Measures Taken by Ministry of Education Following Findings in AGO’s Audit for FY2018 – 2020

Published Date: 22 July 2021 11:50 AM

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1. The Ministry of Education (MOE) places strong emphasis on having strong and efficient internal controls to ensure proper and prudent use of resources. We note that the Auditor-General Office’s (AGO) report stated that overall, MOE’s procurement and contracting processes for the Facility Management (FM) services test-checked were generally in line with the Government Instruction Manual on procurement, with areas of improvement which MOE has accepted.

2. The AGO report affirms some of MOE’s good practices as well. MOE has developed and implemented a mobile application for school personnel to conveniently report FM-related faults using their smartphones. We also leveraged technology by including specific clauses in the contracts requiring the FM contractors to implement computerised tools and systems for facilities management, e.g. using mobile tablets and digital checklists when performing inspections. In addition, we piloted smart FM technologies such as cleaning robots, and smart energy and water meters across schools.

3. However, the report also pointed out that MOE could strengthen its controls and processes in a number of areas. MOE acknowledges the lapses that were observed in the AGO report on the management of FM contracts and are rectifying them. We are also strengthening our processes to avoid their recurrence.

Efforts to Reduce Lapses in Payment for Recurrent Services and Management of Contract Variations

4. To strengthen oversight of Managing Agents (MA)1 and FM contractors’ compliance with contractual requirements and performance standards, we have stepped up sampling checks on payment documents. MOE is also working closely with MAs to scrutinise FM contractors’ payment claims to ensure that they are properly verified before payments are made. We will continue to emphasize to all our MAs the importance of maintaining high standards of responsibility and quality in their provision of services. As part of this process, we have been holding the relevant MAs accountable for the lapses observed by AGO and are taking appropriate action to prevent the recurrence of these lapses. MOE has also rectified the overpayments and underpayments to the MAs and FM contractors.

5. We recognise the importance of prompt issuance and documentation of contract variations to the MAs and FM contractors so as to minimise potential disputes. As an added precaution, MAs are required to include the status of the contract variations in their monthly management reports to MOE to avoid lapses in management of contract variations.

6. To further tighten MOE’s internal processes, MOE is maintaining a master list of the status of all its sites to facilitate checks when processing payment claims. In addition to ongoing efforts leveraging technology (mentioned in para 2), we are also developing a contract administration IT system to help track the issuance of contract variations more efficiently.

Controls to Avoid Delays in Finalisation of Accounts

7. MOE already requires its appointed MAs to carry out due diligence checks in an accurate and timely manner and adhere to stipulated timelines for the finalisation of accounts.

8. MOE will step up our efforts by regularly checking in with MAs on the completion of outstanding works, and ensuring payments are made to FM contractors in a timely manner. A function to track the finalisation of accounts will also be included in the contract administration IT system to allow MOE officers to prepare final accounts more efficiently and accurately.

Ensuring Proper Documentation of Work Done

9. In order to ensure emergency or other urgent unexpected works can be carried out in a timely manner, MOE has established procedures for MOE officers to seek in-principle approval for such works. They should then properly document the approval by the next working day and seek formal approval on the detailed scope of works within two weeks.

10. We have put in place additional measures to improve the documentation, tracking and reporting of all contractually required audits/inspections. MAs are required to provide the status of all audits/inspections in their monthly management reports. MOE is also exploring the use of data analytics to identify gaps in such audits/inspections which can then be investigated further. MOE’s officers and the MAs will also be able to track these audits/inspections more efficiently once the contract administration IT system is up and running in 2023.

11. AGO had found several irregularities in records which were furnished to address AGO’s queries during the audit. MOE takes a very serious view of these irregularities and has lodged police reports for further investigation. MOE has emphasised to MAs and FM contractors that the creation or backdating of documents for audit is unacceptable.

12. MOE acknowledges that there is scope for the internal processes highlighted in the AGO report to be further tightened and strengthened to ensure greater accountability. We have since put in place additional policies and procedures to better manage these processes and ensure proper checks and documentation throughout our various systems. The new contract administration IT system would also assist MOE to better manage the MAs and FM contractors, especially in the areas of finalisation of accounts, payment claims, as well as work inspections, and improve work efficiency.


Footnotes
  1. Managing Agents are external consultants engaged by MOE to manage and certify facilities management works and services carried out by contractors in schools.

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