Of Justice, Fairness and Due Process

I do not condone wrong-doing.  When it is within my purview, I will do my best to get to the bottom of it.  Wrong-doers will be exposed and appropriately punished.  The proper due process will be followed to ensure fairness for all, based on the law and evidence.

That was how I dealt with the NKF and the Ren Ci incidents, when I was in MOH.

This is the same approach now that I am in MND.

After Zaobao reported on the NParks’ purchase of 26 foldable bikes in Jun 22, I discussed the matter with CEO, NParks and PS/MND.  The first thing was for NParks to look into the matter.  I wanted answers to two questions: (a) why foldable bikes?; (b) how was the supplier chosen?

On Jun 30, NParks reported to me on their internal findings.  After reading their report, I was satisfied that the decision on foldable bikes could be justified.  Not all bikes in NParks need to be foldable, but for the heavy users who need to access places with no convenient public transport, such staff could be issued foldable bikes.

However, on the second question, I was not happy with the procurement outcome.  I thought they could have gotten a better deal, even though they had adhered to the prevailing Government procurement rules.  Based on what I had read of the NParks report, I had no reason to question the integrity of the officer(s) involved.

For thoroughness, on the same day, I commissioned an MND Internal Audit Team to work with NParks and dig impartially and more thoroughly into the transaction.  Besides verifying if the procurement was conducted in a fit and proper manner, I also wanted them to see if this episode would yield lessons for us to improve our overall procurement system. This was on Jun 30.

While the MND Audit was on-going, I posted a blog on Jul 4, to update the public on the subject based on what NParks’ internal inquiry and the MND audit team had ascertained at the time.  Did I jump the gun?

I don’t think so.  There had been many Singaporeans writing to me expressing concern about the issue.  The public have a right to know, and I thought that I should share this interim finding with the public, so long as what I disclosed did not affect the on-going audit.

I wrote then, that the decision to buy foldable bikes was justified.  However, to signal my dissatisfaction and to convey a public message (not just to NParks but to all MND officers) that we should always seek value for money and ensure contestability when procuring goods or services, I added that I thought the procurement could have been better handled and NParks could have gotten a better deal.

What I did not mention in my blog was our preliminary investigation findings. I could not say much then (and I still can’t), as doing so will compromise investigation.

Meanwhile, from July 14, some netizens began to comment on the friendship between one NParks officer and the owners of the company supplying the bikes. The Internal Audit Team noted the observation while continuing with its investigation and interviews.

On Jul 20, the MND Audit was completed.  The findings of the audit (a) confirmed that the NParks’ reason for the purchase of foldable bikes on staff productivity grounds was valid, (b) verified that the procurement formally observed and complied with the existing rules. However the audit also uncovered certain discrepancies which suggest a possibility of bias.

Over that weekend, I discussed the audit findings with PS/MND and we decided to report the matter to and share the audit findings with the CPIB.

On Jul 23, PS/MND reported the matter to Director/CPIB. The next day, on Jul 24, we issued a press statement and suspended the NParks officer from duty.

This is how the subject was dealt with in MND during the past one month: firm but measured action, balancing between the resolute pursuit of justice and the need for fairness and due process.  Along the way, we have benefited from both our internal investigations and the many views received through emails and expressed in the main and the new media.  We thank all the people who came forth with their views.  I share their common objective to ensure that taxpayers’ money should be well spent.

The matter is now in the hands of the CPIB.  If there is wrong-doing, appropriate punishment will be meted out.  I am mindful how this episode may be affecting the morale of my officers in NParks.  I think we should be fair and not demoralise and tarnish the reputation of NParks as the department has  many dedicated officers who continue to work hard each day to make Singapore a Garden City for the well-being of all of us.

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