Committee raises concerns over procurement ‘lapses’ in public sector

Repeated lapses by several government bodies in the past five years may be a reflection of underlying weaknesses in public sector procurement, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in a report submitted to Parliament on Thursday.

The watchdog committee, led by Member of Parliament (MP) Cedric Foo, said in its 19-page report that the lapses could erode public confidence in public sector. The slip-ups undermine the government procurement principles of open and fair competition, transparency and value for money, the committee noted.

A number of these lapses have also “resulted in the government being overcharged, in some cases, with no recourse for recovering the money”.

The committee – made up of eight MPs – has called for the Ministry of Finance (MOF) to set up a central procurement agency to tackle the irregularities.

MOF responded by attributing the errors to officers’ poor understanding of procurement principles and their unfamiliarity with procurement rules.
The ministry said it has changed existing rules and guidelines to make clearer the roles of key officers in the procurement process.

The PAC also sought written explanations from four Ministries – Home Affairs; Information, Communications and the Arts; Trade and Industry; and Transport - on the procurement and contract management lapses.

For the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA), the committee requested for oral evidence, due to "serious lapses in procurement" in the Singapore Police Force (SPF), which suggest "underlying broad-based weaknesses in procurement management" in some departments.

These include two projects undertaken by the Police Coast Guard which “resulted in SPF being grossly overcharged” and the maintenance of surveillance camera systems of the Traffic Police “resulting in SPF paying, over many years, for maintenance work which was not done”.

MHA has informed the committee that SPF has since recovered S$1.18 million from the contractors, and S$53,154 from the project management company in respect to work items overcharged.

The PAC comprises Foo, Ang Hin Kee, Christopher De Souza, Foo Mee Har, Desmond Lee, Jessica Tan, Teo Ho Pin and Zaqy Mohamad. It examines various accounts of the government and shows the appropriation of public funds.