Heritage records found missing, tender bids not properly assessed

Heritage items were missing from records, bids in tenders were not properly evaluated, and purchases were often made from the most expensive option.

These were some lapses at the National Heritage Board (NHB) flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in its report published yesterday.

The AGO also said the National Arts Council (NAC) had not done enough in the regulation of premises, with non-tenants using its spaces.

Both statutory boards have pledged to do better.

At NHB, the AGO found lapses in two tenders. Both are period contract tenders where a list of goods and services is offered at pre-set rates by contractors to NHB for a specified time. These allow NHB to directly make purchases from any of the appointed contractors without having to call for open tenders or quotations for each service thereafter.

The AGO found that NHB had not properly considered tenderers' submissions, evaluating the price bids of only some items before making a decision. For instance, NHB went through price bids for only 28.2 per cent of the items under the period contract for exhibition design services before awarding it.

The AGO said that even after awarding the contracts to a panel of contractors, NHB's decisions regarding which contractor among them to buy individual services from was far from economical.

Of the 435 service items bought from one contractor under the exhibition design services period contract, prices for 294 items were the highest among the four experienced contractors awarded it; in one case, the price was as much as 124 times the lowest offer.

It was a similar situation with the art handling and transport services contract, where test checks of four purchases from a contractor showed that the same services could have been bought for about $131,000 less. The AGO did not name the contractors.

In reply, NHB said factors other than cost were considered in its decision-making, as museums would consider the requirements of the projects and whether the contractor was capable and available. It usually uses one contractor for any particular project to maintain consistency in quality throughout all stages.

For major exhibitions, museums had also asked for comparative quotes, even if not all unit prices among those awarded the period contract were evaluated.

NHB will review the items in the two period contracts and seek approval to remove those with rates assessed to be high. Future tenders will also be more carefully designed.

As for NHB's records of heritage materials - which it reported to be worth about $500 million - the AGO found hundreds of discrepancies between entries in manual and automated records. In addition, 3,464 records were deleted from the Singapore Collections Management System, used to process and track acquisitions, without supporting documents.

NHB said the deletion was part of a data-cleaning exercise of invalid or repeated records, and only those with the appropriate authority could delete them.

Its control over the materials - about 350,000 items, some dating back to the 1880s - was not solely through stock counts, but also other means such as restricting access to them, NHB said. "No heritage materials relating to these (AGO) findings have been lost."

It will streamline its systems and manual records on one platform within the next three to five years.

NAC, meanwhile, was found to have lapsed in its rental management. The AGO said 74 entities that are not NAC tenants or sub-tenants either used the address of one of its premises as their registered address or possibly operated there. Seven of these non-tenants were also using the space for activities unrelated to the arts, such as construction and logistics.

NAC has conducted a review and found that most of these entities were related in some way to its tenants or former tenants, although it could provide documents to show this in only 10 of the 74 cases.

It has told the AGO that it will, from now, require tenants to seek its approval before letting related entities register using NAC addresses. It will further conduct annual checks to make sure non-approved activities are not conducted on its premises.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Heritage records found missing, tender bids not properly assessed'. Subscribe