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Major steps in place to strengthen public sector procurement rules: Tharman

Following the procurement-related lapses identified in the Auditor-General's latest report, the relevant agencies have embarked on follow-up actions, and been given new data analytical tools to improve their oversight of financial transactions.

SINGAPORE: The majority of the procurement-related lapses identified in the Auditor-General's latest report took place in or before 2011, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. He made this point in a written reply on Monday (Aug 4) to Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng, who had asked about further steps being undertaken by the Civil Service and Statutory Boards to address the lapses flagged in the report.

DPM Tharman said major steps have been taken in recent years to strengthen public sector procurement rules and capabilities. In 2012, for example, the minimum opening period for suppliers to submit bids for quotations was extended from four to seven working days, and further checks were introduced to ensure single bids offered competitive terms.

Since the new rules kicked in, the percentage of quotations receiving single bids has decreased, from 15 per cent in 2012 to about 4 per cent in 2013. In his report, the Auditor-General also noted the steps taken by public sector entities to improve the procurement process and to strengthen staff training in procurement, wrote Mr Tharman.

The DPM also highlighted several follow-up actions from agencies following the AGO report. In the administration of schemes and programmes, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will enhance its Hawker Centres Management System, to have more robust tracking of adherence to tenancy conditions. Monthly reports will also be generated and reviewed by staff in charge of supervising the hawker centre inspectors, to ensure that possible breaches are promptly investigated.

In the management of land and assets, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA)  is working with the Singapore Land Authority to put under-utilised assets to better use.

To reinforce the importance of good internal controls across the Civil Service and Statutory Boards, the Ministry of Finance earlier this year instituted a new requirement for all agencies to report their internal control measures, including key internal and external audit findings and follow-up actions. In addition, agencies have been given access to new data analytical tools to improve their oversight of financial transactions.

Mr Tharman said there is a system of governance that is working well and continues to be strengthened through new or updated rules and requirements. But he added that it is not possible to achieve zero lapses in any large organisations with a high number of transactions.

"The Government relies on audits that are regularly and properly carried out to identify shortcomings and areas for improvement while heads of agencies have clear responsibilities to see through follow-up actions," he wrote. "Members and the public can be reassured that the Auditor-General's findings, in this and previous years, are carefully reviewed and acted upon."