Statement by the Ministry of Finance on the Auditor-General’s Report FY2021/2220 Jul 2022
1. On behalf of public agencies, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) would like to thank the Auditor-General and her officers for the Auditor-General’s Report FY2021/22.
2. The Auditor-General has issued an unmodified audit opinion on the Government Financial Statements. This is an independent verification that the Government’s accounts are prepared in accordance with the law and give a true and fair view of its overall financial position.
3. The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) is an important part of our system of checks to uncover weaknesses and identify areas for improvement. This contributes to an effective and accountable Public Service. The Government takes AGO’s observations seriously. Heads of the agencies concerned have reviewed each case to identify the root causes for the lapses and are taking steps to enhance their capabilities, processes and systems. The relevant agencies have initiated remedial steps, such as to recover excess funds disbursed and strengthen the management of contracts. We will also continue to share good practices to improve standards in public agencies.
4. The Government has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption. Potential offences are thoroughly investigated to establish if there is wrongdoing and to ascertain the culpability of the errant parties. Where wrongdoing is found, agencies will mete out disciplinary actions depending on the nature and circumstances of the breach.
Operating During the COVID-19 Pandemic
5. AGO conducted a thematic audit on COVID-19 related procurement and expenditure managed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) respectively, for meals catering for migrant worker dormitories; management of hotel and build-and-run facilities for quarantine, isolation or recovery of individuals affected by COVID-19; and manpower services for swab operations.
6. The past two years of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic were an extraordinary period for Singapore and its public officers. Public agencies and officers had to respond swiftly to protect lives and livelihoods amidst an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation. We thank the AGO for acknowledging the unprecedented intensity, complexity and scale of the operations as public agencies took on new roles and functions in managing the crisis, on top of their usual duties.
7. Public agencies were agile in shifting from their pre-pandemic roles to new emergency roles and had to scale up their operations significantly and swiftly. For example, HPB increased the number of swab personnel from 650 in May 2020 to 5,100 in July 2020. SLA stepped forward to act as the main agency procuring, preparing, administering and managing premises to be used as quarantine, isolation, recovery or temporary dormitory facilities. MOM had to pivot to support the management of dormitories and look after the well-being of migrant workers, including catering of meals.
8. We appreciate the hard work and sacrifices made by public officers who contributed to the crisis response. Despite the challenging conditions including the time criticality of some functions, public agencies and officers strove to maintain high standards of integrity, service and excellence.
9. The Auditor-General’s Report noted that SLA, MOM and HPB had in place the necessary policies and processes. Good practices were mentioned, including structured processes for managing conflict of interest, contractor debarment checks, periodic reviews of contracts in response to changing requirements and measures to reduce overall expenditure. Areas for improvement were also identified, including how the agencies could have done better in the evaluation of proposals, obtaining relevant approvals for contracts and implementing payment processes.
10. With regard to the learning points of this thematic audit, AGO raised three areas that public agencies should pay greater attention to. They are (i) establishing a reasonable level of governance and planning arrangements for use in an emergency; (ii) affirming and supporting the development of critical corporate functions such as procurement, finance, and human resource; and (iii) maintaining appropriate records and document key decisions and transactions.
11. The Public Service will take on board the lessons learnt, and enhance our preparedness for future emergencies:
• Procedures to facilitate effective corporate functions during crisis: MOF activated Emergency Procurement in January 2020 to expedite procurement for essential services and critical supplies, while providing guidance to agencies on ensuring governance and accountability. Drawing from the lessons learnt, MOF is reviewing our emergency procedures to provide better guidance to agencies in managing procurement, contracts and payments. We expect this review to be completed by end-FY2022.
• Capabilities in critical corporate functions: PSD, as the central human resource (HR) agency, will enhance our efforts in supporting our frontline agencies during emergencies. This includes providing central guidance on the governance of HR for frontline operations; and leading the coordination of surge manpower and HR operations.
• Documentation: MOF will be issuing an advisory note to all agencies to strengthen the adoption of good practices and minimise financial risks during emergencies. This will include better supervision and documentation of decisions, such as approvals and adjustments across the life cycle of a transaction.
Other Audit Observations
12. Beyond the thematic audit, the Auditor-General’s Report has highlighted audit findings in the areas of procurement and contract management, grants management and operations management. To address these issues, MOF and public agencies are intensifying efforts to raise corporate capabilities. These include strengthening the competencies of our officers, establishing career paths to better attract, develop and retain our talent pool. The Finance and Procurement Academy offers technical and professional development programmes for finance and procurement officers. MOF is also reviewing how resources can be better organised across agencies to support the finance, procurement and internal audit functions.
Our Commitment to Good Governance and Accountability
13. In an extraordinary period of crisis, the Public Service has stepped up to serve our fellow Singaporeans. Many good practices were maintained even in an emergency, but some lapses occurred. Efforts have been made on the recovery of over-payments, putting in place documentation to reflect decisions taken, and reviewing past transactions to ensure accuracy.
14. We remain committed to our core values of integrity and excellence in serving Singaporeans. The Public Service will strengthen our processes, both in peacetime and crisis, to serve Singaporeans to the best of our abilities.
Ministry of Finance
20 July 2022
 The Finance and Procurement Academy (FPA) is a set up under MOF. The FPA collaborates with partners such as the Civil Service College, Defence Science and Technology Agency, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants to build finance and procurement capabilities for the public sector.