Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam yesterday expressed concern about lapses at several grassroots organisations (GROs) under the People's Association (PA) that were flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in its report, and wondered whether these were "only the tip of the iceberg".
Moving an adjournment motion in Parliament, Mrs Chiam said: "The AGO has only test-checked a small sample size of GROs, a mere 6.5 per cent. Yet, the audit has already turned up significant lapses."
She asked if financial lapses of a similar nature might also be found in the other unaudited GROs, and was concerned about a recurrence of lapses in other statutory boards.
In response, Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo said public agencies are subjected to annual audits by internal auditors as well as external auditors or the Auditor-General. Lapses are investigated, and action is taken to prevent a repeat. Referring to a case of a repeat lapse in the AGO's latest findings, Mrs Teo said it arose as steps put in place to address the lapse were not up to the AGO's expectation. "That is the rigour of the system that we have," Mrs Teo added.
Another concern raised by Mrs Chiam was on the adequacy of training and the competency of the officers involved in procurement.
Here, Mrs Teo outlined various initiatives, including a new procurement competency framework, that can help improve the skills of finance and procurement officers.
Mrs Chiam suggested centralising procurement activities in one agency. Mrs Teo said procurement rules are calibrated to the value and risk of the purchases. Projects over $80 million must be approved by the Development Planning Committee, comprising three Cabinet ministers, after rigorous scrutiny by senior Finance Ministry officials and the ministry concerned before tenders are called. Approval of lower-value procurements is decentralised for greater efficiency, but it is also governed by a clear set of rules and complemented by regular audits, she said.
Mrs Chiam also asked if the "less than prudent manner" in which some GROs handled funds has compromised residents' interests.
The answer is no, said PA deputy chairman Lim Swee Say, who cited examples where grassroots leaders went against financial procedures with residents' interests in mind.
Wong Siew Ying