On 28 February (Thursday), Worker’s Party’s MP Sylvia Lim questioned in Parliament if the appointment of the new Auditor-General is a conflict of interest. This is because the newly hired Auditor-General Goh Soon Poh is the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How.
Ms Lim stated that the Parliament and the people of Singapore are “all familiar with the annual audit reports of the AGO. They often contain embarrassing finding and may uncover misconduct. The AGO reports are a key measure by the government towards accountability and a prudent use of public funds”.
As such, she questions, “Did the Prime Minister consider how appointing the spouse of a Senior Minister of State will affect the public perception of the independence of the AGO?”
After hearing out the questions, the Minister-in-Charge of the Civil Service Chan Chun Sing, who replied on behalf of PM Lee, said that there was no conflict of interest if the partner of a minister were to be picked as the Auditor-General.
He added that there are key considerations when shortlisting candidates like their “ability to do the job well, their qualifications and experience, track record, integrity and sense of public service”.
Looking at these criteria, Mr Chan said that Madam Goh has 30 years of experience in the public sector and has been the deputy secretary for two big ministries – Education and Home Affairs. Therefore, she would be “familiar with governance matters related to finance, procurement and human resources”.
Mr Chan added that the appointment of the Auditor-General is done by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and chairman of the Public Service Commission. After that, the President will consult the Council of Presidential Advisers “which provides an additional level of scrutiny and advice,” he explained.
To find out the public’s opinion on this appointment, TOC created a poll on its Facebook page asking netizens if there is any conflict of interest for the spouse of a Senior Minister of State and member of the ruling party to be the Auditor-General whose responsibility is to audit the entire government, and report on any lapses however embarrassing it may be for the government.
About 2,400 votes came in and 96% of respondents agreed that the hiring of the current Auditor-General is indeed a conflict of interest.
Only 4% disagreed and thought that the appointment was not a conflict of interest.
Over 100 comments were received on this matter and many online users felt that this hiring is definitely a conflict of interest given that Madam Goh’s husband is a Senior Minister of State.