More than 10 Members of Parliament (MPs) have handed out awards created by private firms in the past four years.
They said they did their own checks before accepting the invitations, and they were there to encourage entrepreneurs and fund-raising drives associated with the event.
For instance, last year's Promising SME 500 award was handed out by Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor. The year before, it was Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How.
Having an MP is a vital part of the deal, said a former staff member of a company which creates business awards. "Winners feel important when receiving the award from an MP on stage and having photos taken," said the person whose job was to canvas interest in the awards.
"We usually approach the MPs through their grassroots leaders so that it is harder for them to say no," she said. "And we throw in a fund- raising aspect to sweeten the deal."
Mr Heng confirmed that the invitation for the 2013 Promising SME 500 awards dinner was made through a grassroots leader. He added that he stood in for a minister who could not attend the event because of scheduling.
Dr Lily Neo, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, who was at the Singapore Resource Association (SRA) award dinner last year, said she was there to support the entrepreneurs. "The other reason is that SRA informed me that there would be a fund-raising part of the dinner to support a charitable cause," she added. SRA raised $15,000 for the Hospice Care Association at the dinner.
Mr Zainal Sapari, who gave out the SME of the Year award at the Marina Bay Sands last month, said he was aware it was driven by the private sector. "I see it as marketing and branding efforts to help the companies," said the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP. "I know that the award is not endorsed by Spring Singapore, but we should still support the SMEs."
Dr Lim Wee Kiak, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, who presented the Singapore Excellence Award in 2013, said MPs will look at the inviting firm's background and whether they are known to grassroots leaders, before accepting . "We also consult the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). We try our best to support as many SMEs as possible, but I have rejected (some invitations) based on the advice of MTI before."
Toh Yong Chuan