SINGAPORE: Four individuals, including two formerly employed by the People’s Association (PA), faced charges in court on Wednesday (31 January), in connection to an alleged procurement fraud case related to the Our Tampines Hub (OTH) development project.
The two PA former employees: Vincent Chang Yew Teck, 63, held the position of deputy director of facilities management at PA, while Lee Kian Wee, 51, served as a senior facilities manager of contracts at the agency.
According to Singapore’s state media, The Straits Times, PA released a statement on Wednesday, confirming that both individuals are no longer associated with the organization.
The PA spokesperson stated, “The two individuals were suspended in May 2021… We are unable to comment further as the matter is before the courts.”
Forgery scheme involving fabricated quotations
The third accused, Seet Thong Kok, 67, worked as a facilities manager for a contractor engaged by PA for minor building works.
Seet faces three counts of forgery, with the charges filed on Wednesday, alleging that the offences occurred in 2017 and 2019.
Between October 2017 and June 2019, Seet is accused of directing the term contractor’s administrative staff to forge 18 quotations purportedly issued by other contractors.
The aim was to deceive PA into believing that the term contractor’s quotation was the lowest among three received for the building works.
According to the police statement, “He allegedly instigated the… contractor’s administrative staff to forge 18 quotations purportedly issued by (other firms), intending to deceive PA that the contractor’s quotation was the lowest-priced of three quotations for building works requested by PA.”
The three companies involved were identified as SK Furniture Construction, K&T Building Construction, and KJS Construction, according to court documents.
A search with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) revealed that Seet is the owner of a firm named Caspian Electrical Sub-Contractor, although the firm’s name was not mentioned in the court documents.
Seet’s case has been adjourned to 28 February. If found guilty of forgery, Seet could face a sentence of up to four years in jail and a fine.
Conspiracy to submit allegedly backdated documents during AGO audit
The fourth individual, Soh Chun Kang, 42, held the position of senior key account manager at a managing agent engaged by PA during the alleged offences, as per the police statement. Details about the managing agent were not disclosed in the court documents.
Vincent Chang, Lee Kian Wee, and Soh Chun Kang face additional charges related to furnishing false information to a public servant.
The police alleged that the trio conspired to provide backdated procurement documents to the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) between December 2020 and February 2021, coinciding with the AGO’s audit of the OTH development project.
A total of 142 allegedly backdated procurement documents were submitted to the AGO.
The cases of Vincent Chang, Lee Kian Wee, and Soh Chun Kang are scheduled for mention in court again on 4 March.
For each count of providing false information to a public servant, offenders can face a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine.
According to PA’s website, OTH is Singapore’s largest integrated community and lifestyle hub, catering to over 250,000 residents and approximately 80,000 households. It offers a range of activities, including sports and shopping, for the community.
AGO identifies lapses in PA’s project management in 2021
In 2021, AGO flagged several lapses and possible irregularities related to the PA’s management of two large development projects, OTH and Heartbeat @ Bedok (HBB) which values totaling S$623.96 million.
At the time, AGO scrutinized a sample of payments amounting to S$1.27 million made between April 2018 and March 2020.
Within this sample, the AGO identified possible irregularities in the supporting documents for 34 out of 36 payments.
These irregularities encompassed potential falsification of quotations, manipulation of hard-copy payment supporting documents, and the creation and backdating of documents to present a false impression of adherence to proper processes.
In response to the AGO’s findings, PA filed a police report and suspended the implicated staff.
Additional concerns raised by the AGO included lapses in calculating adjustments for price fluctuations in the primary construction contract for OTH and deficiencies in the management and oversight of contract variations for the main construction contracts of both OTH and HBB.
These lapses indicated the possibility of PA overpaying contractors by an estimated S$2 million for building materials, such as concrete and steel reinforcements, for OTH.
In a 13 September 2021 parliament sitting, Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, disclosed that PA, following the AGO report, reviewed 31 public construction developments.
This review unveiled that two projects had erroneously applied a 70 per cent cap on price fluctuation adjustments for the past seven years, mirroring OTH’s main construction contract.
MPs, including Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, sought clarification on lapses related to contract variations in the construction phase of OTH and HBB, as well as irregularities during the operations and facilities maintenance phase at OTH.
Contract variations involve mutually agreed changes to the terms of contracts already in effect.
Mr Tong assured that PA is meticulously examining all 252 cases of lapses related to contract variations for OTH flagged by the AGO. A comprehensive review is also underway for the remaining contract variations for both OTH and HBB, extending beyond the AGO’s audit.
“PA is doing so to ensure that the other contract variations were carried out with appropriate approvals and proper documentation, and if not, then to take the appropriate remedial actions,” he said.
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