After founding solid evidence that points to clear-cut conflict-of-interests by a Citizen’s Consultative Committee (CCC) Chairman and a CCC member, the People’s Association (PA)-appointed Investigation Panel found “no evidence of dishonesty”.
These are the following corrupted acts committed by the CCC Chairman and the CCC member which the PA found “no evidence of dishonesty”:
1) On two occasions, a company related to the CCC Chairman and CCC member won a tender with the lowest bid and the two knowingly did not declare that their relationships with the company. The two contracts are worth S$32,000.
2) On seven occasions, The CCC Chairman approved his own claims to the tune of S$114,767.
3) On one occasion, the CCC Chairman approved S$1,500 of purchase for a company where he was director.
The numerous corrupted acts are found and released by the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO) but the Singapore Police’s Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau (CPIB) is not activated. The PA claimed that everything is “according to procedures” and choose to label the corrupted acts as “lapses”.
The chairman of PA is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the CPIB reports to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The CCC chairman has since resigned but he was not arrested as no police reports have been made. The identity of the CCC chairman is unknown and the PAP constituency he was in-charge of remains anonymous and covered up by the Singapore state-controlled media Channel News Asia.
Below is the press release from the PA:
“The People’s Association (PA) takes the findings of the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) seriously. We have taken immediate action to rectify the lapses observed.
The PA has in place a comprehensive set of financial rules for grassroots organisations (GROs) to ensure good governance and sound financial practices. However, as observed by AGO, there were procedural lapses including seeking tenancy and procurement approval from the wrong approving authority; delay in collecting course fees and data entry errors. There was also one case of non-declaration of conflict of interest and approval of own claims.
Wrong Approving Authority
Most of the tenancy contracts audited were awarded from 2007 to 2012. Community Centre Management Committees (CCMCs) typically invite tenants on a three-year lease with an option to renew. Some CCMCs did not include the optional extension period in their total contract value, resulting in them obtaining approval from the wrong approving authority. PA had already recognized this issue in 2012 and set up a unit to strengthen the procedures for awarding tenancy contracts. Since then, the number of tenancy contracts with wrong approving authority has decreased.
No infringements were detected in 2015.
No Written Invitations To Quote For Goods And Services
Instead of writing, GROs asked vendors for quotes via phone. The majority of such cases involved food catering where the price per head/table was pre-determined. They then evaluated the bids based on the menu that offered most value for money.
All GROs have been reminded to comply with our procedures of inviting quotes in writing.
Making Purchases Without Prior Formal Approvals
In many instances, Project Organising Committees gave in-principle approval for purchases in order to ensure timely delivery of community programmes. They would then seek formal approval at the next GRO committee meeting.
For example, in 2014, the CCs had decided to screen the World Cup Games for residents. A CC needed to replace its old projector with one that could show high definition video on a big screen. All procurement procedures were followed. However, as the next committee meeting was only 30 days later, in-principle approval was obtained from the CCMC’s key office-bearers. This is insufficient, as according to the rules, such approvals must be made by the full committee.
In another case, during the severe haze situation in 2013, a community hospital appealed to a GRO for air purifiers for patients in their non-aircon wards. The volunteers scoured all major retailers, including large electrical stores, but all were out of stock.
When the volunteers finally found a store that had limited remaining stock, they purchased the air purifiers immediately to help alleviate the discomfort of the patients. However, the rules require GROs to first seek a waiver of competition from the appropriate approving authority before making the purchase.
Delay In Collection of Course Fees
The rules require GROs to collect all fees due to them on time. In this instance, the delay in payment by the operator was because needy students on the tuition programme had difficulties paying their fees promptly to the operator. Instead of delaying the collection of fees from the operator while waiting for the late payment from needy students who were not able to pay on time, the Residents’ Committee (RC) should have advised the operator to pay them the fees collected progressively in batches, as and when they were collected from the students. The RC has since collected all fees due from the operator.
Data Entry Errors
The inaccuracies were mainly the result of data-entry errors, such as duplicate entries of Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) ComCare Fund (CCF) disbursements, incorrect amounts recorded and inclusion of financial assistance that was not funded from CCF. The PA has corrected all data entry errors for all CCCs. All funds were accounted for, and no recipient of financial assistance was denied assistance or over paid due to the data entry errors.
NON-DECLARATION OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND APPROVING OWN CLAIMS AT ONE CCC
The PA rules require all volunteers to declare any conflict of interest. No one can approve payments to themselves. However, there were lapses at one CCC.
As the PA takes a serious view of conflict of interest issues, an Investigation Panel was convened on Jul 1 2015 to establish the facts and investigate any wrongdoing, review the financial and risk management processes and recommend measures to prevent recurrence. The CCC Chairman in question had voluntarily stepped down on Jul 5 to facilitate a full and impartial investigation. The investigation was completed on Jul 14.
The Investigation Panel verified that all quotations for works and services were handled by the staff in a confidential manner. The bids were then submitted to the CCC for evaluation and the tender was awarded to the lowest bidder, which was about 30 per cent lower than the next lowest bid. These tendering procedures were in accordance with the rules.
However, the CCC Chairman and a CCC member were related to the company which submitted the bids, which were also the lowest and winning bids in both cases. According to the rules, the CCC Chairman should have declared his interest and excused himself from the evaluation and approval process. Likewise, although the CCC member did not know beforehand that the bid from his company would be presented at the meeting for approval, he should have excused himself when he realised it.
Regarding approval of own claims, the Panel noted that the amounts claimed by the CCC Chairman were subsequently verified by supporting documents. However, the staff responsible for preparing the payments should have been more conscientious in ensuring compliance with the financial rules by requiring that the Vice-Chairman, Secretary or Treasurer approve the claims instead of the CCC Chairman himself.
While the Panel found no evidence of dishonesty, the non-declaration of conflict of interest is nonetheless a serious lapse. The Panel noted that the Chairman involved has apologised for the lapse and had already stepped down from his position. With the completion of the investigation, PA has since accepted his resignation on July 15. The CCC member has been reminded to comply with proper procedures. Staff involved will be reprimanded.
IMMEDIATE RECTIFICATION OF LAPSES
PA has taken immediate action to obtain appropriate approvals and rectify all lapses observed. As these lapses indicate that some GROs may be unfamiliar with the financial rules, we will step up training for GROs. A circular has also been issued reminding them to strictly comply with PA’s financial rules. We have also set up a hotline to guide GROs on correct procurement procedures.
To prevent future lapses, the PA will strengthen the supervision of our 1,800 GROs’ compliance with the financial rules and regulations. We have also set up a Grassroots Finance Review Committee. It will review the financial rules to enhance compliance, and propose measures to facilitate effective monitoring by staff. The Committee will also recommend suitable measures that would enable our 37,000 grassroots leaders and volunteers to continue to serve the community’s best interests while maintaining good governance and sound financial practices.
We have learnt from the findings of the AGO. We will improve and strive to do better in future audits.”