'Possible irregularities' found in records of several ministries, statutory boards: Auditor-General report
SINGAPORE: “Possible irregularities" were discovered in the records of several ministries and statutory boards by the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) during its audit of public agencies in Singapore for the year 2020/2021.
The "possible irregularities" were found in the records of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the People's Association (PA).
The AGO report, which was released on Thursday (Jul 22), covered all 16 government ministries and eight organs of state, 11 statutory boards, four Government-owned companies and two other accounts.
In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said: “We are disappointed with the instances of public officers fabricating or altering documents for audit that AGO had flagged, such as in the MCCY and the PA,” said MOF, adding that such actions weaken the system of public accountability.
The Government takes a “zero-tolerance approach” to fraud and corruption and every case will be investigated, said the Finance Ministry.
"We will throw the book at officers involved in suspected fraud and corruption including lodging police reports for criminal investigations to be conducted," MOF added.
In the audit of MCCY, AGO found that supporting documents for claims contained “signs” that they could have been photocopies of one another with alterations made to the dates and duration of services rendered.
Test checks on 10 claims totalling S$1,812 made between April 2019 and March 2020 found that six of the 10 softcopy attendance records provided as supporting documents for claims contained "tell-tale" signs that cast doubt on their authenticity.
MCCY carried out an investigation and informed AGO that these six attendance records had been fabricated to meet AGO's request for records. Two officers had fabricated the reports because they could not locate the original attendance records.
Checks on another 597 claims totalling S$39,276 made during the same period found similar tell-tale signs of pre-printed signatures on 151 claims.
MCCY's investigation found that external parties responsible for certifying the services rendered at their premises had pre-printed their signatures on the claim forms for "administrative convenience", and there was no evidence of fraud.
For the cases highlighted by AGO, MCCY has taken disciplinary actions against the two officers who fabricated the documents, the AGO report said.
For MOE and MHA, AGO "came across a few instances" where there were signs that supporting documents were created or documents were backdated to satisfy AGO's queries.
AGO conducted a thematic audit on selected facility management contracts managed by MOE and MHA.
As part of an audit of two MHA contracts, AGO had selected samples to ascertain if the required works were carried out. During its review, AGO noted signs on some supporting documents that cast doubt on their authenticity, the report said.
As part of an audit of two MOE contracts, AGO also selected samples to check if the required works had been carried out. The review noted signs on some supporting documents provided to AGO that cast doubt on their authenticity, the report added.
MHA said in a press release that the police reports were lodged immediately after the cases were discovered. Internal investigations are in progress and disciplinary action will be taken should any officers be found guilty of wrongdoing, said the Home Affairs Ministry. Its vendors have also been reminded not to create or backdate documents for audit.
MOE informed AGO that it has carried out further investigations on the cases and that it has made police reports.
For HDB, AGO test-checked 194 quotations for 53 contract variations and one work order approved between July 2017 and November 2020, involving star rate items totalling S$3.88 million under nine construction contracts. Possible irregularities were noted in 40 quotations.
Star rate items refer to items for which rates are not listed in the contract.
HDB had appointed consultants to manage its construction contracts and to supervise the contractors. For contract variations and work orders involving star rate items, the consultants were supposed to assess the "price reasonableness" of the rates stated in the contractors' invoices or quotations using various methods, such as verifying against one or more quotations from other sources, the report said.
However, checks revealed that 40 quotations might have been created or altered to give the impression that they were obtained from other suppliers and were reflective of fair market rates.
HDB told AGO that it has carried out an investigation and lodged a police report, adding that it would enhance its controls over the management of star rate items.
Signs of possible falsification of quotations, alteration of hardcopy payment supporting documents and the creation and backdating of documents were among the possible irregularities detected during AGO's audit of PA.
The AGO audited two development projects under the PA, including Our Tampines Hub.
For Our Tampines Hub, the association engaged contractors to carry out minor building works at the hub, and got a managing agent to assist in managing the facilities and supervising the contractors.
In reviewing the payments made to the contractors, AGO test-checked 36 payments, totalling S$1.27 million, made between Apr 1, 2018, and Mar 31, 2020.
It found possible irregularities in the supporting documents for 34 of such payments. The possible irregularities include possible falsification of quotations, alteration of hardcopy payment supporting documents and creation and backdating of documents to give the "false impression" that proper processes had been followed.
The PA convened an investigation panel upon AGO’s notification in March. The investigation was completed in May and confirmed AGO’s observations, said the association in a statement.
“As the lapses relate to serious allegations involving falsification of documents, including in relation to claims by external parties, PA has lodged a police report and investigations are ongoing. PA has suspended its staff pending the outcome of these investigations,” said the association.
It has also set up a task force led by senior officers to “strengthen processes in procurement, contract and facility management, raise staff capabilities, and improve oversight” of contractors and managing agents.
An external consultant will be appointed to conduct of thorough review of its governance system and oversight functions in relation to contract management of all development projects, said PA.