It was noted in the Auditor-General's Report for Financial Year 2015/16 that the National Arts Council (NAC) under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had directly engaged the consultants of the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall (VT/VCH) to provide additional consultancy services (amounting to $0.41 million) for the construction of a bin centre, without first conducting a cost assessment to ascertain the reasonableness of the fee quoted.
AGO expressed its view that the consultancy fee, at 87.2 per cent of the construction cost of $0.47 million for the bin centre, was exceptionally high.
With public criticism hot on its back, NAC has since issued a "fact based explanation" on why the bin centre was being built and attempts to justify the bin centre's cost of construction and consultation. The explanation was published at Factually on 30 July.
The description of Factually on the Gov.sg goes like this, "Factually brings you the facts, and nothing but the facts, on hot button issues in Singapore."
Just take note of this description before we move on to dissect NAC's explanation on the website.
NAC accepts and acknowledge that the cost assessment for the building of the National Arts Council (NAC) bin centre should have been more robust.
It then repeats the same words that it told AGO, "Relevant processes will be put in place to ensure that the norm for cost assessment of consultancy fees will be adopted for future development projects."
It went on to state that there could be some misunderstanding about the reasons for building the bin centre. It was not a standalone project; but part of redevelopment for the Civic District which is an important cultural and heritage area for Singapore.
NAC specifically highlighted that the construction cost was less than 1% of the development cost for VTVCH.
Consultancy services was necessary due to complexity
NAC argues that consultancy services were necessary because of the complexity of the project. The consultancy services included a feasibility study taking into account the various requirements of three separate institutions — ACM, VTVCH and Old Parliament House. The needs of each stakeholder had to be met while providing a holistic solution for the whole precinct.
NAC went on to state that the consultancy services also included technical study, design proposal, design documentation, tender and contract administration, compliance with all regulatory requirements, etc.
Ok, since NAC said that it is complicated, let's look at the street a few years back before the revamp took place.
Going back to NAC's explanation of why was the project complex and complicated.
NAC wrote that the new consolidated bin centre was not a simple bin centre to build. There were many considerations and technical challenges, including the following:
a) structural and reinforcement works as it was above the ACM basement;
b) mechanical and electrical services;
c) diversion of existing underground services;
d) consideration of ventilation to prevent foul smell from escaping from the bin centre;
e) sensitivity to ACM offices which are right next to the bin centre;
f) façade design as the aesthetics of the historic area needed to be preserved;
g) study of traffic flow, e.g., the impact on the ACM unloading/loading bay.
A photo above that shows the side of Victoria Theatre is interesting. Because it shows the small bin centre for the building before it was consolidated as a bin centre shared by the three buildings.
NAC wrote, "In the past, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall (VTVCH), Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and Old Parliament House had their own bin centres."
But according to the old Google maps, the bin centre for the Old Parliament House cannot be seen.
NAC also wrote, "There was an opportunity to build a centralised refuse collection centre to serve ACM, VTVCH and Old Parliament House. This would allow for improved operational processes and enhance the aesthetics of the area."
But if you look at the old photos of the area and the photo of the new bin centre. How different is the old bin centre technically as compared to the new bin centre? The bin centre is just built larger with the VT/VCH's bin centre removed, that is all!
Taking specifically what NAC wrote above into consideration and looking at the photo below with the new and old bin centre in comparison. One cannot but wonder what on earth is NAC really talking about.
And true enough, NAC merely repeated the same explanation that it gave to AGO during their audit.
AGO had clearly stated in their report, referring to the NAC's explanation, "In this regard, AGO noted that these reasons were not cited in the approval paper for the drawdown of funds. There was also no documentary evidence that these reasons were indeed considered at the material point in time."
NAC has provided an explanation that had not been accepted by AGO and is attempting to make it a "fact" by repeating it without justification.
NAC did not deny that total cost of bin centre is $880,000
Also note that in the clarification, no mention of the amount spent on the consultation and the construction cost was made. Therefore, it is very likely as what many of us have been arguing, that the total cost involved in the consultation and construction is $410,000 and $470,000 separately, which is $880,000 in full. There is no reason why NAC would want to have such a misunderstanding to perpetuate without debunking the "rumor" of the exact cost.
With that, I quote the infamous speech made by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan as he pointed up to the ceiling in 2013, "When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so, but don't cover up"
Rather than to call the site that carried NAC's clarification as "Factually", it should be renamed as "Half-Truths" instead.