Singapore's MDA rapped over conflict of interest

Country's government agency chided by Auditor-General for allowing conflict of interest in its availing of funds to interactive digital media startups.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

A Singapore government agency has been rapped on the wrists for being lax in its administration of funds.

The Auditor-General's report, presented to Parliament Tuesday, said the Media Development Authority (MDA) had allowed for a conflict of interest to arise in its handing out of startup funds.

In 2007, the MDA committed S$500 million (US$343 million) to start a research program for interactive digital media (IDM) projects.

The MDA also hands out grants of up to S$50,000 (US$34,388) to IDM startups recommended by MDA-appointed mentors.

This has come under fire by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO), because four startups receiving grants were founded and co-owned by mentors, in spite of the scheme's guideline spelling out that startups set up and owned by mentors are ineligible for the funding.

Further, an expert appointed by the MDA to evaluate grant applications was also found to have a stake in one of the companies, and was also a business partner of a mentor of nine other grant-receiving startups.

The MDA has informed the AGO it will not approve funding for a startup in which its mentor has direct ownership, in future, and "agreed with [the] AGO that an expert must not have vested interest in the startup company" being evaluated, according to the report.

The AGO report also said the MDA had not refunded some S$6 million (US$4.1 million) in overpaid and unused radio and TV licenses, and did not collect another S$9.89 million (US$6.7 million) in revenue from 46 joint projects completed with production companies under its Media 21 Blueprint scheme.

The MDA attributed these issues to the lack of a facility to track and check payments, but added that it has "put in place an action plan" to rectify this.

The AGO audits ministries and government agencies to ensure they manage their funds efficiently.

Auditor-General Lim Soo Ping noted in the report, civil servants have opted for convenience in their administrative procedures and have been too ready in accepting consultants' recommendations.

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