WP concerned over lapses

The Workers' Party (WP) wants the Government to adequately address the lapses in governance and public sector spending highlighted in the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report released last Tuesday.

The opposition party said in a statement on its website issued by Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera yesterday that the lapses were of "grave public concern".

It singled out the Ministry of Education (MOE) in particular for "recurring lapses", drawing a response from the ministry last night.

WP said that more than half of the foreign scholars selected by the AGO for test-checks failed to fulfil their scholarship bond obligations.

However, the MOE said in a statement that this was incorrect. It said the cases were flagged by the AGO over "delays in sending (the foreign students) letters of reminders to update their status". The MOE stressed the students were not in default of their obligations.

"Over the last three years, 1 per cent of such foreign students had intentionally defaulted and MOE is taking action to recover the liquidated damage and impose penalties on them," said the ministry.

"There have been delays in sending them the letters because most of the cases that AGO flagged were from earlier graduation batches, before the enhanced measures were fully implemented," it added.

The WP also stated that $511.49 million of tuition fee loans and study loans given out to students of institutes of higher learning were outstanding as at June 30 last year.

The MOE had also not completed a review of the formula used to calculate fees payable to banks which managed the loans, an issue the AGO had flagged in 2010, WP said.

In response, the MOE said the loans were mostly given to Singaporean students and "it is natural for loans, especially those of a long repayment period, to be outstanding".

It added that only 1.4 per cent of such loans are "in default and may be unrecoverable". "The vast majority of graduates service their loans and make regular repayments."

Another worrying trend, WP said, was the pattern of lapses in procurement, tender and giving preferential access to a "related party" across several institutions, most recently Nanyang Polytechnic.

The WP also highlighted lapses by the National Development Ministry for the HDB's long delays in making final payments to contractors.

Another matter of concern, it said, was the Singapore Police Force's "unusual solution" of amending regulations to regularise $2.63 million in over-payments to volunteer special constabulary officers over seven years.

WP said its MPs will file several questions for ministers to answer at the next Parliament sitting.

"WP calls for transparency on the interventions that will be applied to correct systemic lapses and repair the damage done," it said.

"Getting to the root cause of systemic lapses and instituting preventive and deterrent measures are critical in ensuring that public funds are not misspent."

Lee Min Kok

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'WP concerned over lapses'. Print Edition | Subscribe