Sunday, March 22, 2015

How does independent accountant safeguard spending of public monies?

I read with interest on the Singapore Government’s unprecedented move in seeking to appoint independent accountants to safeguard its grants to AHPETC. My question is simple. If AGO's audit is insufficient in guaranteeing that the monies are well spent, why is this move only specific to AHPETC.

What's the assurance that the other town councils are also spending the monies wisely? Has MND forgotten about the investment of the sinking funds in Lehman Brothers? Is this investment wise? Aren't those monies public funds? Why wasn't there an independent auditor appointed for that case?

Instead of appointing independent auditors to audit AHPETC again, I feel that MND  should take the chance now to have a overall framework in place to govern all the town councils to prevent misuse of grants for all, not only specific to AHPETC. I don't see the point of consistently trying to audit AHPETC and diverting their attention away from the normal work done by town councils.

With all the talk about over payment, MND should instead take over the calling of the procurement for the town council system instead of letting individual town councils call their own, especially when the town council system is owned by someone closely affiliated with a political party. You don't see Oracle using SAP software if their own software can do the same functions right?

Seriously, in the real world, no one uses a competitor's product for their core business and I don't see why this is called overpayment when the other party didn't even submit a bid.

This year is obviously an election year because the government has spent their surplus accumulated over the term. No leader will take the risk of spending all the surplus in a period of slow growth.

If the auditors are appointed, the results would most probably come out around Sep, which is right about when an election may be called soon, looking at the busy calendar in Singapore and around the world. This court order is not depoliticalising the issue. My take that this is further politicalising the issue.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ominous omen for downtown line

All along I've been wondering why on earth the authorities would even think of ending the downtown line at an LRT line, and to top if off, the most frequently broken down LRT line in Singapore as of today.

The issue with the LRT line this week is an ominous omen on what is to come when the downtown line is finally open. Just imagine. If the LRT line is down, think of the repercussions on downtown line and all the other connecting lines to it.

It will cause a massive slowdown for all the affected lines and there's nothing we can do about it because there is no additional rail to bypass affected stations. To top it off, the authorities removed most bus routes that duplicate the train routes making it even worse because there are no alternatives.

Is everyone only thinking of the positive scenarios and did not think of the negative scenarios?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

How will 150,000 people move in and out?

Reading about congregating 150,000 people in one area just brings about one important question. How will 150,000 people get to the place and leave the place, especially with our "world class" public transport system?

Organizing celebrations at only one area is old school. All the newer celebrations are separated out into different areas because the planners know of the big strain on the public transport system. Even the countries organizing the Olympics also know this basic concept. 

I look forward to see how are they going to resolve this issue. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Inflation is down 0.4%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2015:
January: -0.4%

Both Education & Food inflation again rose by 3% and 2.2% respectively year on year. Education & Food inflation trend continued upwards from last month. Both Transport and Housing & Utilities inflation has trended lower, continuing the trend from last month.

Other than Education, Food inflation has also continued the trend upwards as mentioned last month. However, the basket of inflation items and baseline has been changed so it's difficult to see how the trend will go.

I do not think Singapore will go into deflation, not after the upcoming transport hike and petrol hike.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Looking at single bid from a business perspective

P1: There are 2 companies that will be able to help us better run this operation as this is their area of expertise.

P2: Lets invite both of the companies to submit a quotation.


1 month later...


P1: Did both of the companies get back to us?

P2: One did and one did not. Company A that got back to us has a track record of running our smaller operations. Their system is not tuned though to run such a large operation but they will fine tune it to fit into our operations at a cost.

P1: Will we be able to afford to accept Company A's proposal?

P2: We have the resources. If we do not accept Company A's proposal, we would have no other choice but to run the operations ourselves. This is not our area of expertise and we also do not have sufficient manpower to undertake such a task. This may result in a lowering of satisfaction for our core business as resources have to be diverted to learn this new area of expertise. We will also need time to understand the present operations which we do not have.

P1: Given that our current vendor will be leaving soon, it's important that someone comes in quickly so that the knowledge can be transferred and the new vendor can hit the ground running. Although this is not our core business, this is still an important aspect of the business as it helps to keep the day to day operations going. Our competitors also do not have knowledge of this area of expertise and I don't see them getting into it as this is not their core business and will divert unnecessary resources to this area.

Let's go with Company A then as the other options will not lead to a better outcome for our customers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Questions have become very political

I was quite disappointed with some of the questions thrown by the MPs in parliament because any one can see that some of the questions are GE questions and are just repetition of the answers already given in the written form. Some thoughts:
  1. Certification of payment is different from approval of payment. Certifying a payment just means that the OIC is certifying that goods / services have been delivered so payment can be made. AGO audit did not uncover any instances of mis-certification of payment
  2. Comparing the cost of the PAP town council system against their system is comparing apples vs oranges. The PAP town council system is established, used by many town councils and have economies of scale. If you need to build a system from ground-up and its only used by a couple of town councils, obviously it's going to be more expensive. Moreover, with all that talk, that company that manages that town council system did not even make a bid. The comparison is useless.
  3. There was only one instance of overpayment which was acknowledged by the chairman of WP. Just because a system is more expensive than the other doesn't mean that they are being overcharged.

