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Singapore

Public accounts watchdog calls on Government to re-evaluate spending, do more to prevent recurring lapses

Public accounts watchdog calls on Government to re-evaluate spending, do more to prevent recurring lapses

Singapore's parliament building. (File photo: CNA/Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: With changes brought about by COVID-19, the Government needs to re-evaluate its baseline spending to address risks and key vulnerabilities, said the Public Accounts Committee in a report on Wednesday (Jan 26).

For instance, disruptions to global supply chains may require the Government to shift its operating models from "just in time" to "just in case", where buffers and stockpiles would become the new planning parameters.

And since the move towards hybrid working - with more public officers accessing government systems from home - it is important for the public sector to continue to monitor cybersecurity risks, said the committee. 

These were some of the issues that could impact spending, laid out in its second report which was presented to Parliament on Wednesday ahead of this year's Budget statement on Feb 18. 

The Public Accounts Committee consists of eight Members of Parliament, including its chair Foo Mee Har.

SINGAPORE GREEN PLAN

On the country's push for sustainability, the committee said it is “pertinent” to focus on the governance framework for borrowings and spending, as well as carbon tax management, as the Government continues to develop the Singapore Green Plan.

It noted that a whole-of-government approach is being taken to prioritise a green ecosystem in areas with the most meaningful impact, but added that it is also critical to equip the public service with the required skillsets in areas such as green financing, carbon accounting standards, climate science and adaptation of new technologies.

According to the committee, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said expenditure for initiatives under the Singapore Green Plan would be reported as part of the annual budgetary process.

To ensure accountability, ministries and agencies will also provide updates to the public on progress made on specific targets and initiatives.

PREVENT RECURRING LAPSES 

The committee also stressed the need to deploy a more holistic approach at a whole-of-government level, to address fundamental root causes of weaknesses and lapses in procurement, contract management as well as IT controls.

This is to prevent the same lapses from recurring at other public agencies, the report said.

"Technology and analytics should be deployed to prevent, detect as well as assess effectiveness," said Ms Foo, MP for West Coast GRC.

"The committee called on more structural setups such as Centres of Excellence and centralisation of capabilities and expertise such as those implemented for facilities, building and infrastructure management."

The committee’s report comes six months after the Auditor-General released its report for the year 2020/2021.

Published in July last year, the AGO report - which covered all 16 government ministries and eight organs of state, 11 statutory boards, four government-owned companies and two other accounts - identified several lapses and weaknesses in procurement and contract management as well as IT controls across different public agencies.

It also found instances of public officers fabricating or altering documents in the records of some agencies. They include the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the People's Association (PA).

At least four cases, involving irregularities in documents, were reported to the police.

Lapses were also discovered in how public agencies manage operations, make procurements and manage facilities management contracts.

In August last year, MOF set up a new office to oversee government procurement functions.

According to MOF, the office has been working closely with agencies to review how to strike a balance in objectives including fairness, speed, effectiveness, prudence and robust controls.

The office has also taken steps to consolidate the facilities management of government buildings, either under the JTC Building and Infrastructure Centre of Excellence or their respective ministries, to achieve better outcomes and economies of scale, the committee noted. 

The committee added that the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group has continued its efforts to strengthen IT governance and enhance IT security at the whole-of-government level.

Source: CNA/vl(gs)

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