PA updates training on financial management

Courses for grassroots leaders enhanced after lapses were flagged by Auditor-General

Volunteers who manage public funds in constituencies across Singapore can now tap on a new course to get them familiar with procedures and discuss challenges they might face.

This improved course on financial management for grassroots leaders was among several new programmes announced by People's Association deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

It comes in the wake of a report by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) last July that identified lapses in financial procedures, tender contracts and related-party transactions in several grassroots bodies.

Mr Chan visited the West Coast campus of the National Community Leadership Institute (Nacli) in Buona Vista to observe several of the courses yesterday.

He also told reporters that new measures to improve financial management have been put in place.

These include simplifying many of the accounting processes and putting more focus on training.

Nacli, which is the PA's training arm, aims to offer 1,000 courses this year, up from 900 last year. Some 250 are new, while another 350 will have their curricula enhanced.

Many of the new and enhanced programmes, which range in length from half a day to two days, feature scenario-based training and small discussion groups that include both grassroots leaders and constituency office staff.

Mr Chan said these discussions are part of a shift in the PA's role from an organiser to a mobiliser in recent years.

He said: "Last time, we would try to solve the problems for you. But going forward, the approach will be to solve the problems with you."

One of the courses that has been enhanced is on grassroots financial management. It uses case studies to help "understand why common errors occur and how we can improve the system", said Mr Chan, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief.

Referring to last year's AGO report that highlighted lapses in accounting procedures at several grassroots organisations, he said the PA has adopted a two-pronged approach to manage the problem.

One is to simplify procedures. "We must evolve the system to make it as simple as possible, bearing in mind that the people using it are volunteers and not professionals," said Mr Chan.

The other component is training, which includes things such as how to handle spending in exigencies without breaking rules, and when to recuse oneself from some decisions to avoid conflicts of interest.

Last July, the chairman of the Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC) of Sembawang GRC's Admiralty ward, Mr Tonic Oh, stepped down after the AGO report found seven instances where he approved his own claims totalling $114,767.

He was also involved in approving two contracts worth $32,000 and payments to a company where he held a senior position.

The AGO also found community centres' management committees had awarded 13 tenancy contracts, amounting to $3.67 million, without competition.

The PA's investigation found no evidence of dishonesty.

Mr Chan said of the improved procedures: "Grassroots volunteers go beyond the normal call of duty out of the goodness of their heart, so we must make sure that the system supports their good intentions."

Tampines Central CCC assistant treasurer Francis Ng, 59, attended the improved financial management course yesterday.

"We refreshed ourselves with the rules and how to apply them to our specific situation in our constituency," he said.

"It's good that we went through actual scenarios and learnt how we can balance good financial practices with the needs in the community."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'PA updates training on financial management'. Print Edition | Subscribe