Parliament: Auditor-General gets new powers to audit non-government bodies that receive state funds

Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah said that the new powers will allow the Auditor-General to conduct "follow-the-dollar" audits to trace where the public monies go. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Non-government bodies that receive funds to run public programmes can expect government auditors to come knocking on their doors.

Parliament on Monday (Oct 2) passed changes to the Audit Act that grants the Auditor-General new powers to audit the account books of these non-government bodies.

"This is to ensure that public funds are used for the purposes for which they are intended and to enable accountability of public spending," said Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah on Monday.

Examples would include voluntary welfare organisations disbursing aid to needy families and autonomous universities giving bursaries to students, she added.

The work of the Government has expanded, and such funds that are disbursed through non-government bodies amounted to "several billions of dollars" each year, making the new powers necessary, Ms Indranee said.

The new powers will allow the Auditor-General to conduct "follow-the-dollar" audits to trace where the public monies go, Ms Indranee said.

She added that the approach is "not unique" and already used by several national audit agencies overseas such as those in Australia and New Zealand.

However, she gave the assurance that such sweeping powers will be used lightly.

"The threshold for triggering such audits is high, it can only be directed by the Minister for Finance and only if he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so," she said.

"The audits will also only be limited to whether the funding terms and conditions have been complied with."

Two House members spoke on the new law.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit GRC) said that when non-government bodies disburse funds that are "further away from the direct view of government audit, the risk of improper or corrupt conduct would increase", he said, but he was worried that the move would add to their compliance costs.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked how a new section of the law that requires individuals to give information to the Auditor-General would be applied, even if it meant self- incrimination.

Responding, Ms Indranee said the new law will not add to the regulatory burdens of companies because it will only be used sparingly.

Also, a person cannot cite self-incrimination as a reason to refuse to give documents or information to the Auditor-General under the law. This provision will "avoid time-consuming negotiations" that will diminish the efficiency of the audit process, said Ms Indranee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Law.

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