It's precisely due to these kind of thinking that have driven down the cost of technology products. Everyone think that systems are easy to build and should be cheap. Well... My challenge to them is to ask them to build a cheap system and get a good third-party quality and security team to scrutinise the system.

Quality doesn't come cheap. Missing functionality is different from quality of the system.

Visit Rhinestic's Knick Knacks @ Etsy for handmade goods and supplies!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why the focus on AHPETC when there are other issues?

I have been busy recently but even then I am quite tired of listening to the continuous reporting of Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) conflict of interest (COI) issue. No matter how much reporting is done, it does not deviate from the understanding is that there was COI but there wasn't any wrong doing. However, the AGO report is also out and in it, there is even an instance of misuse of funds. I never heard any reporting of those issues.

Below are some excerpts from the AGO report which you could also view here:
  1. MINDEF: Lapses in the Licensing of Land
  2. MOE: Lapses in Tender Evaluation and Contract Management
  3. MOE: Lapses in Appointment and Monitoring of Former Staff Engaged for Projects
  4. MFA: Contracts Made Outside Singapore Not Signed by Authorised Signatories
  5. SCDF: Lapses in Controls over Financial Commitments and Payments
  6. SCDF: Misuse of Funds Stored in Cash Cards
  7. MDA: Lapses in Evaluation of Projects for Funding
  8. NHB: Irregularities in Management of Variation Works
  9.  HSA: Contracts Awarded to Incumbent Contractors that Did Not Meet Tender Requirements
  10. NPARKS: Creating and Backdating of Documents Furnished for Audit
  11. NCSS: Irregularities at Various Stages of Procurement
  12. SPRING: Lapses in Procurement of Services to Administer an Award

Seriously, those examples that I've extracted out would have more learning points than AHPETC.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Idea to help the small retailers

Recently I was in discussion over the very expensive retail space in Singapore when it hit me on how to help the small retailers to get a leg up here.

The problem with retail space in Singapore is that its only meant for the rich. There is no place for the small and startup retailers that want to start out. To think the government is complaining that there is not enough innovation. How can you get innovative if all your money is spent on that rent?

So what is my idea? Basically its a very simple concept. We often see empty space in malls which they let out to those insurance firms, travel firms, or big stores such as metro and challenger. Why are we letting these big players take up all the space?

These places should be reserved for small players to have pop-up stores for a few days, eg Thurs to Sun. Grants could be given by the government so that the rent is kept affordable for these small retailers for that short period. How to keep the rent affordable? The easiest way is to only charge a percentage of the revenue and that's it. Base rental is covered by the grant.

That would help the smaller retailers to gain exposure and experience, and bring variety to the shopping mall too. This can also be extended to other areas that have such open spaces.

I believe we as consumers are also tired of seeing the same big names everywhere we go and sometimes, a leg-up is all the small retailers need.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inflation is down 0.2%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2014:
January: 1.4%
February: 0.4%
March: 1.2%
April: 2.5%
May: 2.7%
June: 1.8% 
July: 1.2%
August: 0.9%
September: 0.6%
October: 0.1%
November: -0.3%
December: -0.2%

Both Food and Education & Stationery inflation again rose by 2.9% and 2.8% respectively year on year, similar to the previous month. Transport inflation trend continued from last month, going down by 4.1%, slightly lesser in comparison to last month. Housing inflation has also dropped 1.4%, slightly more compared to last year.

Food inflation remained high, with almost all the food prices rising compared to last month. Prepared meals have been rising by 3% as compared to last month and 2.9% as compared to last year. Judging from what I see on the ground, inflation will continue to trend upwards for food prices.

From a year on year perspective, inflation only rose 1% as compared to year 2013, as mentioned in my last post. Moving forward, inflation numbers will trend lower but it will not be obvious to us due to the rise of food prices. The downward oil price will be a relief as our electricity bill has already went down for the next quarter.

Looks like based on numbers, year 2015 inflation will not be that high, but I do not see it going towards deflation, no thanks to the hike in transport price which was approved recently. :(

Friday, January 16, 2015

The future is always unknown

I quote from Lailah Gifty Akita:
The future is always unknown. Live your own life. Live in the moment. Live so well in the present, so that when tomorrow never comes, you may have no regrets.

Don't presume you know what will happen if you have not done it before. What you presume is only based on assumptions and may not happen. Only by doing it will you be able to truly shape your future.

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