Parliament: 'No conflict of interest' in appointing new Auditor-General, a Senior Minister of State's wife

Ms Goh Soon Poh, who took over the role of auditor-general earlier in February 2019, is the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - There is generally no conflict of interest between the Auditor-General's Office and the ministries it audits, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament on Thursday (Feb 28).

Mr Chan, who is the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, also set out how people are identified to fill key constitutional appointments.

He was responding to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who had asked the Government to confirm if the recently appointed Auditor-General was the wife of a Senior Minister of State, and if so, how that might affect the public's perception of the independence of the office.

She did not name names, but Ms Goh Soon Poh, who took over the role earlier this month, is the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How.

Mr Chan confirmed that the Public Service was aware Ms Goh and Mr Heng are married.

He also noted that the Public Service Division's "values of integrity and excellence apply equally to the appointment process", which is set out in the Constitution.

He added that the Constitution sets out the requirements for certain roles, as well as the office holders who should advise or be consulted on the appointment.

"In general, the key considerations when identifying candidates include their ability to do the job well, their qualifications and experience, track record, integrity and sense of public service," he said.

On Ms Goh's appointment, Mr Chan said the Auditor-General is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister and chairman of the Public Service Commission.

The President will then consult the Council of Presidential Advisers, "which provides an additional level of scrutiny and advice".

Listing her qualifications, Mr Chan noted that Ms Goh has had more than 30 years of public sector experience, and has "served with distinction, with utmost integrity and commitment to excellence".

Having served as deputy secretary for two of the largest ministries - Education and Home Affairs - and spent time in two central ministries - Finance and the Public Service Division - she would be "familiar with governance matters related to finance, procurement and human resources", he said.

He explained that the role of the Auditor-General is to audit and report to the President and Parliament on the proper use of public resources.

The audit observations of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) are given to the permanent secretary of each ministry. The permanent secretary, in turn, is responsible for addressing the findings to the AGO.

"The audit process generally does not involve political office holders. There is no conflict of interest generally between AGO and the ministries in audits," Mr Chan said.

"Where there is a potential conflict of interest, there are specific processes to manage this, just as in any professional organisation."

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