Auditor-General flags lapses in IT controls, procurement, contracts

The AGO report found that in the National Gallery (above) development project, the overpayment of contractors and lapses in the approval of 142 contract variations amounted to $12.4 million. In response, National Gallery Singapore said it was reviewi
The AGO report found that in the National Gallery (above) development project, the overpayment of contractors and lapses in the approval of 142 contract variations amounted to $12.4 million. In response, National Gallery Singapore said it was reviewing its procurement policies and processes. ST FILE PHOTO

But annual report finds no instances of fraud or corruption among public officers

The new Auditor-General has found weaknesses in IT controls as well as irregularities in procurement and the management of contracts in several government ministries and agencies.

These were among the key financial lapses found in ministries such as National Development and its statutory board Urban Redevelopment Authority; Defence; Manpower; as well as Culture, Community and Youth. They were flagged in the latest annual report of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) released yesterday.

The public sector watchdog, however, did not sniff out any instances of fraud or corruption among public officers, the Finance Ministry noted in its response to the report.

"We adopt a zero tolerance approach to fraud or corruption,'' the ministry said in a statement.

The audit also found that public funds have been properly accounted for in the financial statements of all 16 ministries and eight organs of state, nine statutory boards, four government funds, four government-owned companies and three other accounts for financial year 2018/2019.

In short, the AGO gave the statements "an unmodified audit opinion", the ministry noted. "This is an independent verification that the Government's accounts are reliable and prepared in accordance with the law."

The AGO report is the first by Auditor-General Goh Soon Poh since she took up the post on Feb 8.

She said the lapses in the three key areas were similar to those in the last report. It led her to add: "It is important for public sector agencies to avoid repeating similar lapses and to implement effective measures to enhance governance and controls on the use of public funds."

 
 

Officers at all levels should exercise due diligence when managing public funds, she said.

The weak controls in IT include inadequate monitoring and review of the users of IT systems, especially external vendors with access to sensitive or personal information. The ministries included Defence and Manpower.

As for contracts, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth was chided for its oversight of the National Gallery development project. The overpayment of contractors and lapses in the app-roval of 142 contract variations amounted to $12.4 million.

In response, National Gallery Singapore, which was managing the project, said it was reviewing its procurement policies and processes, an effort set to be completed by the end of this month.

The gallery has also taken steps to recover the excess sums paid to the contractors.

Another area of weakness was in the social grant programmes of the Health as well as Social and Family Development ministries.

They need to strengthen controls in approval timelines, verification of grant disbursements and the review of documents, said the AGO.

The Defence Ministry was found to have overpaid 12 and underpaid two air force pilots their flying allowances, totalling $278,970.

Of these, nine were due to administrative lapses and five involved misinterpreting the eligi-bility criteria.

It has since recovered wrong payments for nine cases, and is recovering or making good the payments for the remaining five cases.

The Ministry of Finance said that to fix the issues with contract management, it has been working with the Building and Construction Authority to simplify the rules.

The authority is also setting up a performance appraisal system to recognise firms that have done well in managing government projects.

Other initiatives include an inter-agency team to review the processes for managing grants.

On IT, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group will automate IT tasks to reduce human error and strengthen internal IT audits.

The Public Sector Data Security Review Committee, which announced 13 measures this week to protect personal data following recent breaches, will give its report to the Prime Minister by Nov 30.

"As we make improvements, we are mindful of the need to strike a sensible balance between strengthening controls and maintaining efficiency and timeliness in delivering services to Singaporeans," said the Finance Ministry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2019, with the headline 'Auditor-General flags lapses in IT controls, procurement, contracts'. Print Edition | Subscribe