Smaller buffers for S'pore's unforeseen need after significant COVID expenditure: committee

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·3-min read
A woman walks into a newly set up coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center which will be opened to the public the day after, in Singapore January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su
A woman walks into a coronavirus disease vaccination centre in Singapore on 26 January, 2021. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — As the Singapore government has expended significant resources in its COVID-19 response, there are smaller buffers available for any unforeseen need, said the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee in a report released on Monday (8 February).

The committee questioned whether there is a mechanism in place to re-evaluate the need and timeline for large-scale projects, given that some of the original projections might have changed significantly due to the pandemic.

Among the items of substantial pandemic-related expenditure are grant programmes implemented by the government to support businesses and individuals, while other new areas of government spending include community isolation and quarantine facilities.

While it is important to respond quickly to the evolving pandemic situation, there is a need to ensure proper controls, governance and accountability over the use of public funds, according to the committee.

Its report said that “it is important for the public sector to have in place an enterprise risk management (ERM) framework at the whole of government (WOG) level” to allow proper accountability and governance over the use of public funds and resources.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) had informed the committee that it had issued a finance circular minute, as well as an an ERM practice guide, to public sector agencies in January last year covering ERM principles and baseline practices.

Agencies are required to report the results of their review of ERM practices to the MOF and the Accountant-General’s Department (AGD).

The committee noted that while many public sector agencies already had their own ERM frameworks before the issuance of the MOF circular minute, the MOF guidance was useful in terms of facilitating a holistic view of risks at the WOG level.

The MOF also informed the committee that it recognises that agencies must continue to maintain proper governance, control and accountability over COVID-19 expenditure, while balancing policy and operational considerations.

An inter-agency Budget Implementation Committee (BIC) co-chaired by the permanent secretaries from the MOF and the Ministry of Social and Family Development was convened in April last year to oversee the WOG coordination and timely implementation of COVID-19 support schemes.

The committee also noted that the MOF had centrally activated emergency procurement (EP) procedures at the WOG level for urgent buys by agencies to respond to the COVID19 crisis in late January last year, and subsequently centrally deactivated in late August as the time pressure on procurement eased.

The MOF had assured the committee that the same governance principles apply to EP as with normal procurement, said the report.

The government will face major constraints in its fiscal and manpower position given the weaker economic growth prospects, structural population ageing and international tax pressures.

“The MOF will work closely with agencies to reallocate resources to create space for new priorities and review expenditure for which assumptions may have fundamentally changed, especially for large scale projects such as the Changi Airport Terminal 5 project,” said the report.

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