Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You've been AG-ed

Glad to see that the Auditor-General's Office is keeping the ministries and stat boards on their toes.

Previous irregularities can be found here and here.

July 22, 2008
Govt property vacant for years
Auditor-General's annual report raps agencies for not 'maximising usage' of state-owned buildings
By Liaw Wy-Cin

GOVERNMENT chalets left to go to seed and unleased for over 14 years and other buildings and tracts of land left empty for years on end - these have come to light in the Auditor-General's annual report.

Mr Lim Soo Ping has taken to task some ministries and statutory boards for letting this happen to properties under their charge.

In his latest report released yesterday, he urged these agencies to manage their properties better 'to maximise their usage for the public good'.

He also recommended a review of how government properties pending development are allocated and reserved.

'This is to minimise the opportunity cost arising from unnecessarily long holding and reservation,' he said.

Among the buildings his office found under-utilised were staff apartments belonging to statutory boards, left vacant for four to 10 years. Some had vacancy rates as high as 80 per cent.

In his report, Mr Lim also took the Singapore Tourism Board to task for spending $1.51 million over seven years on feasibility studies, maintenance and reinstatement works to turn Capitol Theatre into a performing arts venue, only to find that it was not a viable project.

The building stood vacant until it was returned to the Singapore Land Authority last year. Mr Lim reckoned the rental revenue foregone to exceed $280,000 a year.

The report also highlighted the lack of transparency in the calls for tender bids and irregularities in payment.

One such irregularity was serious enough to have been referred to the police for investigation.

Acting on an anonymous tip-off alleging favouritism in the awarding of contracts to redevelop the Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC), the Auditor-General's Office found irregularities in 92 per cent of the contracts awarded to one contractor and another company with links to the contractor.

As the SDC - which promotes national education here - is related to the Ministry of Defence, Mindef referred the matter to the police in April.

Contacted last night, Mindef said investigations were still underway.

Asked to comment on the loss of rental revenue from buildings left standing empty, director of research and consultancy at real estate company Knight Frank, Mr Nicholas Mak, said that if the vacancy rate is high, the agency overseeing the building should consider marketing it better 'or maybe it should relook at whether it really still needs the apartments'.

But Mr Mak said the solution was less clear-cut in the case of redeveloping a building for commercial use, such as the Capitol Theatre.

'If you are talking about renting it out, sometimes, you have to wait for the right time to enter the market. Or you have to do a lot of upgrading first to redevelop it,' he added.


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