The Gardens by the Bay opened in Singapore in June 2012. Touted as a unique tourist attraction, the Gardens was built at a costs of S$1.03 billion.
The Auditor-General’s Office’s (AGO) audit of the project, however, seems to indicate an alarming series of serious accounting lapses both times that the project was audited – in 2013/2014 and 2014/2015.
The project is managed by the National Parks Board (Nparks).
In the first instance, an Nparks officer was found to have backdated documents so as “to give the impression that they existed at the time when the relevant transactions took place.”
“Creating and backdating documents to satisfy audit queries is a serious irregularity,” the AGO said in its report then. (See here.)
“It also casts doubts on the authenticity of other documents and information provided to AGO,” it added.
The Ministry of National Development (MND), which oversees Nparks, “confirmed that an officer had created and backdated a total of 16 letters, purportedly issued by Nparks to its suppliers, to satisfy AGO’s queries.”
The officer had also “arranged with the suppliers to issue another 11 backdated letters, out of which five were created by the officer on behalf of the suppliers.”
In its own investigation, MND concluded that “there was no evidence to suggest that the integrity of the system of contract variations and payments had been compromised for the contracts handled by the officer.”
The officer had told the MND that he committed the acts “to regularise gaps in the documentation of communications with the suppliers for completeness of record.”
However, the AGO said it did not see his acts as merely attempts to regularise gaps in documentation.
“AGO noted that the officer was fully aware that the documents were for audit purposes,” the auditor said. “His actions, if not discovered, would have misled AGO into concluding that the procurement processes were in order.”
The MND then informed the AGO that it also took “a serious view of the irregularity” and would be taking “appropriate disciplinary action” against the officer.
It is unclear, however, what this disciplinary action was.
In its latest audit of the Gardens project, the AGO found a whole series of serious accounting lapses, involving tens of millions of dollars.
The most egregious of these were three consultancy services contracts worth a total of S$20.77 million being awarded via waiver of competition without compelling reasons.
In other words, the contracts were awarded without a public tender, which is against the rules.
NParks had cited tight timeline as the main reason for waiving the competition.
However, the AGO said it found “no evidence to show that the tight timeline was caused by unforeseen and urgent events.”
“Nparks acknowledged that the reasons cited for waiver of competition were not compelling and indicated that it should have called open tenders instead,” the AGO report said.
Other rather shocking revelations by the AGO were 33 cases where reimbursements – totalling $776,900 – including one for a lump sum of $189,000, were made without supporting documents; 2 cases of overpayments totalling $142,000; and 3 cases where the goods accepted – totalling $35,000 – did not match the items procured.
The AGO report said it found 65 instances – totalling $8.03 million – where there was no documentary evidence of assessment on the reasonableness of the single quotes received.
“Of the 65 instances, the reasons for obtaining only one quotation for 43 instances – totalling $6.37 million – were not compelling,” the auditor said.
The AGO concluded from its audit that “there was no assurance that Nparks had not spent more funds than necessary.”