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Monday, Oct 13, 2014

Singapore

Govt agencies tighten checks to avoid lapses

The Straits Times | undefined | Monday, Oct 13, 2014

Amongst the public bodies, The Central Provident Fund Board now requires employers to declare which of their workers has gone for NSman training, and makes them provide supporting documents for national service make-up pay.

SEVERAL public bodies have put in place more stringent checks after being rapped by the Auditor- General's Office (AGO) in July for not using public funds prudently.

The Media Development Authority (MDA), for instance, is developing on online system to make its grant administration process more transparent.

Applicants will be able to track their application status, manage project timelines and make claims through a one-stop portal.

The system also keeps track of details of companies from their previous submissions, an MDA spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

In the past, the tracking was done offline. This invited criticism from the AGO, which said in its annual report in July that MDA officers who screen applications for funding did not have to record those they had rejected, nor their reasons for doing so.

This raised the risk of an officer being unfair and rejecting an application without valid reasons, and there would be no trail of documentation to detect such cases.

The first phase of MDA's system was launched in July and the full works will be ready next year.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) was also taken to task by the AGO - in this case, for not being stringent in evaluating project proposals. It has since revised its evaluation format.

"Proposals now need to include more details on expected outputs, and assess the risks or possibilities of them not meeting those targets," said an AVA spokesman. "In such scenarios, proposals need to include alternative plans to ensure those outputs are met." The AGO had said AVA did not require proposals to include expected outputs for some projects. In all, AVA spent $20.27 million on 88 research projects.

Other agencies flagged for lapses revealed in Parliament the details of tweaks to their systems.

The Health Ministry has changed its processing system to trigger alerts when there are data errors, after it was found to have paid $64,000 in financial aid to 99 people, even though they had died.

The mistake occurred because the list of dead aid recipients was sometimes not updated.

The Central Provident Fund Board now requires employers to declare which of their workers has gone for NSman training, and makes them provide supporting documents for national service make-up pay. This comes after an employer underpaid $816,000 over 10 years for employees who did national service.

PwC Singapore internal audit head Ng Siew Quan said it is important to strike the right balance. He said: "Many government agencies have been trying to make... processes less cumbersome to allow those in need to receive the help they need. The controls that will be put in place should not discourage this." MP for Pioneer Cedric Foo, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which is made up of MPs and works with the AGO to scrutinise the accounts of public bodies, welcomed the steps taken.

He said: "Leaders and the public at large want to see better internal controls and fairer and more efficient procurement processes.

Over time, government agencies will develop a strong culture to do all this right the first time." jantai@sph.com.sg

 

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