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Singapore

Govt to tighten rules on its tender processes

The government will tighten rules on its tender processes. The move comes in the wake of procurement lapses involving several ministries.

SINGAPORE: The government will tighten rules on its tender processes. The move comes in the wake of procurement lapses involving several ministries.

The recent purchase of Brompton bicycles by the National Parks Board and graft allegations involving high ranking government officials have highlighted the need to take a closer look at the government's tender processes.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said his ministry will enhance rules on the handling of single bids.

Over the past three years, procurements that attracted single bidders accounted for about two per cent of the total value of contracts awarded each year.

Most of these procurements were quotations of below S$70,000 in value each.

A number of tenders above S$70,000 in value also attracted single bids despite an average tender period of 20 days.

Mr Tharman said there are practical reasons why the government should not prevent contracts from being awarded in such cases.

But he added that approval procedures will be tightened to ensure quotations are kept open long enough and to encourage potential suppliers to take part.

For procurements where only a single bid is received, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) will require officers responsible to provide additional justifications to the approving authority within each agency.

The officers must set out why they consider the single bid competitive or reflective of market prices, before a decision is made to award such a contract.

The minimum tender period for suppliers to submit bids for quotations of government contracts of between S$3,000 and S$70,000 in value will also be extended.

The current period is four days. This will be extended to seven working days.

Another area of review concerns term contracts, which refers to contracts that run for a specific length of time.

Mr Tharman said the auditor-general has observed that some government agencies have been overcharged by vendors for work items that have not been priced upfront in term contracts.

To address this, rules will be tightened such that agencies must ensure that they are charged fair market prices for items that are not priced in term contracts.

However, there are also needs to have a fine balance between fair competition and efficiency.

Mr Tharman said the aim is to preserve fair competition, and to reduce the risk of wrong-doings, but not to pile on rules that will hinder the vast majority of legitimate procurements and reduce public sector efficiency.

In outlining the changes, Mr Tharman stressed that Singapore's system of public sector procurement is "on the whole, in good working order".

Rules, he said are sound and most officers abide by them. But he acknowledged that in a system with 80,000 procurements each year, there will be lapses.

Mr Tharman said most of the procurement-related lapses that have been pointed out by the auditor-general on Monday were not due to a lack of rules. Rather, they were caused by public officers failing to follow existing procurement rules and principles.

So honest officers, diligent supervisors and regular audits are needed.

Mr Tharman said: "MOF has sent a strong message to all permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies emphasising public officers' accountability for the use of public funds.

"The core of a clean and functioning procurement system lies in active oversight and supervision within each ministry and agency. Supervisors and approving authorities must be conscientious in asking questions."

Mr Tharman added that all public officers are aware that there are channels for them to report irregularities in the public service.

He said the government does get feedback which are taken very seriously.

Mr Tharman said: "The government acknowledges problems openly even if it brings embarrassment to any of our agencies. This is how our system must continue to operate so that its integrity is never in doubt. This is also why Singapore is widely recognised internationally as having a clean system of government that works."

He added all effort will be taken to protect the identity of the person reporting such irregularities, to the extent that is feasible and permissible by the law.

Mr Tharman said: "Officials who are negligent are subject to disciplinary proceedings. Where corruption or fraud is suspected, an officer faces the full measure of the law. Everyone knows that, and it deters wrong-doing."

Mr Tharman also responded to a question by Member of Parliament for Pioneer SMC, Cedric Foo, who had asked if competency in procurement procedures is lacking in the civil service.

Mr Foo also asked if it is possible to create a career track primarily for procurement officers to help develop and institutionalise the procurement expertise within the civil service.

Mr Tharman replied: "Yes, competency has been a problem. Part of the problem has been the tendency to delegate procurement to a very junior level which shouldn't be the case, and not adequately supervising process from start to end.

"We're correcting that. By and large, the system is functioning well. The majority of officers and their supervisors are doing a good job but there are more lapses than we think acceptable."

Mr Tharman said the current system will be improved and the government is looking into Mr Foo's suggestion to create a career track for procurement officers.

He said: "This (procurement) is an important function in government that is critical to the confidence of the system as a whole and it deserves some specialisation."

There will also be more training and a better checklist for officers to follow when handling tenders.

Source: CNA/cc/fa/ck

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