SINGAPORE - The discovery of five empty ballot boxes in a school last month did not breach the security of electoral proceedings, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing on Monday.
These boxes ceased to be "controlled items" once the ballots were transferred out into a separate set of boxes for counting, he explained.
"For the Elections Department, the priority is to ensure that all controlled items, for example, ballot papers, are properly accounted for. And this we have done so over the course of the election."
At no point during the electoral process are controlled items mixed or left unattended, he added.
Mr Chan was responding on behalf of the Prime Minister to Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), who tabled a question after a student found the empty boxes at a school in the Bishan-Toa Payoh electoral division.
They were apparently used in the 2011 Presidential Election.
The case is rare because these boxes should have been collected and disposed of by contractors after the ballot papers are emptied out for counting.
Mr Chan also revealed that a check by the Elections Department (ELD) of 164 schools used as counting centres has since unearthed empty ballot boxes in five other schools.
This was "an oversight by working personnel", he said, but not a breach of law.
Nevertheless, the ELD will review and tighten disposal procedures.
He added that the theft of the boxes from the school storeroom is being investigated.
Both Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mr Singh suggested in supplementary questions that empty boxes be treated like controlled items and be incinerated after six months, like ballot papers are.
Mr Singh said that this would prevent the "undue alarm" that has been caused by the discovery of the boxes in the school.
Mr Chan replied that this will be studied, but emphasised that once the ballot papers are removed from them, such boxes are "just any other boxes".
"The life of the ballot box ceases when the seal is broken and the ballot papers are emptied out and the box is certified to be totally empty," he said.
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