Police reports lodged after bid irregularities found in government agencies: AGO

The Auditor General's Office in Newton House. (PHOTO: Screenshot/Google Maps)
The Auditor General's Office in Newton House. (PHOTO: Screenshot/Google Maps)

SINGAPORE — Three government agencies have lodged police reports after the Auditor General's Office (AGO) raised doubts about the authenticity of several contract bids received by them for the financial year that ended in March.

In its annual report released on Wednesday (20 July), AGO has recommended the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) to investigate irregularities in submitted bids, some of which had passed checks and were awarded using public funds.

For instance, it had suspicions about two direct contracts awarded to a contractor by SLA where there were "tell-tale signs that cast doubt on the authenticity of quotations". It also found another case where a contractor submitted bids that contained similar irregularities.

For the NEA, AGO found irregularities in 61 out of the 364 grants awarded between September 2018 and September 2021, under a scheme related to raising the efficiency of the environmental services industry.

A total of $340,000 was given to the 61 irregular applications, out of a total of $5.62 million awarded in grants during the period.

As for MHA, AGO found possible irregularities in two construction contracts, arising from quotations for a "substantial number" of star rate items – services and items that were not listed in the contracts. It said that 531 of 752 star rate items, totalling $3.14 million, were problematic.

"Following AGO's observations, the agencies have lodged reports with the relevant authorities," the annual report wrote.

Lapses in SkillsFuture grants

AGO also found lapses in management of grants by the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (SSG), resulting in overpayments totalling about $4.22 million.

The lapses include grants disbursed for individuals or companies that either did not meet the grant eligibility criteria or were disallowed funding; grants disbursed for individuals who had attended two or more sessions for different courses at the same time; and inadequate checks for absentee payroll funding.

"There was inadequate monitoring by SSG and its outsourced service provider to ensure that grants... were valid, correct and in compliance with the grant terms and conditions," AGO wrote in its report.

Meanwhile, the report also found lapses in management of operations in some public sector entities, including SSG and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

For MSF, AGO found lapses in controls of cash and supermarket vouchers at two Social Service Offices (SSOs).

"Officers in the SSOs did not carry out the required checks... but had signed off the logbooks indicating they had done so," the report said.

For SSG, it was lax in enforcing outstanding Skills Development Levy (SDL) collections, AGO noted. The outstanding SDL owed from 2015 to 2020 was $43 million as of April 2022.

AGO also observed weakness in procurement and contract management in several public-sector entities such as MHA, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

COVID-19 related expenses

AGO said in its report that it also carried out a thematic audit on selected COVID-19-related procurement and expenditure managed by three agencies: SLA, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Health Promotion Board (HPB).

It noted that, while the agencies had implemented several good practices to facilitate timely responses to the emergency situation and to reduce costs for the government, there were areas where controls could be improved.

The observations included lapses in the evaluation of contractors’ proposals and assessment of price reasonableness, as well as discrepancies and omissions in submissions to the approving authority for contract award.

The Ministry of Finance said in a separate statement on Wednesday that the heads of the agencies concerned have reviewed each case to identify the root cause for the lapses and that they are taking steps to enhance their capabilities, processes and systems.

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