Public bodies rapped over lack of diligence in tenders

Public bodies rapped over lack of diligence in tenders

The way some public sector organisations conduct their tender exercises is worrying, said Parliament's public accounts watchdog.

They are still not diligent enough in ensuring that tender rules are followed, despite recent government efforts to tighten the procurement rules, the committee of MPs said in its annual report released yesterday.

About one-third, or 12, of the 35 issues questioned in the latest 2012/13 Auditor-General Report "pertained to laxity in the area of procurement".

The lapses include waiving competition 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.

Other mistakes involve failing to evaluate tenders properly and getting approvals retrospectively, said the Public Accounts Committee, which is made up of eight MPs who scrutinise how public funds are spent.

It had asked for written explanations from five ministries and the National Research Foundation (NRF), which comes under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

The five are: the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth; Ministry of Education; Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Ministry of Home Affairs.

The lapses boil down mainly to not following the rules. And the ministries' explanations put the blame on human error, not the absence of rules and procedures, the report noted.

Hence, it said: "The committee was concerned that even with efforts over the last few years to enhance procurement rules and procedures across the public sector, there were indications that some public sector entities were not sufficiently diligent in ensuring compliance with procurement rules."

It also stressed the importance of cultivating the "right values, attitudes, skills and expertise to prevent lapses and fraud" and for the right tone to be set "at the top".

One lapse was in the construction of the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise by the NRF, at the National University of Singapore's University Town. The contract was worth $322.97 million.

The report said the project breached many procurement rules and principles.

These were blamed on a lack of staff strength and capabilities for managing a major construction project.

The contract with the project management company was terminated, said the PMO.

The officers involved in the project had also left NRF, except for one, who was counselled.

The NRF has also taken measures to prevent such a situation from arising again.

Public procurement policies and rules are decided by the Ministry of Finance.

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