NEA addresses report on pest control

Pest controllers tackling a rat problem near Bukit Batok MRT station last December. NEA paid its contractor $4.19 million over two years to perform routine surveillance on rodents in public areas. The contractor was required to treat rat burrows in a
Pest controllers tackling a rat problem near Bukit Batok MRT station last December. NEA paid its contractor $4.19 million over two years to perform routine surveillance on rodents in public areas. The contractor was required to treat rat burrows in areas under the agency's purview.ST FILE PHOTO

It responds to observations in AGO report; action taken in areas under agency's purview

Pest control contractors engaged by the National Environment Agency (NEA) will continue to tackle only rat burrows that fall under the agency's purview. But to address observations in the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report on Wednesday, the NEA will spell out the "contract specifications on the scope of work" more clearly, the agency said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

In its report, the AGO said it found "gaps" in the programme.

The statutory board paid its contractor $4.19 million over two years to perform routine surveillance on rodents in public areas. The contractor was required to treat rat burrows in areas under the agency's purview.

This meant some burrows were detected but left untreated, which could lead to higher costs, said AGO. Between September 2013 and January 2014, some 115 active rat burrows were not treated as they were in areas outside NEA's purview. This led to a rise in the number of burrows, from 17 burrows in seven locations to 32 burrows, in the two to six months after being detected.

Under the surveillance programme, which began in 2011, the NEA gives other public agencies information about rat burrows in areas under their charge.

  • What the AGO does

  • The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) is an independent body that checks the financial accounts and records of Singapore's government ministries and departments, organs of state and statutory boards.

    "We play an important role in enhancing public accountability in the management and use of public funds and resources through our audits," it states on its website. "Our independence allows us to carry out our audits without fear or favour."

    The current Auditor-General is Mr Willie Tan Yoke Meng, who was Deputy Secretary (Administration) in the Defence Ministry before taking up the post in February 2013.

    The AGO highlights financial lapses in public agencies in its annual report. It essentially looks at how public funds and resources are used and managed, identifies areas of concern and which need to be corrected.

    The AGO's report is submitted to the President, who will then present it to Parliament.

    The AGO's mandate is provided for in the Constitution and the Audit Act.

    In cases of serious accounting irregularities, the Auditor-General can notify the Ministry of Finance to take action.

    Rachel Au-Yong

"The respective stakeholders will then follow up to inspect and control the rat population in their areas," said the NEA yesterday.

The AGO observed that NEA "had not actively followed up with the public agencies on actions taken to treat the active burrows detected".

Said an NEA spokesman: "NEA will also review our procedures to improve coordination with other premises owners and public agencies to ensure that rat-control efforts from all stakeholders are conducted effectively."

But the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment, Ms Lee Bee Wah, said she was "disappointed" that public agencies draw such boundaries.

"I think the system should change," said Ms Lee.

"Diseases know no boundaries."

Ms Lee also pointed to the Municipal Services Office, which was set up to improve government coordination and delivery of municipal services, including pest control.

"I believe they should look into how the NEA interprets its responsibilities," she added.

Separately, Singapore Polytechnic (SP) issued a statement saying it acknowledged and accepted the AGO's findings and was taking immediate steps to address them.

The AGO took issue with related-party transactions that were not carried out "at arm's length".

To the Singapore Polytechnic Graduates' Guild (SPGG), SP had sub-leased land at nominal rent and waived a substantial amount that was due, without proper evaluation.

SP also failed to recover significant costs for seconding staff to fully owned subsidiary Singapore Polytechnic International (SPI). SP said it was reviewing the land lease to SPGG and will work with the guild to review the loan repayment arrangement.

SP and SPI are also taking action to formalise the secondment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'NEA addresses report on pest control'. Print Edition | Subscribe