MOF and IRAS Accept Audit Observations in AGO’s FY 2022/2023 Report, Commit to Learn and Improve19 Jul 2023
COVID-19 Measures Implemented Amidst Rapidly Changing Conditions and Helped to Save Jobs and Livelihoods
1. The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) has presented its findings and recommendations arising from its thematic audit on key COVID-19 grant schemes – in particular, the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), the Rental Cash Grant (RCG) and the Rental Support Scheme (RSS). The AGO audit report has affirmed that the JSS, RCG and RSS were well-designed with the necessary controls in place to ensure proper management. It also identified several lapses in operational processes and areas for improvement. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) would like to thank AGO for its findings and recommendations for improvement.
Independent assurance to ensure sound financial governance
2. The AGO thematic audit is in addition to the checks and controls which the Government had already put in place. In 2022, after the crisis had stabilised, MOF conducted an internal audit of the COVID-19 grant schemes to uncover and rectify shortcomings. The AGO thematic audit provides an independent assessment, which has enabled MOF and IRAS to further strengthen our processes and systems.
Whole-of-Government effort to save jobs and livelihoods amidst challenges
3. Singapore was dealing with a major disruption during the pandemic. The Government had to mount an unprecedented response in terms of size, scope and speed to support our businesses and workers.
4. Public agencies operated under tight timelines and had to manage overlapping waves of policy planning, implementation and review. They also had to take on new roles and functions in addition to their usual operations, redeploy and stretch manpower, repurpose IT systems and available data to respond effectively to the crisis.
5. Despite these challenges, the public service officers rallied and implemented the COVID-19 grant schemes in a timely manner.
- More than 180,000 firms benefitted from JSS payouts totaling $29.38 billion for the period 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2022. This is estimated to have saved 165,000 local jobs in the initial months of the pandemic and helped to support local wages.
- Over 250,000 RSS and RCG disbursements totaling more than $2 billion were made to qualifying tenants and owner-occupiers, providing needed cost and cashflow relief.
- The support benefited many firms and helped them to keep their businesses afloat, save jobs and protect the livelihoods of workers.
6. The COVID-19 grant schemes were a whole-of-government effort. MOF would like to thank the implementing agencies, including IRAS, CPF Board, MinLaw and AGC, as well as the sectoral lead agencies for their close partnerships in delivering the COVID-19 grant schemes. We appreciate the dedication and contributions of the public service officers involved.
Good practices and post-audit recovery
7. AGO has highlighted the good practices and controls implemented to ensure grant payouts were given to intended recipients. These measures included:
- Pre-disbursement audits to ensure correct disbursements for JSS, RCG and RSS;
- Anti-gaming frameworks to detect and deter potential gaming behaviour;
- IT systems and models to facilitate automatic grant disbursements;
- Regular senior management reporting to the Budget Implementation Committee (BIC); and
- Good IT governance practices, e.g., review of activities carried out by privileged users, change management and management of system security configurations.
8. On the areas for improvement identified by AGO, MOF and IRAS have taken immediate rectification steps where relevant:
- On documentation, MOF and IRAS acknowledge that there is scope to improve the documentation of processes and risk assessments. While documentation may not have been complete due to fast-moving developments and time constraints then, MOF and IRAS affirm that each decision was duly deliberated and will ensure better documentation for future schemes.
- On lapses in operational processes, MOF and IRAS have taken steps to investigate and recover the over-payments. The total amount of recoveries that were required after re-assessment make up less than 0.5% of total payouts across all three schemes.
9. MOF and IRAS acknowledge, as part of good governance, that there is scope for the internal processes highlighted in the AGO report to be further tightened and strengthened. We have since put in place additional policies and procedures to do so. These, coupled with the strong teamwork and can-do spirit that undergirded the design and delivery of COVID-19 schemes, will help us learn, improve and better prepare for future crisis situations.
Ministry of Finance
Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore
19 July 2023