While the Government is aware of the relationship between Singapore’s new Auditor-General and her spouse, who is a Senior Minister of State, there is no conflict of interest at hand, as she is not a political office holder, said Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Mr Chan was responding, on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to a query raised by Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim regarding whether the current appointee for the Auditor-General post is the spouse of a Senior Minister of State.
Ms Lim said: “I do not know the appointee personally, and I have no reason to doubt her integrity. Indeed, I am prepared to assume that she would do her best to do her work honourably.
“However, can the Prime Minister confirm that the current appointee is the spouse of a Senior Minister of State, and if this is so, did the Prime Minister consider how appointing the spouse of a Senior Minister of State would affect the public perception of the independence of the AGO?”
Mr Chan replied: “You asked if we are aware that Ms Goh Soon Poh, the new Auditor-General, is the wife of Senior Minister of State Mr Heng Chee How. Yes, we are aware.”
However, Mr Chan said that the Auditor-General is appointed by the President in accordance with the Prime Minister’s advice, and after a consultation with the Chairman of the Public Service Commission.
“The President will consult the counsel of presidential advisers, which provides an additional level of scrutiny and advice,” he added.
Elaborating on Ms Goh’s credentials, Mr Chan said that she “has more than 30 years of public sector experience, working in various government ministries” such as the Ministry of Finance, and has held the role of Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Ms Goh’s experience, he said, indicate that she “will be familiar with governance matters related to finance, procurement, and human resources”.
Mr Chan stressed that “the audit process generally does not involve political office holders”, and maintained that “there is no conflict of interest generally between AGO and the ministries it audits”.
“Where there is a conflict of interest, there are specific processes to manage this, just as in any professional organisation,” he concluded.
The Auditor-General spearheads the Auditor-General Office in auditing government ministries, organs of state, statutory boards and report its findings to President of Singapore, parliament and the public through an annual report.
Ms Goh, 56, was appointed to her new role earlier this year, and took over the position on Feb 8 from previous Auditor-General Willie Tan Yoke Meng, who has since retired.
Under Mr Tan, AGO raised several alarming issues with the ministries in its annual reports, one of which is in regards to the People’s Association which Mr Chan is deputy chairman of.
In 2015, 35 out of 91 Community Club Management Committees (CCMCs) test-checked by the AGO were found to have failed to obtain approvals from the relevant authorities for awarding 53 tenancy contracts worth a total of $17.78 million.
10 of the 35 CCMCs also did not obtain the relevant approvals for the direct award of 13 tenancy contracts worth a total of $3.67 million. These contracts were also given without competition, which can only be given under exceptional circumstances.
In 2017, AGO test checked 189 purchases amounting to $6.03 million made by PA’s 18 GROs during this audit, and out of the 18 GROs, 13 (or 72%) were found not to have obtained proper approvals for award of contracts and variation for some 25 purchases totalling $619,900.