Tuesday, 21 August 2007

OPQ 16 July 2007: Economic Development Board

There is a tentative schedule of Parliamentary sittings for the rest of the year. MPs are cautioned that this is only tentative, and that we have to watch for the formal notification from the Clerk of Parliament, which will also state the various cut-off times for all the different possible procedures.

When a Parliamentary sitting is fixed, the newspapers do monitor the questions that have been filed. It seems that they will identify some of the more interesting questions, and ask the MPs who filed them for their thoughts and reasons for asking those questions. When I filed this, ST did call me to ask about this question, and they noted it in their article preceding the sitting. If I remember right, TODAY also mentioned it.

So I don't know why, when the newspapers found it interesting (and I'm sure most people wanted to know the answer as well), the question was fixed at number 43 on the list of questions for the sitting on 16 July. (I have no clue how the sequence of questions is decided.)

Question Time lasts for 1.5 hours, and we typically complete 15-20 questions. Number 43 effectively forces me to just accept a written answer (thereby foregoing the opportunity to ask supplementary questions), or to hold it over to the next day. Since I had a full slate of questions for the second day of sittings, I just accepted the written answer.

Certainly, I would have asked why the Auditor-General intends to audit only the "larger" statutory boards once every 5 years, and not all statutory boards, given that the commercial auditors' audits of EDB have proved to be inadequate. After all, small amounts of public funds are still public funds.

I would also have asked who the commercial auditors of EDB were, whether EDB are still using them, and whether any action has been taken with regard to the lapses (which included significant lapses in controls and governance) that were not identified by the commercial auditors.

I've since learnt my lesson. For this upcoming sitting, I've left some room for OPQs to be carried over from the first day.


(Audit by the Auditor-General)

Mr Siew Kum Hong: To ask the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance (a) if he will explain why the Economic Development Board was only audited by the Auditor-General for the first time after 46 years; (b) what is the frequency of audits by the Auditor-General on Government agencies; and (c) whether there are any Government agencies which have not been audited by the Auditor-General in the last 5 years.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong: All Government agencies are audited annually. The Auditor-General (AG) currently audits the accounts of all Government ministries and departments on an annual basis. In addition, the AG performs annual audits on certain statutory boards, for example, MAS, CPFB, and HDB. These are typically large statutory boards with substantial assets. The other statutory boards are audited annually by commercial auditors appointed by the respective Ministers, except for the years when they are rotated for audit by the AG.

In the case of EDB, until 1989, the EDB Act did not provide for AG to audit its accounts. Nonetheless, EDB’s accounts were audited annually by leading and reputable commercial auditors. As they had done a satisfactory job, they continued to audit EDB even after the EDB Act was amended in 1989 to allow the AG to audit its accounts.

In 2004, the Public Accounts Committee recommended that statutory boards that have been audited over a considerable period of time by commercial auditors be rotated back for audit by the AG. As a result of the recommendation, AG audited EDB’s accounts for FY2005/06. Going forward, AG intends to audit EDB as well as the other larger statutory boards at least once every five years.

For the last five years, 24 statutory boards were not rotated for audit by AG but which were nevertheless audited as per normal practice by commercial auditors.

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