When AHTC voluntarily earlier released KPMG’s progressive audit report of their accounts in July, the “dummy” vendor codes that KPMG had highlighted, which they were concerned could give rise to duplicated and fictitious payments, were immediately pounced upon by the PAP’s pitbull-in-chief in his scathing Facebook post.
This was around a month before KPMG were expected to release their final audit report in late August. But you know how pit bulls are. They just can’t wait to tear you apart.
That opportunistic attacks are occasionally launched against AHTC or the Workers’ Party should come as no surprise by now. But this particular one should make us contemplate on a couple of other recent events: the passage of a controversial bill just some days ago; and several months earlier, the unfortunate case of Benjamin Lim, whose suicide and the circumstances which led to it sparked a heated nationwide discourse. Benjamin’s case subsequently brought to our notice a certain latin legal term: sub judice.
Admittedly, an ongoing audit is not quite the same thing as a pending court case. For the latter, there is now the infamous Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill that is due to be gazetted once the President has given his assent, which is a foregone conclusion. But the parallels are inescapable. The Law Minister, through his attack, had committed the very act of pre-judging KPMG’s preliminary findings and making public his conclusions of the concerns raised by the auditors—that they had yet to ascertain—just so that they fit his narrative to justify his accusations.
If you think about it, the analog of these actions exists in sub judice, the legal parlance used to describe anything you communicate with others that could be used against you in a court of law if it’s deemed in contempt of court while a case is ongoing.
Yet the minister, who had schooled the rest of us on the virtues of this latin phrase, seems to regard that even the spirit of it (perhaps its raison d’être even) only has a place within a legal framework. By his premature attack on AHTC, he had demonstrated no respect for the fact that the auditors had yet to submit their final report on the matter.
One might even say that the minister’s opinions and conclusions could have hypothetically placed undue pressure and influence upon the auditors, to AHTC's detriment. So too, instead of waiting for KPMG to complete their report, he had hastily presumed guilt and malfeasance on the part of AHTC, knowing full well that the weight of his words as a high-ranking minister would be brought to bear on public opinion. And by association, he had once again taken opportunity to demonize the Workers’ Party over an interim audit report.
But now that the auditors have thoroughly reviewed those dummy vendor codes and ascertained that none of them—not a single one—had led to duplicated or fictitious payments, and that every single one was supported by documentation, has the minister anything to add?
Incredibly, it probably isn’t even a case of “procedural error” here, the term he had used to characterize that other matter (that the AGO had red-flagged) of the previously undetected overpayments to volunteer policemen between 2008–2015 (spanning both his and Wong Kan Seng’s tenure).
As it turns out, AHTC’s use of dummy vendor codes might have actually been the consequence of some creative accounting—in a good sense, and not the negative connotation often associated with the term. For all we know, AHTC’s relative inexperience in book-keeping might have led them to devise novel methods of keeping track of their accounts. Such unconventional practices had clearly thrown the KPMG professionals off, and given them cause to worry. But in the end, the initial concerns over the dummy vendor codes proved to be unfounded. Let’s not take credit away from the auditors, though; they were just doing their job. Those who should really earn our collective disdain are the rabble-rousers who went to town with those three words, “dummy vendor codes”. To them, I leave three other words: egg in your face.
Okay, four words. But I’m not an accountant.