This letter is sent to us by National Solidarity Party’s Mr Tony Tan.

I refer to the news report on 25 Mar 2011 “MOM to get ergonomic chairs”.

photo credit: ST

“The ministry is buying 472 Herman Miller chairs (photo), each priced at $575, for general office use for its staff. The chairs, which are not delivered yet, will cost $271,400 in total.”

This is not the first time that government expenditure from the perspective of a taxpayer has started bordering on whether the expenditure is justifiable.

It reminds me of the expensive chairs for the Changi Airport Terminal 3. Please see here.

My concern is that this the beginning of a designer chairs buying frenzy by all ministries.

Under normal circumstances, after a ministry has adopted a spending practice without question as to whether it is financially prudent, another ministry will come to view this as an acceptable practice.

A check indicates that there is a total headcount of 123,899 for 2011 in all the government ministries. Currently 472 chairs have been purchased for a headcount of 2,388 in MOM, this works out as roughly 20% of the total headcount. If we are to adopt the same practice for the other ministries – assuming a justification based on “ergonomic design, durability and value for money” – the government would have to procure another 24,307 designer chairs at a cost of around $14m based on our 20% headcount estimate.

$14m may seem a small sum, except that it is also about 50% of the budget allocated for the elderly and the disable. To give you a further sense of proportion expenditure budget allocated for gambling safeguards is only $2.9m in 2011 Singapore Budget.

It is clear that when the government feels it is justifiable, the cost is not an issue, and the taxpayer’s money is spent. Similar instances of being cavalier with taxpayer money includes the YOG and the naming of Marina Bay.

Going forward however, Singaporeans should start querying such expenditure. The government, for its part, must understand that our silence is not our consent, when it comes to spending the taxpayer money. Specifically in this case, we would like MOF’s view on whether this spending practice of procuring designer chairs is a good and acceptable practice.

And is the sum of money ($271,400) spent part of the FY 2010 budget or FY 2011 budget? If it is part of the FY 2010 budget, then it must be asked whether the spending is meant to soak up the unused FY 2010 budget before the workyear ends on 31st Mar 2011.

Tony Tan Lay Thiam



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