The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) has conducted its selective audit of PA and 124 of its grassroots organisations (GROs) between July 2014 and February 2015, and has observed that there were procedural lapses among GROs.
Netizens have expressed concerns regarding these lapses, citing the recent AHPETC saga which saw several dramatic episodes in parliament between the WP MPs and the PAP MPs. They say PAP is the pot calling the kettle black; they question the right of the PAP to condemn the actions of AHPETC when the PA GROs have committed similar offences.
There are some differences between AHPETC and PA to bear in mind.
1. WP has repeatedly refused to acknowledge their accounting lapses and conflicts of interest. They have not only refused to acknowledge their wrongs, they have refused to right their wrongs.
PA on the other hand, takes these findings seriously and has taken immediate actions to rectify all the lapses. PA has since informed AGO that it will review its procurement rules for GROs, to strike the right balance between competitive procurement and “expeditious decision-making” on the ground.
Note the difference: If there is a mistake, they admit, investigate, punish if warranted and learn from it. This is not how AHPETC has done it. Year after year, AHPETC has been making the same errors over and over again. Evidently, they have not learnt from their mistakes.
2. Responsibility taken by the individuals is also an important factor to consider.
After many months of investigation, and pressure from the public and the court, AHPETC finally decided to do away with FMSS. No legal or stern action was taken against the company.
On the flip side, there was also one case of non-declaration of conflict of interest in a Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC). While the Investigation Panel set up by PA found no evidence of dishonesty by the volunteers concerned, this is nonetheless a serious lapse. The Chairman has apologised for the lapse and has resigned from the CCC. The CCC member has been advised to comply with proper procedures. Despite only being a volunteer, the CCC chairman has taken responsibility and has resigned.
Note the difference: AHPETC is run by paid staff, not volunteers. Hence, they are obliged to know the proper financial procedures. Volunteers in the GROs may not have this knowledge at present.
3. AGO audited both AHPETC and PA. In the AHPETC case, the AGO said that the accounts cannot be relied upon and there can be “no assurance that public funds are properly spent, accounted for and managed”.
For PA, there were procedural lapses which were fixed and action taken. But there was no issue with the overall accounts.
I think the difference is clear; the severity of the accounting lapses should be seriously considered when comparing both cases.
At the end of the day, the AGO report is impartial and it gives the organization a chance to improve on its governance. How it is managed is the crucial point. The management should be accountable and responsible for their flaws and make sure it does not happen again.