Volunteer police officers received larger allowances than they should have because of a procedural error, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
But it was not a case of public officers making decisions on their own and deliberately bypassing the minister, he added.
Referring to the lapse flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in its annual report last month, he said: "The matter has been handled with advice from the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC). And the officers have been advised to be more careful."
The AGO said in its report that the increase in the allowance for part-time Volunteer Special Constabulary officerswas higher than what was stipulated by the regulations. In 2008, the hourly rate was increased from $2.80 to $3.60. This was approved by the deputy commissioner of police and permanent secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry.
As the approval of the Home Affairs Minister was not sought, the AGO classified the $2.63 million that was paid out as overpayments, said Mr Shanmugam, who became Home Affairs Minister in September last year.
Hourly rate for Volunteer Special Constabulary officers before hike
Revised hourly rate in 2008
Responding to questions from Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), he said he agreed with the rationale for the payments and authorised the hike retrospectively after being advised by the AGC that he could do so.
NOT THERE FOR THE MONEY
They do not serve because of the $3.60 an hour. They come forward to serve Singapore.
HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on Singapore's volunteer police force, adding that a review is under way to raise the rate further.
He added that a review was under way on raising the rate further, and praised volunteer police officers for their contributions.
"They do not serve because of the $3.60 an hour. They come forward to serve Singapore," he said.
But Mr Low, in a follow-up question to the minister, said the issue was not about how much was paid out but the ministry's response to the AGO.
The Workers' Party chief asked if the public officers had broken the law in not seeking approval for the hike, and noted that the minister later decided to make it lawful by approving it, after the fact.
He said: "Is this (the) correct way for the Government to make an unlawful payment a lawful payment, and an overpayment a correct payment? And is this the way to respond to AGO's report?"
In response, Mr Shanmugam reiterated that what had happened was "a pure process error", and contrasted it with "errors in substance".
Illustrating his point, he cited a hypothetical scenario of a group taking over an organisation with a lot of money.In a description reminiscent of the WP's governance lapses at the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, he said: "The new group appoints its friends. It sets up a structure which helps to vacuum money out of the organisation.
"And its own accountants say in writing that, despite repeated requests, the organisation did not provide all the critical documents relating to the transactions with the friends.
"And assume that they repeat it every year, and yet the organisation doesn't do anything. That is an error both in process and in substance, and that is unlawful... So, let's keep things in perspective."