Government responds to lapses found by AGO

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah. FILE PHOTO: TAMIL MURASU

No evidence of systemic weakness; system is transparent and accountable, says Indranee

Most lapses flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) stem from individual officers not following procedures, and do not reflect any systemic weakness, Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah told Parliament yesterday.

She said 28 officers have been counselled or warned arising from this year's audit findings. One officer was put on a performance review process for repeated poor performance and later left his agency.

Ms Indranee added that independent auditors have found public funds to be properly accounted for.

"We have a system that is transparent and accountable, and with Government responding to every weakness that is found," she said.

The fact that there are reports of lapses from the AGO each year reflects this transparency and accountability, she said.

"It is a part of the workings of a robust system - which includes a diligent and impartial AGO, and government agencies that willingly submit to AGO's audit, have their lapses displayed openly and seek to rectify them promptly."

 

Ms Indranee added that the system "is not perfect" but it has given Singapore international recognition for clean and efficient Government.

This year's AGO report had highlighted lapses in, among others, the Ministry of Education, National Arts Council and Ministry of Defence. MPs had raised nine questions on the report on Monday and yesterday.

Ms Indranee said the Government looks at two areas when it reviews the AGO report each year.

The first area is whether the accounts of public agencies are reliable and prepared according to the law. They pass muster when the AGO gives an unmodified audit opinion, as it has every year.

This means "public funds are properly accounted for and we know what they are being used for".

The second area pertains to how rules and procedures in the agencies are followed, for instance, to prevent overspending.

In this regard, Ms Indranee gave three reasons why the Government remains confident that the public sector is accountable and responsive to every weakness found.

First, most lapses were due to non-compliance by individual officers or agencies, and do not reflect a systemic weakness.

Second, no instances of fraud or corruption were found.

Third, steps have been taken to rectify the lapses.

"I can say with confidence from this year's AGO report and past years', that there is no evidence of a systemic weakness within government agencies with regard to compliance," Ms Indranee said.

But it would be unrealistic to expect no lapses to be found.

"With over 140,000 officers in the public service handling hundreds of thousands of transactions each year, human laxity or errors of judgment will happen," she noted.

"We take each and every lapse seriously, but if nothing was found by AGO, we would be very concerned about the independence and rigour of AGO's audits."

Ms Indranee also noted that the AGO found no hint of financial malfeasance, such as fraud or corruption - for which the Government has zero tolerance.

Two recurring problem areas are being tackled: The management of contracts, and procurement.

The Building and Infrastructure Centre of Excellence was set up under JTC this year to advise agencies on how to manage contracts. This is particularly useful for agencies that do not regularly manage construction projects, Ms Indranee said.

Permanent secretaries and agency chief executives must also report regularly to the Finance Ministry with an assessment of the findings in procurement audits and their follow-up actions, she added.

"We will continue to tackle all lapses identified each year with the same resolve."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Govt responds to lapses found by AGO'. Print Edition | Subscribe