AGO report flags $5.4m wasted by HPB on fitness trackers, other lapses

·Editorial Team
·4 min read
People sitting next to a pond with the view of Singapore's CBD skyline in the background. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
People sitting next to a pond with the view of Singapore's CBD skyline in the background. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — An excess of 341,000 fitness trackers were purchased for the National Steps Challenge, resulting in wastage of $5.39 million by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), said the Auditor-General's Office (AGO).

In its annual report on government accounts for the 2020/2021 financial year released on Thursday (22 July), the AGO noted "management of operations and weaknesses in controls at some public sector entities", including HPB, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Public Service Division (PSD). 

For its latest report, the AGO audited the financial statements of all 16 government ministries and eight organs of state; 11 statutory boards; four government-owned companies; and two other accounts. 

The report noted key areas in which lapses by ministries and agencies were flagged during the audit. These included:

  • Lapses in management of operations and weaknesses in controls

  • Lapses in procurement and contract management

  • Weaknesses in IT controls

  • Improvements needed in management of facility management contracts

  • Possible irregularities in records furnished for audit

In the case of HPB, the fitness trackers were purchased for seasons 1 to 5 of the National Steps Challenge, which had ended between one and five years prior to the audit. Test checks found around 268,000 trackers, valued at $4.26 million that were not put to use.

Following a full stock count in January this year, HPB found that there was an excess of 341,000 trackers with a total value of $5.39 million. 

The report noted that HPB's processes were inadequate for monitoring the movement of fitness trackers and ensuring that the stock of trackers was properly accounted for.

"The receipt and distribution of trackers involved manual processes and multiple external parties. There was no central monitoring of the movement and stock of trackers; records maintained were incomplete; and there was no periodic reconciliation of records with physical stock on hand," said the AGO.

Other lapses

For the PSD, which manages the medical and dental benefits for Singapore's civil service, the AGO's audit flagged erroneous claims. 

These included those paid to ineligible officers or pensioners and their dependants; Medisave contributions made to ineligible officers; and claims paid for expenses incurred at entities not on the list of approved medical institutions. The AGO noted there were also possible duplicate claims, split claims and bypassing of dental claim rules.

"Overall, AGO found around 9,500 possible erroneous claims. While this amounted to only 0.3 per cent of the total of 3 million claims processed during the audit period, the estimated possible overpayment by the Government was not small, at around $0.5 million," the report said.

With regard to the NHB, the AGO highlighted weaknesses in the organisation's records management concerning heritage materials. These included discrepancies in the records maintained in the systems as well as the manual records.

"Good records management is important as the records of heritage materials are relied upon for tracking, stocktaking and reporting in the financial statements," said the AGO.

There were also possible irregularities in the records submitted for checks by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Housing and Development Board (HDB), as well as the People's Association (PA), according to the AGO.

For MCCY, the AGO found supporting documents for claims showed signs that they could have been photocopies of one another with alternations made to the dates and duration of services rendered.

For MOE and MHA, the report stated that there were a few instances in which documents submitted showed signs of having been created – or were backdated – to satisfy the AGO's queries.

During the audit of HDB, test checks on quotations used to assess the reasonableness of star rate items – items for which rates are unlisted in a contract – found signs that some of the quotations could have been created or altered to suggest that they were obtained from other suppliers.

In the case of PA, possible irregularities observed included signs of possible falsification of quotations, alteration of hardcopy payment supporting documents, as well as the creation and backdating of documents.

The AGO added that the relevant agencies have carried out their investigations into the lapses and lodged police reports where appropriate.

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