Parliament: AGO found public funds properly accounted for, no systemic lapses or fraud

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah speaking at an event on March 10.
Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah speaking at an event on March 10. PHOTO: IES

SINGAPORE - The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report on government agencies highlighted several lapses, but the AGO has given an unmodified audit opinion for the Government's financial statements as well as the accounts of statutory boards all along.

This means the accounts are reliable and prepared in accordance with the law, Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah told the House on Tuesday (Aug 16).

"Public funds are properly accounted for and we know what they are being used for," she said in response to questions from Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

"We have a system that is transparent and accountable, and with the Government responding to every weakness that is found," she added.

The fact that the AGO reports lapses each year reflects this transparency and accountability and is part of how a robust system works, she said.

Such a system includes a diligent and impartial AGO, agencies that willingly submit to AGO's audit, have their lapses displayed openly and seek to rectify them promptly.

Mr Liang had asked whether the lapses reported by the AGO in its report for FY 2015/2016 uncover any systemic flaws and how agencies will strengthen their management of public resources to prevent future occurrence. Mr Lim had asked whether the latest report had highlighted any repeated breach of financial regulations and what action will be taken against officers who fail to take action to rectify these breaches.

Ms Indranee said: "I can say with confidence from this year's AGO report and past years', that there is no evidence of a systemic weakness within government agencies with regard to compliance."

Most of the lapses AGO highlighted are due to individual officers not complying with procedures, rather than weakness in the system as a whole, she said, adding that the respective agencies have - in all cases - taken steps to rectify the weaknesses identified.

"It will be unrealistic to expect that there are no lapses found within the system each time a serious audit is done. With over 140,000 officers in the Public Service handling hundreds of thousands of transactions each year, human laxity or errors of judgment will happen," she noted.

"We take each and every lapse seriously, but if nothing was found by AGO, we would be very concerned about the independence and rigour of AGO's audits."

No findings of fraud, corruption or personal gain

Neither is there any suggestion of financial malfeasance, such as fraud or corruption, in the AGO's findings, Ms Indranee said.

"If there are any suspicions of wrongdoing, AGO does not hesitate to report them to the relevant authorities and highlight them in its report," she said.

The Government also has zero tolerance for fraud or corruption, and acts promptly and thoroughly to investigate such cases, she said.

Steps have been taken to rectify the lapses, including disciplining the officers responsible for them. Ms Indranee said 28 officers have been counselled or warned arising from this year's audit findings. One officer was put on a performance review process for repeated poor performance and subsequently left the organisation, she added.

To improve how agencies manage contracts, the new Building and Infrastructure Centre of Excellence has been set up under JTC this year (2016).

To strengthen procurement, since 2014, permanent secretaries and agency chief executives have been required to report to the Finance Ministry regularly with an assessment of the findings in procurement audits and their follow-up actions.

"We will continue to tackle all lapses identified each year with the same resolve," Ms Indranee added.