Statement by the Ministry of Finance on the Auditor-General’s Report FY2022/2319 Jul 2023
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 FY2022/23.
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 all material aspects, in accordance with the law and public funds have been properly accounted for.
3 The Government takes the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO)’s observations seriously. Heads of the agencies reviewed the findings, identified root causes for lapses, and are taking appropriate remedial actions. These include the recovery of any overpayments and ensuring that there was no unauthorised access or activity in IT systems. Where AGO has affirmed good practices, we will share these positive practices to raise standards in public agencies. The Government has zero tolerance for fraud and corruption. Potential offences are thoroughly investigated and referred to the police or CPIB if there are grounds to do so. Disciplinary action is meted out where wrongdoing is established.
Mounting a Robust Response During the COVID-19 Pandemic
4 AGO’s thematic audit on COVID-19 spending focused on four key COVID-19 grants – Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), Rental Cash Grant (RCG), Rental Support Scheme (RSS) and SingapoRediscovers Vouchers scheme – which were rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented crisis. The Government had to rapidly design and implement a series of comprehensive measures to save lives and preserve livelihoods. Public agencies handled multiple overlapping cycles of COVID-19 scheme design, implementation and adjustments, under time pressure and manpower constraints over the course of a constantly evolving pandemic situation, to ensure that financial assistance and cashflow were provided promptly to their targeted segments.
6 For example, MOF, Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and Central Provident Fund Board worked closely to ensure that the nationwide allotment and disbursement of the JSS cash pay-outs were done in three months, to be in time for the Circuit Breaker. MOF also actively reviewed the RCG and improved the scheme design by disbursing rental support to SME tenants directly instead of through the landlords. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched the Government’s first nationwide digital-only voucher scheme in just four months to support tourism businesses and jobs.
7 AGO noted that in general, MOF, IRAS, and STB had thought through the scheme design and put in place key processes and controls across the various grant stages to ensure proper management of the schemes. Good practices were mentioned and areas for improvement identified.
8 AGO raised three areas that public agencies should pay greater attention to when implementing grant schemes during a crisis or emergency. They were (i) identifying and documenting key risks involved in rapid implementation of grant schemes; (ii) maintaining proper governance of scripts and datasets; and (iii) improving the level of documentation and communication of key matters.
9 We thank AGO for recognising the intensity, complexity and scale of the operations during the pandemic as public agencies designed new schemes and processes to support businesses and jobs, on top of their usual duties.
10 The Public Service will apply the lessons learnt as we prepare for future crises. Following the FY 2021/2022 Auditor-General’s Report, MOF issued an advisory note in September 2022 to all agencies to strengthen the adoption of good practices and manage financial risks during emergencies. This includes better supervision and documentation of decisions and use of data analytics for risk management.
11 The Government appreciates the hard work and sacrifices made by public officers who maintained high standards of integrity, service and excellence, despite tight timelines and highly fluid conditions.
Other Audit Observations
12 Beyond the thematic audit, the report highlighted audit findings in the areas of procurement and contract management, grants management, operations management, IT controls and possible irregularities in records furnished for audit. The Government will continue with our efforts to strengthen governance and controls:
a. Procurement and contract management: There are ongoing efforts to ensure public officers exercise due diligence in procurement and contract management, while giving agencies the flexibility to procure quickly and effectively. This includes supporting agencies’ streamlining of processes, digitalising procure-to-pay-and-contract management processes, raising of capabilities, and consolidation of procurement functions. For example, GeBIZ, the central procurement system, automates checks for debarred suppliers and flags them out to agencies before award. In addition, the QuickBuy@SGov initiative has simplified the small value purchase process from nine steps to three. It also automates the procure-to-pay process for straight-through processing. Nearly 50% of agencies have onboarded the initiative, and more agencies are expected to use the solution by end 2024.
b. IT controls: The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group and agencies are on track to implement technical solutions to automate (i) the management of accounts and user access rights, and (ii) the review of privileged users’ activities for all eligible IT systems by December 2023. As of July 2023, 80% and 85% of eligible systems have onboarded the respective technical solutions. We are also tackling lapses due to human error by tightening the Whole-of-Government (WOG) IT audit regime and instituting regular and targeted engagement and training of relevant public officers. This includes the expansion of recently introduced thematic workshops to raise officers’ awareness of IT governance, security controls and audit findings. Over the years, more than 10,200 officers from the WOG Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Smart Systems domain have been trained to effectively manage ICT tasks, including on access controls and privileged rights.
c. Finance and internal audit (IA) capabilities: MOF and the Accountant-General’s Department (AGD) are making steady progress in efforts to strengthen governance including digitalisation, adoption of data analytics, harmonisation of best practices and competency-based development of officers. For example, 90% of agencies have onboarded Fi@Gov, the central Finance data analytics platform, to leverage data analytics to strengthen internal controls and governance of finance processes. Around 50% of agencies on central HR systems have adopted the finance competency framework to systematically train and develop the public sector finance officers. AGD is also working with pilot agencies on the development of a Unified Audit Management System to digitalise audit processes, systematically capture audit issues and facilitate collaboration in the conduct of thematic internal audits across WOG.
Governance and Accountability
13 The Auditor-General’s audits play a valuable role in providing an independent assessment of our financial governance – good practices have been highlighted, and lapses have been pointed out. The Public Service has committed efforts to recover over-payments, review past transactions to ensure accuracy, and tackle the root causes to prevent a recurrence of lapses. Where there are irregularities, we will not hesitate to act against those who defraud the Government.
14 The Public Service remains committed to upholding high standards of governance, integrity and ensuring prudent management of public monies. We will take on board the lessons learnt, strengthen our processes, controls and systems, and do our utmost to serve Singapore and Singaporeans.
Ministry of Finance
19 July 2023