There has been a firestorm in Parliament this past week with the ruling party lashing out at the Workers Party with exceptional venom and shockingly slanderous accusations. I am not going to add to the debate over the AHPETC town council matter as this has been covered in-depth online and it has been reported extensively by the mainstream media which devoted reams of pages to this over several days.
Instead, I am wondering about the sense of perspective over AHPETC, or rather the loss of perspective, by the ruling party and the MSM for them to have devoted so much time, energy, public resources and news space to it when there are many other bigger issues of concern to the citizens.
Let’s start with the 2013/2014 report by the Auditor-General (AGO) on the transgressions by the government. The contents list of this 64-page report was an eye-opener as it listed the numerous financial lapses and irregularities found to have been committed by EVERY Ministry in FY2013/2014.
The puzzling question is – Why didn’t the Ministers and MPs openly address in Parliament some of the major lapses (some repeated) committed by their agencies if they truly care about integrity, transparency and doing what is in the best interest of Singaporeans? Instead, the PAP MPS and several heavyweight Ministers like Khaw Boon Wan and Shanmugam spent a great deal of the entire Parliament time this past week harping on ONE lapse by the Workers Party – the management of AHPETC. Is it because the ruling party is gearing up for the looming General Elections which may take place this year?
Even though there were lapses in the management of AHPETC, one would have expected the MPs to at least allocate balanced time to the matter while spending precious Parliament time and resources debating and addressing other areas of great concern. This is what tax-payers expect their MPs to do and not to waste resources bombarding the opposition in Parliament in an astoundingly undignified manner.
It was shocking indeed to hear Khaw Boon Wan use the example of Japanese senior management who would resign and even commit hara-kiri (suicide) over wrongdoings. I doubt he was actually asking the WP MPs to kill themselves over AHPETC but Khaw was certainly playing to the gallery to exaggerate and sensationalise the lapses committed by WP during its learning curve of managing its first GRC.
Those who live in glass houses should be sure their homes are clean of filth before they lob accusations at others for not doing proper housekeeping. In the 2013/2014 report by the AGO, irregularities were found in various agencies under the Ministry of National Development headed by Minister Khaw who has been spearheading the Parliamentary attacks on WP.
The report said the National Parks Board’s transgressions included creating and backdating some documents relating to the development of Gardens by the Bay to give the impression that they existed at the time when the relevant transactions took place. The AGO said “creating and backdating documents to satisfy audit queries is a serious irregularity. It also casts doubts on the authenticity of other documents and information provided to AGO.”
Although MND conducted an inquiry into this, shouldn’t it still account openly to the people as to how such a lapse could have happened in the name of transparency and assure the public that such lapses will not happen again to any agency under its control? Instead it appears that its big chief has been busy expending energy on pontificating about his righteousness and taking WP to task over AHPETC.
Over at the the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). which is also under the MND, the AGO found had grossly underutilized land, buildings and facilities at several places which is to quote the AGO “tantamount to a waste of public resources”. As an example, AGO found that of the 41 buildings at the Sembawang site, 15 buildings were left vacant for periods between 2 and 14 years. Another three buildings were partially occupied for periods between 8 and 11 years. The vacant areas in these 18 buildings formed 28.4 per cent of the gross floor area of all the 41 buildings.
AGO also noted that 112,294 m or 78.0 per cent of the site was vacant land. AGO also observed during its site visit that some of the vacant buildings were poorly maintained. For example, there were termites in one building and condemned furniture and other discarded items in other buildings, which could pose pest and fire hazard problems.
And at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the AGO found serious lapses in the National Council of Social Service which repeatedly violated procurement procedures such as by not getting the mandatory three quotes and although NCSS implemented a set of improved procedures in April 2013, the procedures did not prohibit the same officer from being both the payment approving authority and the quotation approving authority.
NCSS procedures were also lacking in requirements for ensuring proper negotiations, such as having ample representation during the negotiations and keeping proper records of the negotiation meetings. AGO’s test checks of 45 purchases made directly from the vendors or where only one or a few selected vendors were invited to bid revealed that for 32 purchases (71.1 per cent) totalling $1.72 million, NCSS gave lame reasons for not procuring through open competition.
AGO also found that for 15 of these 32 cases at NCSS, the suppliers were awarded the contracts without competition for three or more consecutive years, and for one case, for 20 years.
Over at the Ministry of Home Affairs, the AGO’s test checks of 46 payments at the Singapore Civil Defence Force(SCDF) revealed lapses in financial control and instances where officers had approved purchases and contracts or certified invoices when they did not have the authority to do so.
Specifically, the SCDF approved two payments in March 2012 amounting to $217,100 for the maintenance of two IT systems before services were fully performed.
There are many more such appalling lapses where proper procedures were blatantly ignored, money was lost and public resources had been wasted. One need only read the contents page in the report to see the scale of the transgressions by the government bodies.
All these are matters involving public funds, trust and integrity and the Government must account to the people for the lapses and explain why some of these lapses have continued to recur despite them having been flagged by the AGO previously.
My point here is that there are many national issues of great importance and the MPs, who are elected and paid by the people to do a proper job, should not waste precious Parliament time fixated on slanderous attacks to fix opposition parties.