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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Thoughts on the Singapore Government Audits

While this has not generated as much buzz as the "sexualized enacted scenes" of the NUS orientation camps (which I do not understand why this entire spectacle is an international news), this article definitely caught my attention and made me think further. The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) released a statement publishing their findings of the Government Financial Statements, after their audit of the Government Financial Statements. It was stated that there are numerous occurrences of inadequate finance controls, resulting in financial loss and revenues to the Government.

*Fun Fact: In case you didn't know what is this Auditor-General Office, just a short background. Basically, it is a government auditor to keep the statutory boards and ministries in check.

First of all, it is certainly assuring that there are independent organisations keeping checks on the financials of the Government, ensuring that public funds are not wasted unnecessarily. This has proved that the founding fathers' progressive and bold implementations are sound and important. However, this is not an excuse to make all these lapses despite having checkers in place.

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The current generation of Singaporeans has not encountered much sufferings except maybe having to cope with the "tremendous stress" of succeeding in their education. Even faced with "reducing" competition from foreign talents as compared to yesteryears, Singaporeans are lamenting and complaining more. Many are neglecting of the common good but rather, what is in it for me? Probably it was due to the excessive competition and "kiasu"mentality, hence resulting to a more realistic and selfish perception. As such, as long as it is "Ah Gong's" money, we can just "anyhow spend la".

This has perhaps contributed to an uprising apathetic attitude among young fellowmen. Thus, I am not surprised that the current governing institutions are also plagued with a more laid-back perspective. After all, we have accomplished so much in 50 years, what is there to lose if we rest for a few years? As the army song goes, "Tell my mama I've done my best, now it's time for me to rest!"

This is a dangerous attitude manifesting among young Singaporeans.

There are several sectors, ranging from collection of toll fees to administering study loan, highlighted to be having obvious loopholes.

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The Ministry of Education seems to be in the spotlight for this year's audit report as it was highlighted that there were numerous administrative lapses. Or rather, I would say the one with the highest amount quantum involved due to mistakes.

To state a few:
- Poor enforcement of scholarship penalties
- Late recovery of tuition fee loans and study loans which totalled S$228.04m as at June 30, 2015
- Multiple administrative negligence and improper approval of processes resulting in loss of public funds
Since I am, or would be, a student, I am able to find relevance to this particularly and to be honest, I am not entirely pleased to know about the handling of the scholarships. Having to be rejected from a scholarship thrice after applying for 3 consecutive years, it is certainly disappointing to learn that scholars, who were required to serve the bonds, did not fulfil their obligations. (Individual performance is obviously in play here as well, and to be honest, I did not perform) Furthermore, little or no actions were done in the immediate term. Not much details were revealed in the statement.

It was also stated that "$36.32 million was disbursed for a scholarship scheme in FY2014/15", but due to "the lack of proper over-sight meant there was no assurance the grants were used optimally for the intended purpose". 
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My first reaction.

Yet again, minimal details are given. However, what I do know is that a quantum of $36.32 million could possibly be used more appropriately and given to students that needed these scholarships. The opportunity costs and positive repercussions of this amount, if used appropriately, are now lost.

Besides this, in my opinion, serious loophole, there are multiple ministries which has fund wastage and blaring overpayment of redundant services.

Just to name a few:
- Overpayment on telecommunications lines totalling $109,868 and wastage totalling S$80,744 on mobile lines that were no longer needed
- A computer system worth $432,407 but left it to rot since November 2014 because it could not be integrated with the ministry’s legacy system
- Paying close to $83.20 as consultation for a $100 product (just an illustration)

Just let it sink in for awhile.

Ok, moving on. While the audit report gave us some crucial insights on the status of the ministries, it also stated some "good-to-haves". One such point is the enforcement of toll charges and parking charges. No doubt, these are definitely government incomes. However, I feel that to enforce it where there is 100% payment collection simply demands superior technology where data and information can be sent to end users which can rectify the issues. 

An example can be where the carpark gantry machine is not functioning (probably due to some bad driver who accidentally destroys the barrier), hence resulting in it not collecting any payment. How would one ensure 100% functional gantry machine with minimal down time? It might be possible if there are some programs that would be alerted if one gantry is down and the guy monitoring it will then react accordingly.

Well, to conclude this "too long to read" post, the AGO has definitely done a fantastic job in exposing the vulnerabilities of the investigated ministries. This has to be the way where Singapore can progress as a nation in line with the notion of the founding fathers, where independent checkers are not afraid to disclose clear and sensible findings.

As we are to celebrate a new age soon, one where Singapore has to shed its past glories of being under a notable leader and capable team, we should start to evaluate internally, whether we are indeed worthy of carrying the torch forward.

*You can find out more information on the AGO findings in this link here:

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