Overpayments, altered records among some lapses found

The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) released its report yesterday, highlighting key lapses by various ministries and public agencies. Here is a summary of its findings.

MINISTRY OF CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH (MCCY)

AGO found that some records could have been photocopies, with alterations made to the dates and duration of services rendered, while others had pre-printed signatures or showed other signs of weak controls.

Six attendance records were fabricated specifically to meet the AGO's request for missing records.

MCCY said it took immediate steps to address the issues, including recovering all overpayments.

It also took disciplinary action against the two officers who had fabricated the documents.

MINISTRY OF DEFENCE (MINDEF)

Mindef overpaid 323 bills totalling $84,300 to a national healthcare institution between September 2019 and March this year. The healthcare institution had incorrectly billed Mindef at the private non-subsidised rate instead of the government-subsidised rate.

Mindef said the error occurred because staff at the healthcare institution had wrongly removed the government subsidy for two tests during a fee review in 2019.

It added that it would complete recovery of overpayment by this month and implement checks to scrutinise bills that do not include government subsidies before making payment.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (MOE) AND MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS (MHA)

AGO noted that improvements were needed in MOE's and MHA's management of facility management contracts.

It also found instances of supporting documents that were created or backdated to satisfy AGO's queries at both ministries.

AGO also noted weaknesses in MHA's integrated logistics management system.

Both ministries said they would improve their facilities management processes. They also made police reports on the possible fabrication or falsification of records.

NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD (NLB)

AGO found various lapses in NLB's procurement of a digital film projection system worth $4.75 million. There was inadequate assurance that principles of value for money, fairness and transparency had been adhered to, AGO said.

NLB said it would remind its staff of its internal guidelines and maintain proper documentation of various tender processes in future.

SINGAPORE POLYTECHNIC (SP)

SP did not put up required reports to the central government authority concerning two tenderers who had withdrawn their bids after the close of tenders, but before the tenders were awarded.

This is a serious matter and is grounds for debarment from being awarded government tenders for a period of time, said AGO.

SP said it has since informed the Standing Committee on Debarment of the cases and would review its processes to ensure future compliance.

ACCOUNTING AND CORPORATE REGULATORY AUTHORITY (ACRA)

AGO flagged weak controls over the operating system (OS) user accounts with the highest system access privileges in Acra's online filing and information retrieval system BizFile+.

Acra said it has since modified the configurations of its security software and started logging all commands executed by administrators with root privileges, or full access, to the OS.

HEALTH PROMOTION BOARD (HPB)

About 341,000 fitness trackers were not put to use for the HPB's National Steps Challenge, resulting in $5.39 million of public funds being wasted. Some of the units had become mouldy and the warranties for all the excess trackers will expire at the end of the year.

HPB said it had overestimated the demand for trackers and pre-emptively topped up its stock each season based on the observed interest from the public. "For future seasons of the National Steps Challenge, HPB will be more conservative in our projections," it added.

HEALTH SCIENCES AUTHORITY (HSA)

HSA's total expenditure on small-value purchases between April 2018 and June last year was substantial, at $8.02 million.

AGO found that HSA had been buying required items such as chemicals, laboratory devices and consumables on an ad hoc basis, instead of aggregating its requirements and purchasing them through tenders.

There were also lapses in outsourced IT contracts and IT application controls.

HSA said it would step up its use of data analytics to identify frequent small-value purchases that should be aggregated. It also said it had reviewed its IT systems.

HOUSING BOARD (HDB)

Housing grants totalling $405,000 were disbursed to ineligible applicants.

AGO also found that quotations for some items could have been created or altered to give the impression that they were obtained from other suppliers.

HDB said it would improve its controls and recover the wrongly disbursed grants. It added it will take action against applicants who had suppressed any relevant information.

LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY (LTA)

AGO found 36 instances where LTA had delayed refunding advance payments to individuals or companies that requested works, such as shifting of streetlights or bus shelters. The delays ranged from 11 months to 12.6 years after the works had been completed.

Following the audit, LTA refunded all the cases in March. The highest refund amount was $232,000, and 12 cases involved refunds of more than $50,000.

LTA said it would tighten its monitoring controls and carry out quarterly reviews of advance payment accounts.

MARITIME AND PORT AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE (MPA)

Following a complaint, AGO conducted checks on a $430,000 tender for event and venue management services for a 2018 MPA event, and found several lapses including significant errors in the tender evaluation report.

The MPA officer in charge had also engaged in detailed discussions with the tenderer that was later awarded the contract before the Tender Approving Authority had made a decision.

Some changes made to the event were also not reflected in the report.

MPA acknowledged the lapses and said it has appointed a panel to investigate the tender and past similar tenders handled by the same team.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Overpayments, altered records among some lapses found'. Subscribe