Think out of the box to tackle control issues over public funds

The manner in which Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) managed transactions with its subsidiary involving public funds "reflect a disregard for financial controls and proper governance", the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) said.
The manner in which Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) managed transactions with its subsidiary involving public funds "reflect a disregard for financial controls and proper governance", the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) said. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Every year, the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) reports lapses and systemic weaknesses in financial controls and governance norms across various government ministries and agencies, which have resulted in the loss of public funds ("AGO flags weak MOE controls over public funds"; Wednesday).

This year is no exception, and shows that there is no let-up in the procurement, financial and governance issues these organisations face.

This is despite the fact that they usually provide assurance that they have tightened their procedures and controls.

The concern is that individual officers in government agencies and departments are not sufficiently diligent in ensuring compliance with the prescribed procedures.

Is it a matter of incompetence, complacency, lack of supervision or a lax management of public funds or a combination of all these?

Whatever the reason, it is imperative that our public institutions meet the highest standards of probity, transparency as well as accountability. A system falling short of these standards would create the ideal breeding ground for corruption.

Perhaps electronic systems that could save money, enhance transparency and minimise human intervention could be considered.

In any case, government ministries and agencies should learn to think out of the box and develop a system that has zero tolerance for weaknesses in the use and management of public funds.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Think out of the box to tackle control issues over public funds'. Print Edition | Subscribe