14 July 2006

The Government's Money Matters

The Business Times tells us that Singaporeans are now donating less money to charity, post-NKF saga.
Business Times - 14 Jul 2006
S'poreans giving less money, more time to charities


(SINGAPORE) When it comes to charitable giving, Singaporeans are getting tighter with their money but freer with their time, according to the latest survey results released by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Released on Tuesday, the NVPC figures show that the total donation figure from individual giving was $341 million in 2006, or $125 per donor.

This is a plunge compared to the average donation of $155 per donor, and the total giving of $438 million two years ago when it last conducted the survey.

BT had earlier highlighted individual donor fatigue despite record donations of over $600 million last year.

According to the report, Singaporeans' generosity started to wane following the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal and the outpouring of money at the time of the Asian tsunami at the end of 2004.

In a separate Business Times article (also published today), we see why this might be a good idea.
Business Times - 14 Jul 2006
Lapses in govt finances show up in AG report


MORE than five years later, $474,092 of donations made to the Alexandra and Woodbridge Hospitals before they were corporatised is still in the hands of the Ministry of Health.

The ministry's explanation for not handing the money over? It was not aware that it had to obtain an order under the Charities Act before the restructured hospitals could use the funds - an order requiring the approval of the Commissioner of Charities and the Attorney-General.

AG Chuang Kwong Yong points out in his latest report on the public sector's accounts for FY 2005/06 that after the Health Ministry was told of the necessary procedure in January 2002, it took more than a year before it applied for the order in January 2004.

And plans for use of the donations were finalised and sent to the Commissioner of Charities only in February this year.

'According to the ministry, it was a long-drawn process requiring many rounds of queries and clarifications between the ministry, hospitals, the AG and the Commissioner of Charities,' the AG's report says.
However, it appears that the Singapore government can be slow and inefficient in handling not just charitable donations, but public money in general:
But disbursing the donations was not the only undue delay on the part of the Health Ministry. The ministry has yet to seek reimbursement of $37.8 million it spent on development projects for certain restructured healthcare institutions, even though the projects were completed between 2000 and 2003.

Other cases of undue delays that came to light after recent audit test checks by the AG were found in the Supreme Court, the Law Ministry and Trade and Industry Ministry.

Some 61 cheques for $8,076 issued by the Supreme Court between Dec 2, 1995 and May 8, 2000 were not presented to the bank. 'As at March 31, 2006, these cheques had already expired for between six and 10 years and yet the accounting records were not adjusted to reverse the failed payment transactions,' the report says.

Other lapses include the loss of public money over, for instance, payment of music lessons for children of overseas staff; revenue arrears; procurement irregularities; late payment to suppliers; and improper advance payments.

At the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the AG found that the ministry let an agent who is not a public officer sign the ministry's tenancy agreements on the government's behalf.

'Signing contracts on behalf of the government is a serious matter as it commits the government to specific obligations under the contracts and could have significant financial implications,' the report says.

And here is a classic example of civil-service stupidity:
A tenant of the Law Ministry defaulted on rent of $556,800.58 and there was no security deposit to make good at least part of the arrears - all because of 36 cents. When the tenant submited a cashier's order for $77,666.64, the exact amount for the deposit, to the Singapore Land Authority, it was returned to him because the computer system was designed only to accept payments rounded up to the nearest dollar. The SLA requested a fresh deposit of $77,667 but the tenant did not submit it.

'The authority acknowledged that it should have asked for a deposit of $77,667 in the first instance,' the report says. 'It also conceded that the shortfall of 36 cents should have been handled without returning the cashier's order to the tenant who had already taken possession of the state property.'
Because you wanted 36 extra cents from the man, you rejected his $77,667. Very clever indeed.


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Anonymous said...

oooo... classic piece...

btw, I am still wondering how can these be published in the media, wun the editors get into trouble?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Maybe to salvage the editors' reputation.

Taking major risks here albeit calculated ones. Afterall, if the information is given out from the Gahmen, can't be that risky lah ...

Having eaten salt for several decades, I am more worried about information that were not reported than those reported.


Anonymous said...

The editor who vetted this article is obviously practising partisan politics, digging up damaging data to make the government look bad just before the national day celebrations. The auditor general's report is not meant for public circulation, and to reproduce it in a mainstream media is a treasonable act. Off with his head!

singaporean said...

