Govt agencies must have zero tolerance for weaknesses

Posed photo of a person using a laptop keyboard.
Posed photo of a person using a laptop keyboard.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

I am intrigued by how, year in and year out, there are significant lapses and systemic weaknesses found in financial controls, IT controls and governance norms across various government ministries and agencies (Watchdog calls for fixing root causes of recurrent lapses in public sector; Feb 2).

This year is no exception and it shows that, despite assurances from the respective organisations that they have tightened their procedures and controls, there is no let-up in procurement, IT and financial weaknesses, as well as conflicts of interest and governance issues on the part of these organisations.

All too often, government departments and agencies have in place neatly drawn-up manuals of procedures and instructions that are religiously complied with initially but tend to lose their way with the passage of time.

Factors like shortage of time, urgency, shortage of manpower, unforeseen circumstances, failure to understand rules and oversight are often cited as reasons for irregularities, even though proper instructions are in force.

Consequently, failure to comply with prescribed controls leads to enforcement becoming lax and procedures not being adhered to.

Whatever the reasons, it is imperative that our public institutions meet the highest standards of probity, transparency and accountability.

Any system falling short of these standards would create the ideal breeding ground for corruption that eats into the vitals of government machinery.

There is, therefore, a dire need to not only professionalise procedures to make them more accountable but, more importantly, to train public officers and conduct regular compliance reviews too.

Perhaps electronic systems that could save money, enhance transparency and minimise human intervention could be considered.

In any case, government ministries and agencies should learn to think out of the box and develop a system that provides zero tolerance for weaknesses in the use and management of public funds.

This can be achieved if due diligence is exercised by all concerned. As citizens, we expect the proper management of public funds and resources so that the integrity of our systems and procedures can be maintained.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2019, with the headline 'Govt agencies must have zero tolerance for weaknesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe