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    • Public accounts watchdog tells agencies to rectify lapses in AGO report

      SINGAPORE: The Public Accounts Committee has told several ministries and agencies to address lapses and rectify irregularities cited in the Auditor-General’s reports for financial years 2014/15 and 2015/16.

      In a report submitted to Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 17), the committee – comprising eight Members of Parliament (MPs), and chaired by East Coast GRC MP Jessica Tan – noted that there were a number of instances where processes were in place but not adhered to due to weak governance.

      Although the agencies acknowledged the lapses and took action to rectify the irregularities, it is important to put in place measures to prevent recurrence of the lapses, the committee said.

      It also called for heads of agencies to “set the tone at the top” to ensure adherence to processes and controls.

      “This is important as public sector agencies use significant amounts of public funds for a wide range of schemes, programmes, operations and projects,” it said. “Agencies should ensure that their officers understand the importance of and principles behind the financial controls and governance practices, and comply with them.”

      HDB: INADEQUATE CONTROL OF CAR PARK OPERATIONS

      Among the agencies cited was the Housing & Development Board (HDB), which the AGO report said did not have adequate oversight of car parks outsourced to commercial operators.

      In a check of five HDB car parks at industrial estates between April 2014 and August 2015, the AGO found 113,103 instances where vehicles were not charged parking fees, resulting in an estimated loss of S$159,000.

      HDB had made police reports against the motorists who deliberately evaded parking fees, but the committee questioned whether the agency could have taken action without having to refer the cases to the police.

      The Ministry of National Development (MND), which oversees HDB, explained that the car parks in industrial estates were not gazetted under the Parking Places Act. A review of the need to gazette these car parks will be completed this month, it said.

      In the meantime, the rules have been amended to allow HDB to take action against motorists who evade parking charges. As of Aug 31 last year, HDB issued 199 parking offence notices to such motorists. Convicted cases will also be publicised as a deterrence to other motorists, and testing is under way on additional humps and more efficient sensors to prevent tailgating of vehicles when exiting car parks, the ministry said.

      LTA: UNDER-COLLECTION OF TOLLS AT CHECKPOINTS

      The Land Transport Authority (LTA) was cited in the AGO report for its “weak controls” over the collection of tolls at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, resulting in an estimated loss of S$13.93 million for FY2014/15.

      The Ministry of Transport (MOT) told the Public Accounts Committee that the collection system at the checkpoints was not linked to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority’s (ICA) system, allowing motorists to clear immigration without paying the correct fees.

      LTA estimated that the loss in tolls could be 10 per cent of the total collected, or about S$7 million a year on average.

      To address this, LTA has increased its front-end manpower at the checkpoints and increased penalties for evasion of toll and fees since Aug 1 last year, MOT said. LTA will also work on a trial to link its collection system to ICA’s system, and is targeting to roll this out by FY2017/18.

      LTA will also be amending the Road Traffic Act to prohibit the entry or exit of foreign vehicles with unpaid toll and fees by the first quarter of this year.

      NYP: NO PROPER GOVERNANCE OF SUBSIDIARY

      The audit of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) found that the school did not have a proper governance framework to manage transactions with its subsidiary Nanyang Polytechnic International (NYPi), including conflict of interest situations.

      Some NYP board members with vested interests in NYPi were involved in making decisions such as approving a funding model for NYPi. The school also did not charge market rates for premises used by NYPi, and had given the subsidiary hidden subsidies and excess funds totalling S$8.38 million.

      The Ministry of Education (MOE) told the Public Accounts Committee that it has asked NYP for a full report to account for the lapses, and has briefed all statutory boards under its purview. NYP has also taken measures to prevent conflict of interest situations, the ministry said.

      MOE: LAPSES IN RECOVERING LOANS

      The AGO report also found that MOE did not have adequate controls of the recovery of tuition fee loans and study loans by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

      As at Jun 30, 2015, the outstanding balance of loans due for recovery from former students of the two universities was S$228.04 million, the report said.

      The ministry said both universities have worked with banks to recover loans from students who have graduated or left the universities. MOE has also revised its procedures on the review of long outstanding loans, and now requires banks to submit information on unrecoverable loans on a quarterly basis.

      MOE was also found to have disbursed an extra S$4 million to NTU’s sinking fund over nine years. The ministry told the committee it has since recovered this amount.

      NAC: INADEQUATE ASSESSMENT OF BIN CENTRE CONSULTANCY COST

      The AGO report also cited the National Arts Council (NAC) for paying a consultancy fee of S$410,000 for the construction of a centralised bin centre costing S$470,000.

      The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), which oversees the NAC, had explained that the construction of the bin centre was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services and effort to coordinate with multiple parties.

      The committee rapped the ministry over the lack of documents to show that the reasons for the high consultancy fee were considered, and told the ministry to further justify the fee paid.

      MCCY explained that the scope of the consultancy went beyond design features and services for the bin centre, and involved a technical feasibility study for a centralised refuse collection centre serving a number of heritage institutions in the Civic District. It also confirmed that it had documentary evidence of these consultancy works.

      The NAC has also appointed the Centre for Public Project Management, a unit under the Ministry of Finance (MOF), to ensure that its project management practices complied with the Government’s instructions and the Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contract.

      - CNA/cy
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