Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has dismissed an attempt by Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat to compare the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council’s (AHTC) lawsuit with the Auditor General’s Office’s (AGO) findings of lapses in government agencies, saying the issues involved are “very different”.
Chan was responding to questions by the Hougang MP in Parliament on Tuesday (20 November) on the lapses at People’s Association (PA) highlighted by the AGO in the award of contracts to an overseas tenderer for the Mid-Autumn Festival 2016 and Chingay Parade 2017.
The tenderer had listed additional costs for the two street light-ups. PA did not consider the costs listed by the company on top of the tender price during the evaluation process.
The relevant organiser had acknowledged the lapses and put in place measures to avoid a recurrence, said Chan, who is also the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service.
Chan noted that an independent investigation panel led by a senior officer in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth was set up in June this year to check and review past overseas Chingay payments. The panel has completed its investigations including on the reimbursement claims made by a PA staff member for Chingay-related overseas purchases.
He added, “While there was no conclusive evidence that there was wrongdoing, there were concerns over the authenticity of some transactions. PA has referred the matter to the police and will fully cooperate with the police in investigation. We will decide on further steps after the police complete their investigations.”
But Chan told the House that the issues surrounding the AHTC lawsuit are very different from the lapses found by the AGO in government agencies. The accounts of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), and later AHTC, have been found by its auditors to be unreliable from financial years 2012 to 2017, the minister pointed out.
“However, the government’s accounts are in order. The AGO has consistently given the government unmodified audit opinions on its financial statements…That does not mean that there’s no mistake,” Chan said.
AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) are suing WP chief Pritam Singh, chairman Sylvia Lim and former WP chief Low Thia Khiang, and other parties.
The two town councils allege, among other things, a breach of fiduciary duties and improper payments made to managing agent FMSS and its service provider FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI), between 15 July 2011 and 14 July 2015. AHTC’s suit was initiated in July last year at the direction of an independent panel. Two months later, PRPTC initiated its suit.
In addition, Chan noted that auditor KPMG had found in a 2016 report that the failures of financial control, procurement and management at AHTC were “pervasive”.
“The government does not face similar issues. The government has rules and procedures in place to ensure proper system of checks and balances…Difference is this: Our rules are in place when compliance is not in order, we take officers to task and we improve and tighten up the system,” he added.
And when there is a criminal offence involved, the relevant agency would highlight the case to the enforcement authorities, said Chan, citing the example of a former National Library Board officer who had been charged for corruption. In other instances, disciplinary actions are taken against officers where warranted, ranging from counselling and warning, to stoppage of salary increment and dismissal.
Chan also pointed out that the AHTC lawsuit was instituted in the name of the town council by an independent panel over the breach of fiduciary duties by its town counsellors. “The key point is that the lawsuit was not brought by the government.”
As such, it is wrong to compare the problems flagged by auditors in AHTC’s case with lapses by government agencies identified in AGO’s reports, Chan said. Government accounts are reliable, and public funds are properly accounted with proper procedures in place to ensure checks and balances.
“We don’t run away from them, not like in other cases. And I think the public can have every confidence that this government takes our responsibility seriously, transparently,” Chan said.