SINGAPORE – Although the internal investigation over the National Parks Board’s (NParks) controversial purchase of 26 foldable Brompton bicycles was ongoing at the time, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that he did not “jump the gun” by commenting on the matter on his blog.
On July 4 – prior to the Ministry of National Development (MND) concluding there could have been bias in the procurement process and reporting the matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) – Mr Khaw had said that he had been satisfied with NParks’ justification for the purchase, which drew flak from the public over the cost.
The bikes cost S$2,200 each and S$57,200 in total.
“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 ongoing audit,” Mr Khaw wrote in a blog post yesterday – giving his first comments on the issue since the matter was referred to the CPIB.
“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,” he said.
Mr Khaw also explained what went on in the days leading up to the suspension of Mr Bernard Lim, the NParks Assistant Director in charge of the procurement.
On June 30, Mr Khaw commissioned an MND Internal Audit Team to “dig impartially and more thoroughly into the transaction” as he was “not happy with the procurement outcome”.
At the time, he had “no reason to question the integrity of the officer(s) involved”.
Meanwhile, from July 14, comments were circulating online on the friendship between an NParks officer and the owners of the company supplying the bikes, which were noted by the audit team, said Mr Khaw.
The MND audit was completed on July 20, and the findings found that, while the reason for the purchase was valid, there were “certain discrepancies which suggest a possibility of bias”.
“Over that weekend, I discussed the audit findings with PS/MND (Permanent Secretary of the MND) and we decided to report the matter to and share the audit findings with the CPIB,” said Mr Khaw.
The report was made on July 23, a press statement was issued the next day and the NParks officer was suspended 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,” said Mr Khaw.