Singapore auditors find irregularities in ministries

26 May 07

Several high-profile Singapore government departments have committed financial and accounting irregularities, a parliamentary report said on Friday.

The report by the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee highlighted procurement irregularities, unfair payment practices and circumvention of internal controls at key departments in the Singapore government, which has repeatedly topped polls for being one of the least corrupt regimes in the world.

The accounts committee said that the Economic Development Board (EDB), the city-state’s powerful economic agency, had shown lapses in its governance structure, financial operations, procurement and accounting systems.

“This was the first audit of the EDB undertaken by the Auditor-General and the audit had given rise to a large number of observations in which the board had not established proper internal control procedures,” the accounts committee said in the report released on Friday.

A sum of S$105 million ($69 million) allocated in the EDB’s 2005/06 budget was not submitted to the EDB’s board for approval, and the board had allowed staff to grant loans and to borrow without reporting that to the board, the report said.

Singapore in April raised the salaries of its ministers and top civil servants, already among the world’s highest paid, by about 60 percent to an average of S$1.9 million per year on grounds that Singapore needs to pay top wages to attract talent and to make sure that ministers are not tempted by corruption.

Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks Singapore as the fifth-most corruption-free nation out of 163.

The accounts committee said that Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts had asked some of its suppliers to change the dates or credit terms on invoices “apparently to conceal late payments”.

“Although the cases reported might not be significant in monetary terms…it casts doubt on the integrity of the public service,” the accounts committee said.

The report also said that the defence ministry was found to have showed conflicts of interest in the award of three contracts for the renovation of its offices abroad.

The committee also pointed at deficiencies in the land sales procedures of the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), a statutory board under the trade ministry and the developer of the premium waterfront Sentosa Cove residence.

“The instances of deficiencies…would cause the public to view the land sales as not being transparent, fair and competitive,” it said

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