shoong Tat ("Any basis for graft probes?") and Mr Arthur Lim ("Give info on actions taken") for their feedback on Tuesday.

Annually, the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) audits selected public agencies on the accounting, management and use of public funds and resources.

The Auditor-General's report highlights irregularities and weaknesses uncovered in the course of the audit.

While it does not necessarily reflect the general state of administration in the agencies audited, it draws attention to areas where improvements should be made.

Following an audit, the agencies concerned are expected to review their processes and implement measures to rectify the weaknesses reported and prevent future recurrences.

Some of these measures are reflected against the individual findings in the Auditor-General's report, which is available on our website at www.ago.gov.sg

As a follow-up to the report, the AGO may conduct checks to ascertain whether agencies have implemented these measures.

Where circumstances warrant it, the AGO would refer cases to the relevant authorities, including the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, for further investigation.

Ng Lip Nin (Ms)
Group Director
Policy, Quality Assurance and Corporate Communications
Auditor-General's Office
ST Forum, 25 Jul 2013






Any basis for graft probes?

COULD the Auditor-General clarify whether he considered referring some of the public procurement irregularities he uncovered to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) for further investigation ("Auditor-General flags procurement lapses"; last Thursday)?

Almost all of the irregularities cited in the news report appeared to suggest potential contravention of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

As the Auditor-General is not equipped for criminal investigations, should he not avail himself of the expertise of the CPIB?

If he had reasons to believe this was not warranted, could he share these with the public?

The Finance Ministry has reiterated that the public procurement system is robust and that such lapses are due to human errors and non-compliance.

If so, civil servants must be made to understand in no uncertain terms that whenever such lapses occur, the presumption - unless and until proven otherwise - must be that the lapses were committed for their personal benefit.

Such healthy pressure should help ensure that a robust procurement system is not thwarted by those entrusted to run it.

Cheng Shoong Tat
ST Forum, 23 Jul 2013






Give info on actions taken

THE Auditor-General's latest annual report highlights the failure of certain public bodies to follow procurement policies, leading to some companies potentially enjoying an unfair advantage in tendering for public sector contracts ("Auditor-General flags procurement lapses"; last Thursday).

These lapses are nothing new. But considering that millions of dollars are involved, the Auditor-General should - apart from flagging such lapses - indicate what preventive measures have been taken.

If such lapses arise from oversights by senior officers who fail to follow protocols, then they should be held accountable and investigated.

In the past few years, reports of such lapses have been made, but there appears to be no follow-up on what actions have been taken. The respective ministries should let the public know what they have done to improve the situation and reveal if any disciplinary action has been taken against errant officers.

The procurement process is not perfect, as human error does occur, but such lapses must be minimised as public funds are involved.
Arthur Lim
ST Forum, 23 Jul 2013


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