The National Arts Council (NAC) has explained the high fees paid to consultants of a centralised refuse collection project in the Civic District, saying it was "not a simple bin centre to build".
There were many technical challenges to consider, as well as the need to ensure traffic nearby was smooth and the buildings were conserved, it said on Government website Factually, which aims to correct misinformation posted online.
The $410,000 it paid for a study on the project alone is nearly 90 per cent of the cost of actually building the bin centre, which was another $470,000.
The bin centre stands above the basement of the Asian Civilisations Museum's (ACM) outhouse and is for the rubbish from Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall as well as the nearby ACM and Old Parliament House. Previously, each had its own bin centre.
The issue drew sharp criticism, particularly online, after the Auditor-General's Office singled out the high consultancy fees in its annual report released last week.
Responding, the NAC acknowledged and accepted that the cost assessment for building the centre should have been more robust.
The council, which comes under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, said that in future, it would decide whether consultancy fees were reasonable by looking at the quoted fee as a proportion of the project's construction cost.
It had not used this method for the bin centre when seeking approval for funds to pay the consultancy fee. Instead, it compared the quoted fee against fees for other complex projects. This was the reason it was not clear that the consultancy fee was exceptionally high, said the AGO report.
The report also said NAC had directly engaged the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall consultants to provide these additional consultancy services. It did not call for a separate tender.
NAC said this was because the consultants - who were not named - were selected based on an open tender for the project as a whole.
The NAC, in its reply, also said there could be some misunderstanding about the reasons for building the bin centre. It was not a standalone project, but part of the redevelopment for the Civic District, which the NAC said was "an important cultural and heritage area for Singapore".
Building the bin centre would improve operations and enhance the area's aesthetics, it said.
It also said the construction cost was less than 1 per cent of the development cost of the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.
The project, it said, was complex for several reasons.It involved structural and reinforcement works as it was above the ACM basement.
Mechanical and electrical services had to be accounted for, and existing underground services had to be diverted. The project also had to include ventilation so that foul smells would not escape from it as the bin centre stands next to the ACM offices.
Other considerations included preserving the aesthetics of the historic area, and studying the impact of the bin centre on the ACM loading and unloading bay.
"Consultancy services were necessary because of the complexity of the project," said the NAC.
The consultancy services included a feasibility study taking into account the various requirements of the three buildings, which house three separate institutions.
Correction note: The story has been edited for clarity.