A centralised refuse-collection centre in the Civic District was delivered satisfactorily and at an acceptable cost, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday as he addressed the controversy over the high fees paid to the consultant of the project.
He pointed out that the Auditor- General's Office (AGO) did not conclude the consultant was overpaid, but was instead concerned about how the fees paid were assessed.
Mr Wong was responding on behalf of Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu to a parliamentary question from Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun. Ms Fu is in Brazil at the Olympic Games.
The National Arts Council (NAC) had come under fire over the bin centre after the AGO's annual report on public spending flagged the issue of the consultancy fees.
The AGO noted that the $410,000 paid to the consultant came up to nearly 90 per cent of what was paid to build the bin centre, which cost another $470,000.
Mr Wong said the scope of the consultant's study was much wider than was typical for a bin centre, as an extensive feasibility study had to be done due to the historic nature of the buildings.
The original plan was to have a standalone bin centre for Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, but it was later decided that a centralised centre that served other nearby buildings as well would be more suitable.
Moreover, the consultant's quotation was assessed to be within the range of such fees for other complex projects in the area, he said.
The consultancy cost was 8.7 per cent of total costs to redevelop the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
Mr Wong said this was within the industry benchmark of 10 per cent.
He added that the consultant had also helped to bring down the construction costs to $470,000, through "extensive value engineering". The project's contractors had initially quoted $890,000.
When asked by Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) if the ministry would have decided differently in hindsight, he said it would have made the same choice.
Mr Wong added that as it was not clear at the start what form the final refuse centre would take, and how much it would cost to construct, the NAC had decided against pegging the consultancy fees to the project cost. Instead, it paid a lump sum to "limit any potential escalation of costs". He acknowledged that detailed documentation should have been provided to clearly explain the scope and complexity of the project, and pledged that this would be done in future.