Government accounts safe, unlike AHPETC's: Tharman

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's public sector has in place a sound system of checks and balances that ensures public funds are properly accounted for, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

As with past years, the Auditor-General gave government accounts a clean bill of health which left no doubt the public's money is in safe hands, he told Parliament.

Mr Tharman was responding to MPs' questions on lapses in some statutory boards that the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) had identified in its latest annual report and how these differ from those of the Workers' Party (WP) town council.

There is a fundamental difference, he said, likening it to a house.

One house needs specific repairs but is structurally safe, while the other has multiple defects and is structurally unsound.

His characterisation is based on the public-sector accounts getting an "unmodified audit opinion" from the AGO while in Aljunied- Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), "the entire system of accounts is a problem", Mr Tharman added.

The House also heard a detailed account of the lapses at the People's Association (PA), one of the statutory boards highlighted in the AGO's FY2014-15 report.

PA deputy chairman Lim Swee Say spelt out the seven payment claims a grassroots leader had made and approved to himself. The House heard as well the details of 13 tenancy contracts that community clubs handed out without competition, which was against PA's rules.

Mr Tharman, however, noted the agencies involved had done their own investigations and taken corrective steps, including enhancing their IT systems to enable better tracking.

Said Mr Tharman: "Let me reassure Members that we have a sound system of checks and balances in place in the public sector, which is why it is regarded as one of the cleanest and most reputable administrations in the world."

After the sitting, WP's chairman Sylvia Lim told reporters that his characterisation of AHPETC accounts as a house at risk of collapse is "a gross exaggeration".

Responding, the Government said she did not give the full picture and that by April next year, AHPETC could possibly owe its sinking fund another $18 million.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Govt accounts safe, unlike AHPETC's: Tharman'. Print Edition | Subscribe