“The vast majority of the lapses reported by the AG’s Office over the years are not criminal in nature and do not warrant being brought to court,” the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said in response to a letter to the press which expressed concerns over the AGO’s findings.
“Most are administrative or procedural lapses, brought about mainly by a lack of awareness, carelessness or poor supervision,” the MOF said.
The AGO’s annual audit of selected government ministries, statutory boards, and organisations this year had once again raised serious concerns about financial and procurement irregularities.
These include findings made of the National Research Foundation, the People’s Association, and others.
The MOF said that “in the event that there are suggestions of corruption, fraud or other criminal wrongdoing, these will be referred for police investigation.”
“If there is sufficient evidence against the officer, he/she will be charged in court. If found guilty, the officer faces the full measure of the law.”
It added that “given the size of the public service, human error and lapses occur from time to time.”
The ministry cautioned that “in seeking to improve, we must continue to strike a sensible balance between strengthening controls and maintaining efficiency in providing services to Singaporeans.”
“Otherwise, our processes will be bogged down by ever-tightening rules and controls, which can ultimately affect the delivery of public services.”
In recent years, following the AGO’s release of its report, Members of Parliament and the public have asked why these findings are not subject to further investigations, including from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
In 2015, for example, Mr Clement Chung’s letter to the Straits Times referred to the AGO report that year and said it was “surprising to see the extent of such lapses across different ministries and offices.”
“As highlighted in the Auditor-General’s report, since ‘audits are conducted on a test check basis, they do not reveal all irregularities and weaknesses’,” Mr Chung wrote. “This means that the public has no idea of the extent of such lapses in the utilisation of public funds.”
He said that it was “a concern that both the external and the internal auditors of these ministries and offices did not detect the lapses and rectify them.”
“The ministries and offices with such lapses should provide a more concrete response as to how these will be prevented in future, instead of just a few lines on improving or strengthening their controls,” he said.
Another letter to the press by Mr Cheng Shoong Tat asked: “Almost all of the irregularities cited in the news report appeared to suggest potential contravention of the Prevention of Corruption Act. As the Auditor-General is not equipped for criminal investigations, should he not avail himself of the expertise of the CPIB?”
In its reply to Mr Cheng’s letter, the AGO said, “Where circumstances warrant it, the AGO would refer cases to the relevant authorities, including the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, for further investigation.”
Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam had also raised the matter in Parliament then.
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam responded by disclosing that “in the last two years, 60 officers and supervisors have been counselled, reprimanded or issued warning letters, depending on the severity of the lapse.”
“Where warranted, officers were penalised in their performance bonuses or increments,” Mr Tharman added.
“There have been cases in previous years where AGO has basis to suspect corrupt or fraudulent intent. It refers all such cases to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) or the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) for further investigation.
“In fact in some of the cases in the last five years – not this year’s report but previous years’ – there was reason to suspect that there might be some fraudulent or corrupt intent. In those instances, AGO refers the cases to either the Commercial Affairs Department or CPIB. That, in fact, is being done.”
In the case of Mr Tonic Oh, chairman of the Admiralty CCC, who had allegedly been involved in some irregularities concerning payments for services, the PA conducted its own “internal panel investigation”.
However, no reports were made public, or how exactly the investigation was done and who were in fact the investigators.
The PA later also announced that it was setting up a three-person “review” committee to improve “its financial and procurement rules.”
The three-person committee was made up of its own grassroots leaders.