The findings of the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO)’s annual audit of the public sector riled many Singaporeans, after it was revealed that the AGO detected lapses in nine government bodies that are managed by eight ministries.
Among the findings that incensed Singaporeans the most were the lapses made by the People’s Association (PA) – a statutory board that oversees neighbourhood grassroots communities and social organisations. The PA operates under the purview of the Ministry of Culture Community and Youth (MCCY).
The AGO’s audit of the PA uncovered damning lapses in management.
For one, the AGO found lapses in PA’s management of welfare assistance schemes and reported that groceries meant for distribution to needy residents went missing.
A test check of $169,000-worth of groceries, purchased by two of the 1,800 grassroots organisations (GROs) managed by the PA for distribution to the needy, revealed that some groceries could not be accounted for while other types of groceries and the prices paid for these groceries did not match what was stated in vendor contracts.
On top of this, one GRO also failed to maintain records tracking the purchases and distribution of groceries, leading to ambiguity over whether all the groceries that were purchased were distributed to the residents.
The AGO also found that some GROs give vouchers, groceries and cash to people without “documentary evidence” and that 3 out of 9 GROs gave assistance-in-kind totalling $123,600 and cash gifts totalling $4,500 to 48 out of 177 recipients who had no evidence to justify such gifts.
Besides this, the AGO found that reimbursement claims amounting to $142,200 for a Chingay Parade had “tell-tale signs” that it may not be authentic.
Further, the AGO questioned PA over 2 tenders with a contract value of $500,000 for the Mid-Autumn Festival 2016 and Chinese New Year 2017 events and found that the GRO running these events had used the same foreign contractor for the manufacturing of the street light-up decorative items since 2014.
This is in spite of the fact that the vendor demanded that the GRO pay for additional obligations such as accommodation cost for workers, transportation charges for materials and the provision of a site for assembling lanterns.
The AGO noted: “Besides the issue of fairness, there was also no assurance that the contract was awarded to the tenderer which could provide the best value.”
As these revelations continue to irk Singaporeans, many have pointed out that the PA’s highest ranking board members and its chief executive director and deputy executive director are all army generals.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is the chairman of the PA. From 1971 to 1984, the son of Singapore’s founding PM Lee Kuan Yew served in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) where he rose through the ranks and became the the youngest Brigadier-General in Singaporean history in 1983.
A year after he was promoted to Brigadier-General, PM Lee left the military to join politics. He became an MP that same year and took over the reins of the nation twenty years later, in 2004.
Current Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing is the Deputy Chairman of the PA. Chan served in the SAF from 1987 to 2011 and rose to the rank of Major-General during his time in the Forces, before he retired from the military to contest in 2011 to contest that year’s General Election.
Chan is now hotly tipped to succeed PM Lee as the next head of government.
Brigadier-General Tan Kok Ming Desmond was appointed Chief Executive Director of the PA two years ago, in 2016. Tan held the post of Chief of Staff of the General Staff (COS-GS) before he joined the PA.
The same year that Tan joined the PA, Lim Hock Yu – another COS-GS – was made Deputy Executive Director.