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The Auditor’s Report II June 6, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

As stated earlier, there are those who prophesy that the report heralds the next apocalpyse for Singapore; and there are those who caution that the report should not be taken as a “magic” bullet to be fired at the PAP. The Mainstream Media has remained unusually mum over this issue, and the letters to the forum do not talk about the audit in anyway which is regretable but not entirely unexpected.

The fact that the report came out on the heels of the UNSW report has made it seem more damning than it really is; and the words use are an indication of what I feel. Of course there are issues arising from such matters but it is not as dire as some proclaim them to be. In this day and age, corporations are becoming more and more complex and thus there will be red tape and all the usual impediments that come with the increasing complexities of operations. The government service of Singapore, indeed is for all intents and purpose run much like a corporation and thus it faces a situation not dissimilar to that of modern corporations; namely the increasing complexities of large scale corporations. And the thing about such corporations is that there will be, notwithstanding internal checks and balances, irregularities. They could be minor in nature but of course added together they could become larger. And that is what happens. Therefore it will be unrealistic to have zero irregularities.

However, it is not unrealistic to expect some form of transparency and accounting. And that is what is lacking. The fact that the media merely touched on the Public Accounts committee but did not touch on the Auditor General’s full report, which the online citizen did. And thats the worrying thing because some of the problems, while seeming minor now, could be the seeds of any further trouble. Take for instance the following:

• circumvention of internal controls;

Many a time some authority figure has told Singaporeans that there is no need to fear a one party state as the current one party system has its own checks and balances to prevent the common ailments of other one party states, both historically and at present. However the above example goes to show that internal controls do not always work. They can (and this instance) have been circumvented by one willing to do them. Sure in this instance it could be an oversight involving some cheques, but there is no guarantee that it will be over such a matter in the future.

• weak access controls in computer systems; In today’s modern society, computers are an integral part of corporate activities and the civil service makes extensive use of computers. Thus computer security is indeed something vital which should be rigorously enforced in view of the fact that computers often store a large variety of confidential and vital information. Another facet of computer security should be considered; the protection of the system against hackers. In light of what happened in Estonia, where the government was paralysed due to an attack on the government computer systems by hackers. One must ask about the state of Singapore’s computer security.

• lapses in governance structure and financial operations.

The above is in relation to the lapses found in EDB. It is rather surprising that such an organization could be doing something not in accordance to the law. Furthermore, the fact that EDB was not audited for more than 46 years is rather damning. An organisation which deals with the economy of Singapore has not been policed since its creation! It appears that the check and balance works rather irregularly; thus raising questions of its efficacy.Therfore sweeping this under the carpet is rather irresponsible for there are implications arising from this issue. However one must caution one’s self against going trigger happy and acting like the proverbial “bo bo shooter”. By themselves, the errors are minor; but if left alone it could blow up.

* I seem to have taken a different view from that of my learned friend Guojun. To set the record straight I do not. In fact if one reads his post his point is merely to highlight the fact that many people do have a blind faith in anything stamped with the lightning bolt. I am in agreement in him. However there are those who are lamenting the “incompetence” of the powers that be just by virtue of the report. As said earlier, the report cannot be taken to be an indication of incompetence and therefore must be interpreted carefully. To peruse the report and then assert that therefore the government is “hopeless” is to run a slippery slope argument and makes one no different from those people who have blind faith.

 ** The term government and PAP is used in the purely Singaporean context and therefore there are times one is substituted for the other.



1. kevin.l - June 7, 2007

I suspect a surprise is on the way either that, it’ll just fizzle out quietly as if no one remembers.

Let’s see how this turns out.

2. Ned Stark - June 7, 2007

I guess it will probably fizzle. If one looks at the articles in the ST one can surmise that they do not give much weight to the report by the auditor general.

3. KiWeTO - June 8, 2007

its all past. we’re looking forward. We’ve got the best paid team running the show; everything will be perfect!

Thus, the hubris continues…

[hmm… isn’t it also the same team who didn’t do their management job of defining, applying and improving checks & balances all 46 years along?]

4. Lunatic Fringe - June 9, 2007

The Auditor-General’s report has been around since 1950s.

It is published once a year in July and usually the media does a small writeup on it. The public accounts committee (of Parliament) then picks it up and uses it for its deliberations, before giving their own report on the report. The public accounts committee can and does ask Permanent Secretaries/CEOs of stat boards to explain why the lapses occurred and how they would mitigate them.

It has been published in the Singapore National Printers and available to anyone who walks in.

It’s only with the blogosphere that it is attracting attention.

All along, lapses has been there. It’s inevitable in a bureaucracy of 60,000+ civil servants +50,000 stat board employees.

The real dirt is not in the Auditor-General’s Office report. The real dirt is the accountability of Temasek and GIC. That is why the real lapses occur where BILLIONS can disappear (i.e. ShinCorp fiasco) without much accountability.

Those in auditor-general’s report are routine non-compliances that occur all along. It’s just the timing of the EDB UNSW issue that highlights the “importance” and “criticality” of the AGO report.

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