UNSW is shutting down. And now this…….

Singapore auditors find irregularities in ministries

SINGAPORE, May 25 (Reuters) – Several high-profile Singapore government departments have committed financial and accounting irregularities, a parliamentary report said on Friday.

The report by the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee highlighted procurement irregularities, unfair payment practices and circumvention of internal controls at key departments in the Singapore government, which has repeatedly topped polls for being one of the least corrupt regimes in the world.

The accounts committee said that the Economic Development Board (EDB), the city-state’s powerful economic agency, had shown lapses in its governance structure, financial operations, procurement and accounting systems.

“This was the first audit of the EDB undertaken by the Auditor-General and the audit had given rise to a large number of observations in which the board had not established proper internal control procedures,” the accounts committee said in the report released on Friday.

A sum of S$105 million ($69 million) allocated in the EDB’s 2005/06 budget was not submitted to the EDB’s board for approval, and the board had allowed staff to grant loans and to borrow without reporting that to the board, the report said.

Singapore in April raised the salaries of its ministers and top civil servants, already among the world’s highest paid, by about 60 percent to an average of S$1.9 million per year on grounds that Singapore needs to pay top wages to attract talent and to make sure that ministers are not tempted by corruption.

Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks Singapore as the fifth-most corruption-free nation out of 163.

The accounts committee said that Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts had asked some of its suppliers to change the dates or credit terms on invoices “apparently to conceal late payments”.

“Although the cases reported might not be significant in monetary terms…it casts doubt on the integrity of the public service,” the accounts committee said.

The report also said that the defence ministry was found to have showed conflicts of interest in the award of three contracts for the renovation of its offices abroad.

The committee also pointed at deficiencies in the land sales procedures of the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), a statutory board under the trade ministry and the developer of the premium waterfront Sentosa Cove residence.

“The instances of deficiencies…would cause the public to view the land sales as not being transparent, fair and competitive,” it said. – Reuters


SDP Media Release: EDB’s refusal to disclose lost UNSW money is an outrage, 24 May 07

The Economic Development Board (EDB) has stated that it will not reveal how much money it has lost over the closure of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) campus in Singapore.

In case it has forgotten, its funds come from the toil and sweat of Singaporeans, not money it has privately earned. Its refusal to make a full and public disclosure of the money lost is outrageous and unacceptable.

Moreover, that a multi-million dollar project can fail so spectacularly and in so short a time signals incompetence and an appalling lack of foresight at the highest levels. But will there be an inquiry into what went wrong and who the responsible decision-makers are? Given the PAP system, hell will freeze over first.

With the plastering over of past government failures – including the embarrassing Suzhou Industrial Park debacle, the careless acquisition of Shin Corp by Temasek bordering on the criminal, and the endorsement of the NKF by ministers despite the corruptness of Mr T T Durai and company just to name a few scandals – why should anyone expect anything different over the present UNSW crash?

Yet, Singaporeans must not accept the status quo. A people who are fearful or indifferent to public affairs encourage corruption and abuse by the State. It is hugely important for citizens to not only be aware of what our Government is doing, but also to register our voices of displeasure. The clearer and louder the better.

Apart from the lack of transparency from the EDB, there is also the question of the PAP’s strategy of trying to lure foreign academic brains to Singapore.

First there was Warwick University and the London School of Economics which turned down the EDB’s invitation to set up shop here. Then there was the controversy over British drug scientist Dr Simon Shorvon and his subsequent departure resulting in the loss of millions of investment dollars. And now the UNSW collapse.

All this wasted time and resources can be avoided if we concentrate on developing our very own Singaporean talent of which is not in short supply. The only thing that is holding back our institutions of higher learning is the refusal of the PAP to allow academic freedom in this country.

In the world of academia, minds need the freedom to clash, prod and play. Only then can a culture conducive to research develop. And only when research flourishes can our universities attain the stature and reputation we seek.

But the PAP system is anathema to the development of academia. Dictatorial systems that brook no dissent and research minds that thrive on questioning authority are sworn enemies.

The PAP tries to get around this problem by buying academic (and subservient) talent from overseas. Throwing money to entice academic “stars” while keeping an authoritarian lid on society is like trying to light a candle in a thunderstorm.

The continued PAP arm-lock on Singapore is hurting this country and the future of the people. The current UNSW mess is but a minor symptom of a much bigger disease that afflicts this country.

Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party