Flawed assumptions behind poor rating for S'pore in defence anti-graft index: Ng Eng Hen
The assumptions that formed the basis for Transparency International to give Singapore a "poor" rating in a Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index last year are flawed, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday.
His ministry puts in place strict procedures to ensure that procurement systems adhere to the highest and most rigorous standards, he added.
Citing publications like Jane's Defence Weekly, Financial Times and Aviation Week, Dr Ng said credible defence journals acknowledge Singapore's stringent, transparent and cost-effective procurement practices.
"Among global defence companies, it is common knowledge that Mindef buys equipment at very competitive prices and has stringent standards of performance for its purchases," he added.
In this context, for the anti-corruption watchdog TI to group Singapore in the same category as Iraq and Afghanistan points to a "credibility gap" in its reports, said Dr Ng.
"Mindef has examined TI's assessment and found their assumptions to be flawed and processes weak," he added, in response to a question by Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak.
Dr Lim had asked whether Singapore's defence budget oversight and procurement processes were sufficiently robust, in light of TI's poor rating for Singapore.
Dr Ng took issue with two points in the TI report about Singapore.
While it stated there is "no evidence of illicit economic activity", it went on to add that "we may assume some off-budget allocations, perhaps on a limited basis".
"I don't know what the basis of that assumption is but it is a very, very serious allegation," the minister said.
The evaluator further claimed that he had "on good personal authority" that there was a phantom employee on Mindef's payroll, without giving details.
TI's processes need to be strengthened "by relying on more authoritative sources and substantiated facts", Dr Ng said, pointing out that its analysis seems to be based mainly on Internet sources.
He added that Mindef had tried to reach out to TI to give them more information, but they "flatly declined our offers of more information to debunk their false assertions".
Dr Ng also told the House that the defence budget is presented and passed by Parliament, and approved by the President, each year.
The Parliament appoints a Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to work closely with the Auditor-General's Office to conduct regular scrutiny of expenditure and accounts.
"This is further complemented by strong executive oversight, and we have a robust system of checks and balances, an independent Auditor-General who reports to the President, and a clean Civil Service," Dr Ng said.
Singapore's high-standing reputation as a country with a clean and honest government is also backed by findings of other think-tanks and bodies like the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy. In fact, TI's most recent Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the fifth least corrupt nation in the world, said Dr Ng.
"The fact that the same organisation, albeit through another publication, can now produce a completely different assessment, again calls into question TI's credibility."