The only reason why such things appear on the media is because it is approved at the highest level in the gahmen. It is a good thing to be transparent. In any case, many of the cases mentioned would be known to the public one way or another. Better it be from the Auditor General than from some opposition member. OTOH, you do realise that there is no way for us to know for sure if this is all there is, or if the Auditor General had been selective in reporting.

Commander Adama on Leoben Conoy, an identified Cylon:
"It's a very clever machine, manipulative, cunning. The only problem with Leoben isn't that he lies. That'd be too easy. It's that he mixes his lies with truth. Just remember, he's gonna try to get into your head... He has an agenda. It's a goal you won't understand until later."

Josee said...

The Auditor-General's report is published annually and made available for the public and the Straits Times has been reporting on the audit findings for several years.

Anonymous said...

but interesting ain't it?? I dun seem to see it in Channel News Asia or Straits Times (regarding the in-efficiency of stat boards)

Jackson Tan said...

Can someone shed some light on the following phrase:

Other lapses include the loss of public money over, for instance, payment of music lessons for children of overseas staff...

I know nothing about economics and civil servant's welfare privileges, but somehow I feel that something doesn't sound quite appropriate here. I'd like someone who knows better to elaborate before I establish my conclusion.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

MINDEF used to be featured as the most incompetent idiot in the government, as far as handling money is concerned. This year, there's no mention of MINDEF though.

Anonymous said...

Funny about the 36 cents. It has always been that the Govt is quick to take money from you, but slow to return it. I once waited 4 months for a payment.

Anonymous said...

To set the record straight about the Auditor-General's Office.

Address : 40 Scotts Road #10-01 Environment Building Singapore 228231
Tel : 67319744
Fax : 67347234
Email Address : ago_email@ago.gov.sg

Mission: To effectively discharge, in a professional manner, its constitutional responsibility of auditing the Government Ministries, Organs of State and certain Statutory Boards.

This institution is a very independent organ of state. The Auditor-General's job is constitutionally protected i.e. he cannot be fired for doing his job in reporting lapses in govt accounts and finances without due process that involves 3 judges.

The report of the Auditor-General is published annually usually in early July and the Public Accounts Committee (a Parliamentary Committee) will deliberate on his report and call up Permanent Secretaries, CEOs or Heads of the Statutory Boards to give explanations and remedial actions taken to prevent such lapses from occurring. The report of the Publc Accounts Committee is itself publicly available via Parliament website.

The Auditor-General's Office has been in place since even before Singapore's independence. It was set up as the Audit Department by the British and continues to this very day.

The lapses that are reported are not earth shattering. Those in the private sector will know that if you run a 60,000 staff organisation, there will be occasional lapses due to oversight or negligence. But which 60,000 company whose accounts are true and fair does not have the occasional lapse e.g. staff overclaiming transport, allowances. Overpayments by companies to suppliers and under billing of customers?

Overall, our civil servants are very kiasi and toe the line when it comes to accounts and finance. If you compare to other countries in the region's Auditor-General equivalents (supreme audit institutions) - the counterparts will tell you stories of projects where millions were spent for highway, but when auditors checked, there was no highway!

Over here, given the billions of govt expenditure, these lapses are relatively mild given the volume of transactions.

Anonymous said...

Just another info titbit: The Report of the Auditor-General is available via Singapore National Printers (SNP). Anyone (Singaporean, foreigner, American/Russian) can go to one of their outlets and buy one. In reality, most people would rather spend money on Da Vinci code bestseller than the Auditor-General's Report. Hence, his report never makes it to the bestsellers lists in Singapore.


Anonymous said...

1. my bad, its reported in ST page H5.

2. the above comment does shed some light into the workings of a company, and comparing to others around us, it does make us look better. But then, it still does not address the inefficiency and stupidity of the mentioned stat boards.

Anonymous said...

Aiyah ... I still say the same thing lah. The devil is in whatever that is not published.

If it is like NKF, it won't be published unless "black eat black" and you need to show who's boss.

I won't spend too much time on such things, really.

simplesandra said...

hangyong wrote: "but interesting ain't it?? I dun seem to see it in Channel News Asia or Straits Times (regarding the in-efficiency of stat boards)"

Because a good proportion of Business Times readers don't vote; those who do are more interested in their business investments than what the average joe thinks?

Or to foreign investor reading the BT, it proves that the media here isn't biased?

Or maybe I'm just thinking too much, oh cynical me. :)