Singapore—In Parliament on Thursday, February 28, Chan Chun Sing clarified that there is no conflict of interest in the appointment of the new Auditor-General Goh Soon Poh, despite the fact that she’s married to the Senior Minister of State for Defence.
Mr Chan is the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, as well as the Minister for Trade and Industry. Heng Chee How is the Senior Minister of State for Defence.
He cited Ms Goh’s many years of service in the public sector and assured that the proper procedures were followed regarding her appointment.
The Minister-in-charge of the Public Service’s clarification came as an answer to Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim, who had asked for confirmation that Ms Goh is the wife of Mr Heng.
The new Auditor-General received her appointment earlier this year, and assumed the role on February 8, when Willie Tan Yoke Meng, her predecessor ended his term and retired.
Mr Chan said, “(Ms Lim) asked if we were aware that Ms Goh Soon Poh, the new auditor-general, is the wife of Senior Minister of State, Mr Heng Chee How. Yes, we are aware.”
Ms Goh, aged 56, served as the deputy secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
According to Mr Chan, she was appointed by President Halimah Yacob, under the advice of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PM Lee put Ms Goh’s name forward after he had consulted with the head of the Public Service Commission.
He added details about the over 30 years of public sector experience, including her work with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Therefore, Ms Goh is used to how the government functions in financial, procurement and human resources matters.
Ms Lim also asked if Ms Goh’s appointment would influence how the public sees the AGO’s independence.
According to the website of the AGO, it audits “government ministries and departments, organs of state, statutory boards, government funds and other public authorities and bodies administering public funds (upon their request for audit), e.g. government-owned companies.”
Moreover, their “observations include system weaknesses, non-compliance with control procedures or legislation, and instances of excess, extravagance, or gross inefficiency leading to waste in the use of public funds and resources.”
The findings of the AGO are reported to the permanent secretaries of the respective ministries, Mr Chan added.
He said, “The audit process generally does not involve political office-holders. There is no conflict of interest generally, between AGO and the ministries it audits.
Where there is a potential conflict of interest, there are specific processes to manage these, just as in any professional organisation.”
However, some netizens are expressing concern over Ms Goh’s appointment.
“In this case, the fact that the newly appointed Auditor-General is the wife of a senior MOS and not just an ordinary civil servant, I, as a concerned citizen, must voice my grave concerns.
“If she were just the wife of an ordinary civil servant, I would not have questioned further. Given that the new AG is the wife of a senior MOS Heng CH, how do we expect concerned and thinking Singaporeans not worry about question of conflict of interest, second guess her professional integrity and/or even express outright objection to her appointment etc?”
“Nevertheless, no matter how good a person she is and how effective a civil servant, it is not right to appoint the wife of a Senior Minister of State as the Auditor-General. What happened to that old civil-service ethos that dictated that one must not only not commit any impropriety but that one must not even give the appearance of impropriety?
The impropriety of her appointment is impossible to miss. The larger question is about the concentration of political and bureaucratic power in the hands of a very small number of families.
Is this good for Singapore when the right hand is put in charge of checking the left hand? Saying so is not to impugn the integrity of Ms Goh, but to raise the question of proper institutional safeguards against corruption and abuse of power. Even if her performance is beyond reproach, her appointment puts in place a dangerous precedent.”