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High time to audit the books of the People’s Association

By Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss

The People’s Association (“PA”) is an organ heavily funded by taxpayers’ money.

For FY 2012 and FY 2013, it received S$399 million and S$540 million in Government grants respectively. [1]

Earlier this year, the Government increased by 51.3 percent the estimated expenditure of the PA, and allocated the PA over S$1 billion from the public coffers to fund its activities for FY 2015. [2]

On Wednesday (15 July 2015), the Auditor-General’s Office (“AGO”) published its Report for the Financial Year 2014/15 which revealed troubling lapses in PA governance, suggesting that taxpayers’ money granted to PA is not being wisely and accountably spent.

The AGO revealed that 35 Community Club/Centre Management Committees (“CCMCs”) had awarded S$17.78 million worth of tenancy contracts without proper approval.

More surprisingly, it was revealed that Admiralty CCC’s Chairman had approved claims to himself amounting to S$114,767 via seven payments. Conflicts of interest were also discovered in the approving of two contracts totalling $32,000.

By any standards, S$114,767 is a significant amount of claims to request reimbursement for.

This is especially so in the context of a volunteer organization like a CCC.

MPs for Sembawang GRC Mr Khaw Boon Wan and Mr Vikram Nair were quick to highlight that there was “no evidence of dishonesty”.

That is beside the point, and in any case a very low threshold to cross.

The specific questions Minister Khaw and Mr Nair should answer, in relation to Admiralty CCC, are:

1. In light of the large amounts of claims made to the former CCC Chairman, will there be a full audit of all payments made by the CCC to the said CCC Chairman?

2. What was the exact nature of the “claims” made? Why was there a need to incur such large “claims” in relation to voluntary work on behalf of the CCC?

3. What was the total amount of “claims” made by the CCC to the CCC Chairman, and what were these “claims” for?

A much more significant point of concern is this: the AGO audits are conducted on a test check basis, they do not reveal all irregularities and weaknesses (see page 2 of the AGO Report [3]). In other words, the full extent of the lapses in PA finances and processes highlighted by the AGO Report remains to be ascertained.

Huge amounts of public funds are granted to PA every year. This year, the PA was allocated an unprecedented amount for its expenditure. The worrying lapses revealed by the AGO call for decisive action – the immediate appointment of independent auditors to conduct a full and thorough account of all public funds disbursed by PA. The public has to be assured that the lapses are not endemic. The PA has to be held accountable for how it has deployed our money.

The PA was historically created to help the ruling PAP control the grassroots. [4]  It is an organ of the ruling party. The PA’s Chairman is the Prime Minister. It is not politically neutral. Only PAP MPs can be appointed as PA Grassroots Advisers, opposition MPs cannot.

It is also high time to ask if the PA, a politically compromised, heavy user of public funds, should even continue to exist at all. A taxpayer-funded mass movement arm set up to benefit the ruling party has no place in a fair, just and democratic Singapore.

[1] The People’s Association 2013/2014 Annual report
[2] http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/higher-budget-estimates-for-peoples-association-is-to-help-community-bonding-lim

[3] http://www.ago.gov.sg/docs/default-source/report/e774db1b-584a-4710-9cc0-8852ec114080.pdf
[4] http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2013-10-18_183012.html#Fn5

This post was first published at Jeanette's facebook fanpage