One of the most “rewarding” departments to work in any organisation is procurement. Under the euphemism of “guanxi” or other innocent sounding excuse, many palms have been greased. The art of the finesse is to make it look legit. Like the Public Utility Board (PUB) $ 112,400 ruse of splitting 13 higher-value purchases into 46 instances of small-value purchases to bypass the bureaucratic call for open tenders. Taken to the extreme, one can buy a Herman Miller chair with petty cash.
Our intrepid Auditor-General(AG) has discovered 12 of 35 lapses in public sector tender exercises may be attributed to “laxity in the area of procurement”. The current standard operation procedures (SOP) apparently allow for:
- waiving competitive offers based on weak grounds;
- letting certain bidders alter their bids after the tender has closed;
- and not disclosing the evaluation criteria upfront in tender documents.
Suddenly it’s all too crystal clear how $ 2 companies like Action Information Management (AIM) can swing multi-million contracts in their favour.
The 5 ministries fingered by the AG are not exactly the smaller outfits likely to hide under the radar. They include:
- Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (c/o Lawrence Wong);
- Ministry of Education (c/o Heng Swee Kiat);
- Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (c/o V Balakrishnan);
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs (c/o K Shanmugam);
- Ministry of Home Affairs (c/o Teo Chee Hean).
The ministries lay blame on human error, not the absence of rules and procedures. Hmmm, didn’t someone just tell the Brits that it is the people, not the system, that is keeping Singapore clean? Quoted as example is the $ 322.77 million contract for the National University of Singapore’s University Town that went haywire. Contract was terminated and the National Research Foundation (NRF) officers involved quickly exited to other departments, leaving no trace for accountability. One NRF chap was responsible enough to stay behind, and duly counselled. There is no mention of how many millions were lost and buried at the site.
Chairman of the Centre for Public Project Management Cedric Fool – there’s no other way to spell his name after this – thinks public officers should be rewarded for good practices, not disciplined for flouting the rules. Spare the rod and spoil the child, and that’s how a culture of laxity is pervading the system.
Full News here – Singapore Notes