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Parliamentary committee asks Govt to review S$72.3 billion Covid-19 spending

SINGAPORE — A parliamentary committee has asked the Government to conduct a comprehensive review of the S$72.3 billion spent to combat Covid-19 in financial years 2020 and 2021.

On Singapore’s transition from Covid-19 to a new normal, the Public Accounts Committee had asked the Ministry of Finance on how the Government intended to unwind or reduce certain measures that were put in force during the pandemic.
On Singapore’s transition from Covid-19 to a new normal, the Public Accounts Committee had asked the Ministry of Finance on how the Government intended to unwind or reduce certain measures that were put in force during the pandemic.
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  • The Public Accounts Committee asked the Government to conduct a comprehensive review of the S$72.3 billion Covid-19 expenditure
  • Checks ought be conducted because the Government’s Covid-19 operations were “unprecedented in intensity, complexity and scale”, the committee said
  • The committee also deliberated on the observations in the report of the Auditor-General for the financial year 2021-2022, which had uncovered several lapses

SINGAPORE — A parliamentary committee has asked the Government to conduct a comprehensive review of the S$72.3 billion spent to combat Covid-19 in financial years 2020 and 2021.

This is to ensure that transactions were bona fide and that there was no erroneous payment, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in its report submitted to Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 18).

The report was the third presented by the committee, which was set up to scrutinise government spending.

Chaired by Ms Foo Mee Har, Member of Parliament (MP) for West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC), the committee includes six other People’s Action Party members and Mr Louis Chua, who is Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang GRC.

It had deliberated on the observations in the report of the Auditor-General for the financial year 2021-2022.

The committee was of the view that it would be timely for the Government to conduct a review on the portion of S$72.3 billion spent on Covid-19 that was not covered in the Auditor-General Office (AGO)'s thematic audit.

Ms Foo said that since the Government’s Covid-19 operations were “unprecedented in intensity, complexity and scale”, checks ought be conducted. 

“The relevant agencies should follow up to rectify any errors uncovered during their internal reviews and audits, and take steps to report and recover any loss of public monies,” she added. 

AGO in its report on July 20 last year found that the Health Promotion Board, Singapore Land Authority and Ministry of Manpower had areas where controls could have been improved.

These included lapses in the evaluation of contractors’ proposals and assessment of price reasonableness, and weaknesses in the payment processes, AGO said in its yearly audit of the public sector.

In response to the lapses flagged by AGO, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said then that it would “take on board the lessons learnt”.

PAC in its report said MOF had informed the committee that its review of controls and checks in relation to Covid-19 had begun since early 2022. 

"Respective agencies were conducting their audits on such procurement and expenditure to ensure transactions were bona fide and that there was no erroneous payment," the report said. 

MOF said that the audits have raised findings such as incomplete documentation of the assessments carried out and lack of supporting documents. 

"For example, in October 2020, the Ministry of Trade and Industry had found errors in the business reopening dates used to determine the Job Support Scheme payouts," the PAC report said.

"This resulted in excess Job Support Scheme payouts amounting to S$370 million credited to about 5,300 businesses."

As of July 2022, the Government has recovered 99.8 per cent of the overpayment amount. 

The committee also noted in the report the lapses in the management of grants by the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (SSG) observed by AGO, which resulted in estimated overpayments of S$4.22 million.

The report said that the Ministry of Education informed the committee that the lapses mainly arose from inaccurate declarations made by grantees that were not picked up by the manual checking process due to the high volume.

“SSG has simplified its business rules to reduce the risk of errors while keeping to the policy intent for the different grant types,” the report said.

On the weaknesses flagged by AGO, the committee said that agencies must identify the root causes so that appropriate actions can be taken to address the control weaknesses and ensure that the lapses do not recur. 

“While policy design is important, policy implementation is just as critical,” the committee said.

On Singapore’s transition from Covid-19 to a new normal, the committee had also asked MOF how the Government intended to unwind or reduce certain measures that were implemented during the pandemic, such as the size of the Assurance, Care and Engagement group in MOM.

MOF noted that Covid-19 was not yet over and Singapore was also dealing with economic uncertainties.

"As Singapore transits to a new normal and taper surge manpower in tandem, MOF would do this in a calibrated manner, based on specific needs in different areas," the report said.

Related topics

Parliament Public Accounts Committee AGO

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